Teaching and marking are done, for me. The twenty or so novels I’ve been using, previously stacked in an easy-to-reach cluster, I’m now slotting back into my general shelves.
Some get to stay together. Ellison’s Invisible Man and Erdrich’s Tracks are adjacent, and TIm O’Brien and Joyce Carol Oates – pretty fitting, as during term-time they were frequently paired up by the students in their essays. Other books go solo. Joan Didion’s looking spindly and irritated next to the lovely bulk of Dickens, who wasn’t on the course at all.
The thread that drew the books together – the module reading list, the short period of intense study – is snipped, and they part. This feels melancholy. At least the module is running next year, and they’ll be reunited. No, that’s too sentimental. My reluctance to re-shelve them probably isn’t about romance/friendship/kinship between books, but rather about order and disorder. A tottering stack of random books fuels my fear of entropy and encroaching kibble. During term, each book had an additional purpose and meaning as part of a team. Now they don’t – or rather they send out tentative tentacles of connection all over the place: I’ve got an unreliable narrator, what about you? I like your cover! Mine’s pale blue too. Will you be my intertext?
Re-slotting my course texts makes me aware that my books are actually a dozen collections disguised by the false equivalence of alphabetical order. Things I loved as a child are interwoven with things I only vaguely aspire to read. I have whole shelves from different periods of studying. I think this collection-within-collections is perhaps more obvious in music (you can look at someone’s CDs and guess they were a teen in the 80s, a student during Britpop).
Looking at them doesn’t, I think, give someone a sense of me – maybe it would, if I re-organised them and annotated them (Books I am only keeping in case I need to argue about them on the Internet; Books I genuinely like).
Nevertheless, I’m the only reason they’re all in one place, and if I still have them when my term’s up, they’ll be slotted back into the general shelves, which is a weird thought. Then on to create other meanings in other collections, which is wonderful.