Herding Cats, Herding Categories

“Where are you going with that?”

“It’s a novel. I found it in Humor?”

“Yes, but it’s One On the House, by Mary Lasswell, a noted humorous novel.”

“Yes, so I’m putting it in the Novels section.”

“We don’t have a Novels section. I put that in Humor because it’s considered a landmark in American humor.”

“But it’s a Novel! Why should it be in Humor?”

I hate to go for the clincher, but sometimes it’s all I can do. “Because I said so.”

There is no end to arguments about sorting books, and this perennial one sometimes ends in an accusation that we don’t have enough categories in this little Book Shindig. There are, after all, bookstores which have resolved the problem above (or think they have) by breaking Humor down into two categories: Humor and Cartoons. Under this theory, customers are less likely to object to humorous novels being in Humor if the rest of the books on the shelf are similarly word-oriented.

“Where are your books on dinosaurs?”

“Well, actually, the ones on how dinosaurs lived are in Nature but the ones which deal strictly with the digging up of fossils are in Archaeology.”

“Archaeology? But that deals with human prehistory! Why don’t you have a Paleontology section?”

Well, for one thing, we are thinking of instituting a limit on how many really big words we put on signs. Luckily, I hadn’t pointed out that ninety percent of the books we get on dinosaurs are written for children, so you’ll have better luck in that section.

“Why do you put Tom Clancy in the Mystery section? He writes Thrillers.”

The Mystery section has long been one of our most popular, which means it is the one most likely to draw suggestions. If I had listened to all of these, we would now have separate sections for Spies, Thrillers, Private Eyes, Serial Killers, and English Mysteries Set In Country Houses Before 1940. Where to draw the line between Spies and Thrillers, or Spies and Serial Killers, requires an advanced degree.

“You know, there are spy novels set in English Country Houses before 1940.”

“Oh, those don’t count.”

It has been suggested, not always facetiously, that we set up the Book Fair by Dewey Classification. Melvil Dewey really did his best to find a place for everything so that everything could be put in its place. I have one or two sorters who would love to put a classification number on the spine of every book, so they’d know exactly where it goes during the Fair. It would also do away with signs that are too difficult to understand. Volunteers over the years have directed people to the Geography section, not knowing we call it Travel, and others who honestly didn’t know we didn’t have a Novels section. (“Why do you have novels in Science Fiction?” one of them asked.)

Can’t do it. For one thing, old Melvil didn’t approve of a separate Fiction section himself (he put it all into Literature, as I recall, with a slightly different number for humorous literature, detective literature, etc.) nor of Biography sections (these went into the subject area the biographee was famous for.) AND we would teaching decimals to people who aren’t necessarily math-oriented. (“What do you mean ‘point-twelve comes before point two’? Twelve comes AFTER two!”

I told you: there’s no end to arguments about sorting books. (Now I suppose you’ll want to argue about THAT.)

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