Tag: Paul Auster

Organising Your Personal Library

Posted February 14, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 4 Comments

Recently I have been thinking about building the perfect library; this was due to a collection of essays I was reading called The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel. In this book, Manguel explores the process of building his personal library from an old barn but he also looks at the history of libraries around the world. Each essay is titled ‘The Library as…’ space, power, shadow, and so on. These essays explore different topics, giving you a wealth of information. Take for example ‘The Library as Shadow’, which explores a darker side of library history, from book burning to censorship.

What I am particularly interested in was from the essay ‘The Library as Order’, which focuses on how we would arrange our personal library. It does not matter where or how you house your personal library; every person has their own opinions on that topic. I wanted to explore the concept of how we arrange the books. There are so many ways to arrange books, currently my books are everywhere and there is a certain appeal to this. I have bookshelves around the house and any new books end up wherever it fits. If I need to find a particular book, I can spend hours searching for it. This is not always ideal but there is something about this literary treasure hunt that I enjoy. I often discover books on my shelves that I have forgotten about or I want to dip back into. Looking at a shelf that offers no rhyme or reason can be mesmerising, and who does not enjoy just staring at a bookshelf? While this method works for me now, it is not practical if I have a library, I need to arrange my books differently. In The Library at Night, Alberto Manguel suggests some different ways to organise books;

  • alphabetically
  • by continent or country
  • by colour
  • by date of purchase
  • by date of publication
  • by format
  • by genre
  • by literary period
  • by language
  • according to our reading priorities
  • according to their binding
  • by series

Amidst all of these choices, I have to admit ‘according to our reading priorities’ does sound appealing but I feel like this would continually change. The obvious choice would be to organise alphabetically (by authors last name of course) but there are some draw backs with this. Not only will fiction and non-fiction sit side by side but the idea of Charles Dickens sitting next to Philip K Dick or Jane Austen beside Paul Auster seems odd. Although for those authors that dabble in both fiction and non-fiction, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn this system may be preferable.

Sorting by genre seems like a popular choice, and for all intents and purposes the most logical. As someone that reads on a whim, the ability to just head to somewhere like the detective fiction section and pick a gritty hard-boiled novel sounds wonderful. My only problem is the fact that it is often difficult to fit novels neatly into a single genre. Also, with an author like Jonathan Lethem you would have to separate his works, especially with his early books. I like the idea of sorting by genre but I found too many flaws in this system.

Picking an organisation strategy appeared to be much harder than it looked. Organising by colour is aesthetically pleasing but I never considered this as an option; it is just too random. I am playing around with a book-sorting app on my phone, which allowed me to create different shelves for organising. This allowed me to scan my books into the program and play with different ways to organise.

I eventually decided that there was no perfect way to organise a library, you can go into your public library and see evidence of this everywhere. I had to come up with a solution that worked for me. I do not have a library yet, but when I do, I am now sure I know how it will be organised. I have settled on sorting by continents for my fiction, this is because I have a keen interest in books in translation. I have discovered that splitting my fiction into continents will give me the opportunity to see where my strengths and weaknesses lie. If I organise my fiction by continent, I will notice which continents I need to focus on, like South America and Africa. I love reading around the world, I find it both an educational and rewarding experience.

If your reading journey and your library is a personal reflection, then the books that do not appear on your shelves say just as much about you as the books you do have on your shelf. When I became a reader, I quickly started building my book collection to a point where I have shelves and shelves of books everywhere. The problem I face now is the fact that I have only read about half of them. Publishers sent me books because of my blog but I also purchased books that sounded interesting. Now I have evolved as a reader and discovered where my literary tastes lie, there are books that remain on my shelf that are not a reflection of me as a reader. These books do not tell you anything about me because I have no desire to read them. While I know I should cull all books I have no interest in, it is hard to let go of a book that you have never read. What if it is fantastic and I just do not know that yet? There is the problem, but I do feel like I am getting to a point where I can be confident about a book I would not like. So maybe a purge is coming.

Now the problem with sorting the fiction by continents is that there are some countries I have a greater interest in – the literature of France and Russia for example. Do I split them into their own section? I am interested in all post-Soviet literature, so that brings up another question. How do I shelve these books? Russia seems too exclusive; calling them post-Soviet countries just does not sit right with me; Baltic and Slavic countries do not cover all the countries. This is one problem I need to solve, but for now I think this is the best choice for me.

