Book snobbery takes many forms in my life. For example, when I worked in bookstores, thinking my life was over because all my friends were lawyers, I spent a lot of time mumbling “Philistines!” as I reshelved A Hundred Years of Solitude under G instead of M.
But the truth is that if you reshelve a book like that to its proper spot, no one can find it. This is true of Out of the Dust, as well. (Hold it. Have you not read this book? It’s the best depiction of dust bowl life that I’ve ever read.) It’s a book for kids, written in verse. But you cannot sell any children’s books by putting them in poetry, so the world is a better place if bookstore workers (who are all literary snobs) would put the book in the young adult section.
Speaking of young adult books, I don’t think I have ever mentioned here that I still read a lot of those. As far as I can tell, the only difference between them and adult novels is that the author explains subtle emotions a little more explicitly in young adult novels. Perfect for someone with Asperger’s, right?
I saved all my childhood books thinking that I’d read them to my kids. But when I offer my girl books, my boys don’t bite. I thought this might happen, but I still carried all my books with me from Chicago to LA to Boston to LA to NY to Madison to the farm. Maybe I was hoping the boys would be gay. I think gay boys might be into reading Ode to Billie Joe.
So I have all these books that I am never going to share with my kids. I am thinking I can share them with your kids. Send me an email with a list of five books that your daughter likes, and I’ll send your daughter one of my books. And I’ll even do book group with her if she wants. Although now I won’t be able to read the book again because she’ll have my book, but whether I can remember the content of a book has never stopped me from discussing it.
I am thinking now that maybe I’ll get thousands of emails. So, there’s a deadline: you have to send me an email within 24 hours of the publication of this post.
(Which, now that I think about it, is a great way to get people to subscribe to my blog. So, all you people who are reading this post more than 24 hours later, you missed out on a great giveaway probably because you aren’t subscribed. Subscribe now to get the opportunity to receive other packages of stuff I saved that no one wants!)
Back to my books. I try not to be a snob. Because I think it just closes doors. For example, I have written before about not being a language snob. If you are, then you stop yourself from learning about language. And being a snob about copyediting perfection is terrible, too — you end up never writing anything because it takes too long. Even career advice snobbery is bad, because people who fail give the best advice. So it’s no surprise that I find book snobbery self-destructive as well; when I’m a snob about books, they take over my house.
You can tell a lot about yourself by how you organize your books. I used to cultivate my lesbian book section. That was in my early twenties when I was surrounded by women in bikinis playing volleyball, and really, who wouldn’t wonder if she was gay, spending days like that? But then I tried it: I answered an ad for a woman who was a ballerina with the Joffrey and she had just retired and gotten breast implants. Try to imagine this. She was so incredibly hot. But lesbian sex was boring to me.
And, please do not tell me that I should have tried someone else. Because I did. It was during my bulimia days. I went to a lesbian bulimic overeaters anonymous group, and everyone was gorgeous, and I got picked up. But still, it was not all that satisfying.
But for decades, books took over every apartment I had. I never had furniture or decorations, only books.
In New York City my books were in storage, but I always knew I’d take them out sometime. I ended up taking them out here, on the farm. The farmhouse is not that big—only two bedrooms—but if you’ve lived in New York City for a decade, a two-bedroom house is huge. I didn’t want the books to take over everything though.
I thought of giving all the books away. But I remember how much I learned when my parents left for-my-age-inappropriate books all over our house. I want to make sure that my boys grow up with access to Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife.
So I started sorting books by color.
And then I did it by size. Like a Philistine. Suzan-Lori Parks next to Donald Barthelme. This has never happened here before, but it seems okay. There’s a reason that plays are published in the same dimensions as short stories.
It used to be that I would identify myself by my books. I wanted people to see me as someone with incredibly wide-reaching knowledge. Now I identify myself with my house—I want it to look fun and interesting, and to be a place where my kids will have that magical sort of childhood that combines safety and surprise.
You will notice there are not any work-related books. Anywhere. Which is odd because I receive at least one in the mail every day. I don’t save those books because they bore me. I wish I didn’t have to write that. But I think they bore you, too. That’s why you read this blog.
The best advice about how to conduct yourself at work is to know yourself, and get new information—from outside your own experience—about what is possible in the world. And that is what fiction, and plays, and poetry, and this blog, are about.