About 11.30 last night I began rearranging my library. Actually, it was only the European literature. Much of the library is arranged geographically by country—as in the author’s place of origin for fiction or the setting of the book for nonfiction. Exiles and other geographic mongrels have their own section. Travel writing that is unrooted and placeless also gets its own section.
I’ve been short on shelf space in the library since returning from sabbatical, and this had left an eruption in the middle of Europe. For the past few months, French writers and literature about France had stood in piles on the floor (in French do books stand or sit?). Over the weekend, I had added a shelf, and last night, after brushing my teeth, I faced the dilemma of what to do about the French. This dilemma extends also to the British. I have a large collection of books by British authors. British were already stacked in piles on top of other Brits on the shelves. They needed more space; indeed, they needed some open inches of shelves for anticipated expansion.
The Scandinavians, Russians, and those of the former ‘Eastern Europe’—once again, after the interregnum of the Iron Curtain, better considered as Central Europe—were also part of the problem. An economy of space had earlier demanded that I box the end of the British with Scandinavians and Russians who were followed by Central Europeans, including the Germans and Swiss. I began by moving-out the Swiss in order to get all of the British on the shelves. The Swiss joined the French piles.
With the removal of the Swiss, I began simply to put the French on the new shelf, which geographically had them following the Germans. The Swiss then went on shelves after the French, which seemed reasonable enough, and I could put the Italians after the Swiss. It was very pleasing, except that I have several large books of photographs of Switzerland, and in this scheme these big books were in the middle of a shelf, creating a formidable massif that separated much thinner volumes by the French and Italians. The aesthetics were bad.
I removed the French and the Swiss back to their piles to face again the Scandinavians, Russians, and eastern Central Europeans. I dawdled with alternatives for the Russians but could come up with nothing satisfying. The Scandinavians and Russians went back to the end of the British despite the apprehension this gave me. The Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Yugoslavs (whomever they might now be) went to the new shelf. I left them with some expansion space. Just below, I brought in the Austrians, Germans, and Swiss. The big Swiss books again sat near the middle of a shelf, but I was growing tired and decided that they didn’t look as overwhelming placed against the Germans as they did when placed earlier against the Italians. What was to lie beyond the Swiss mountain this time? The stack of Rousseau. I had been allowing Jean-Jacques Rousseau a place with the French and suddenly realized that he was the perfect transition. He could lie back against his Swiss place and look out to France. The French went on the shelves: Voltaire, Stendhal, Constant, Zola, Proust, Radiquet, Gide, Genet, Duras, and on. And next? The Spanish fit the space so in they went. Then the Italians, Greeks, and their neighbors the Turks, and I was on to Asia.
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The photograph is a statue of Jean-Jacques Rousseau taken on a gray day in the city of light during a December many years ago. The photograph is a bit of an homage to Laura, who has been posting paintings and sketches of Paris's statues, cafes, bridges, dresses, and miscellany over the past few weeks.