Another issue I found with sorting by continent is that the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland fall under Europe but they do not feel the same. There is so much literature from the United Kingdom anyway, I feel like it would require its own shelves. I wonder about North America but honestly, does it matter if Canada and the United States sit together? For me it does not, although this may displease my Canadian friends. There are so many things to consider and this is only a small fraction of the problems I face with sorting my books.

When it comes to non-fiction, it was not difficult; this was always going to be sorted by subject. Philosophy, history, Russian history, books about books, art, and so on. However, that posed some interesting questions as well. Do you include philosophical novels like The Stranger by Albert Camus or Either/Or by Søren Kierkegaard in the philosophical section? My feeling is yes but where do you draw the line? There are novels that are philosophical in nature that I would not include under philosophy, like The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

I will continue to ponder just how I would organise my dream library, but I wanted to give you plenty to consider. Instead of reviewing The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel, which everyone should read, I preferred to explore what I got out of this essay collection. I have not even touched on any of the other topics in this book; I will leave that for you to discover. Also, I have not even talked about other aspects of setting up a library, like using the Dewey decimal system, or a card catalogue system. Thinking about setting up a dream library is an exciting activity for every bibliophile and we all have different ideas. I loved reading about someone’s journey and it gave me plenty to contemplate. For now, I will continue cataloguing my books using the app BookBuddy and working out how to organise everything. This experiment should also help me discover the gaps in my own library so I can pick better books to purchase.


The New York Trilogy by Paul Austen

Posted April 13, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Literary Fiction / 2 Comments

The New York Trilogy by Paul AustenTitle: The New York Trilogy (Goodreads)
Author: Paul Auster
Published: Penguin, 1987
Pages: 308
Genres: Crime, Literary Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

If you want to try a metafictional detective novel, then look no further than The New York Trilogy by Paul Austen. Originally published sequentially as City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room, these three interconnecting stories have been since collected into a single volume. Heavily influenced by the post-modernist movement, this novel blends elements of neo-realism, soft-boiled fiction and of course, metafiction. Even the pulp style cover (illustrated by Art Spiegelman) has a metafictional style to it.

I really wish I had a better grasp on post-modernism; there is a lot of literary theory that must go into fully understanding a novel like The New York Trilogy. My level of understanding of post-modernism might hinder this review but I will do my best to add something valuable here. Starting with a look at any example of one of the narrators; such as the one known as Peter Stillman, or is he? Maybe his name is something entirely different; maybe it is Paul Auster. This gives you an idea of just how you have to read this book; continuously questioning everything and assuming things are not as they have been told. This does make the novel difficult to read, I had to take my time with it and reread almost everything.

The first story City of Glass follows a detective fiction writer that becomes a private investigator. This unnamed narrator explores layers of identity and reality; often to Paul Auster (the author), Paul Auster (the writer), Peter Stillman (the mark), the other Peter Stillman (the son) and finally Daniel Quinn (the protagonist). The story follows this narrator as he descends into madness as the reader follows close behind. This is story that explores the relationship between the author, characters and the reader in a twisted kind of way. Essentially asking us to consider who has the real power in this relationship?

Ghosts follows the story of a private eye called Blue who is hired to follow Black; he has been hired by White to write down everything Black does. Only problem is that Black doesn’t do too much apart from sit and write all day, which means Blue spends all day sitting and writing. This is a story that explores the issue of who has the real power, the author or their characters. Paul Auster is showing us his views towards writing (sitting and watching what the character does).

Finally in The Locked Room, the title suggests that the story is referencing the locked room mystery archetype. It tells the story of a writer that doesn’t have the creativity to produce any fiction. When a childhood friend disappears, he has been hired to write his works and determine if they should be published. While one this job he finds himself taking the place of his friend and becoming husband and father to his family. This final story looks at the relationship between character and reader and asks us to consider if we are under the control of the author or do we interpret what is happening for ourselves.

It is interesting that a novel like The New York Trilogy can leave you perplexed and confused but when you try to articulate what happened and slowly dissect the novel into its three parts it all makes sense. I’m often surprised with how much I get out of a post-modern novel, especially since I often freak out and feel like I have not understood it. Then it all makes sense and I often wonder how I did not pick up on this while reading or after reading the novel. I hope I’ve made enough sense out of The New York Trilogy, a bizarre novel that requires very close attention but I’ve conquered it and I feel proud.