The ProsenPeople

The Book of Life Is Shelved in the Jefferson Wing

Wednesday, September 23, 2009| Permalink

In her last post, Jennifer Traig looked at the changes from her past year. She is guest-blogging all week for MJL and JBC.

Recently my husband and I moved to a new house. Because we had to sort, pack, and transport an entire house worth’s of stuff while working fulltime, caring for our newborn, and functioning on four hours of sleep, we thought it would also be a good time to catalog and label our entire library.

So we did, and by we, I mean Rob. It was an enormous project. Although we rarely watch less than eight hours of TV a day, we like to think of ourselves as readers, too, and over the years we’ve acquired a lot of books. Rob alone has close to three thousand. My own books are fewer in number but wider in range, including such eclectic gems as The Twinkies Cookbook and Snoop Dogg’s Love Don’t Live Here No More: Book One of Doggy Tales.

A few hundred hours later, the P-Touch was smoking but every book was labeled and shelved in orderly rows. We’re still marveling at how neat it all is. Organization is new to us, our resolution for the year 5770. Before the move, a third of the books sat in mildewing boxes buried underneath the recycling on the back porch. The Chicago Manual of Style served as a coaster, the self-help books as ottomans. Maimonides was next to Miles Davis, and the collected works of William James were mixed in with back issues of Us Weekly where they belonged.

Now it’s more orderly. Rob labeled and arranged each title by its Library of Congress category number. This has led to some interesting juxtapositions. Because they are both works of personal nonfiction, The Essays of Montaigne ended up next to Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir. And we couldn’t help note with mild alarm that all our books on the Bible are, per Library of Congress designation, now labeled “BS.”

As for the Book of Life we’ll be talking about all this week, I don’t have a copy, but the Library of Congress does―quite a few, in fact. The Library catalog shows 84 different books by that title. Of these, thirteen are about the Bible (BS); two are about the occult (BF); one is about internal medicine (RC); and two are actually about death (BM). Another one includes contributions by Richard Pryor, Jack Nicholson, Tina Turner, and Madonna (PN). My favorite, by Hyman Molod, is about “the principles of clean eating.” That’s probably just a clunky translation of kashrut, but it does seem worth noting that the author holds a 1944 patent for something called a “poultry dipping system.”

Me, I’ll be sticking to apples and honey. G’mar hatimah tovah.

Jennifer Traig is the author, most recently, of Well Enough Alone: A Cultural History of My Hypochondria, as well as Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood, and Judaikitsch: Tchotchkes, Schmattes and Nosherei, and the editor of The Autobiographer’s Handbook: The 826 National Guide to Writing Your Memoir. She lives in Ann Arbor.

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