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May 4, 2012

Talking it over
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:52 AM * 110 comments

SF sat at my dining room table, crying into a cold cup of coffee. It was oh-God late, and I was trying not to think about having to be functional in the morning. But Fic has been a friend since I was four years old and in love with Spock and Aragorn at the same time. I cherish it more than sleep. I met my husband and most of my friends in its clubs and parties. I’ve been with it through its identity crises (“Speculative Fiction now, please”) and it’s been with me through mine.

This was a long session. We’d been through denial: “Bear is just wrong about me. I can be funny. I can be light-hearted. For crying out loud, Randall Munroe is up for a Hugo this year. What more does she want?”

Then SF got angry, and it was personal. “What the hell is a matociquala anyway?”

“Don’t frakking complain about gorram made-up words to me, grok?” I replied. That got a laugh, or at least an amused snort. And Fic mercifully avoided the temptation to dismiss Bear because she’s a woman. I keep hoping it knows better than to pull that crap with me. But more than once, it’s been that friend who says the unspeakable and expects me to put up with it. Not tonight, though, which may be progress.

We kind of skipped bargaining and went straight to depression. “Nobody respects me. J.K. Rowling didn’t come to Worldcon back in 2005, even though it was right on her doorstep. Margaret Atwood gives me the cut direct, like we’re still in the Victorian era. But when I smarten myself up and play by literary rules, my friends turn around and tell me I’m too serious.”

Now we were getting somewhere. Now I could say what I’d been thinking the whole time. “I think Elizabeth Moon has a point in the comments, Fic. You’re acting like an outsider hoping to join a high school clique. You’ve filled your closet with the ‘right’ clothes and started hanging around the fringes of their groups at dances. You’re trying to use their slang and tell their jokes. But I’m not sure that’s really a good idea.”

“You’re leaving your real friends behind. You’re treating the people who like you for yourself like clandestine lovers. You’ll sneak out the back and play swords and rockets with us. But when it’s time to see and be seen, you come over all grimdark and serious, because you think that’s what the lit professors want.

“But here’s a thing I learned in high school. The people whose clique you’re trying to join? They all think they’re outsiders too, hoping if they act cool enough they’ll finally be accepted. Sure, prize-winning authors go on talk shows and sound like they knew from the start that they would make it in the literary world. But the truth is that they just wrote the stories they had to tell, then retrofitted their histories when their books became hits.

“And the really interesting people aren’t trying to be popular. They’re off somewhere else, making something because it’s fascinating and wonderful to them. Then they get good at what they’re doing, because what we enjoy, we do over and over again, and practice makes skillful. Then one day they look up and find out that they’ve accumulated a crowd. After all, nothing is so attractive as enthusiasm combined with skill.

“Look at John Scalzi. Look at Jo Walton, Neil Gaiman or Lois McMaster Bujold. Heck, how do you think Pratchett got so damned good? He started writing the Discworld books because they were fun and funny. Then after a while he was producing some of the most trenchant social and economic criticism in the genre.

“Also, did you ever notice how the popular kids at school turn into those self-absorbed twits who make reunions such a chore? This year’s best-sellers—and this decade’s university-level Modern Fiction texts—aren’t necessarily the books that will last.

“You’re chasing mirages. I really wish you’d quit.”

SF looked at me patiently as I wound down. “Wow. How long has that been brewing?”

“Long time, I guess. And I think most of your friends have similar rants. But look, I don’t think Bear means you can’t be serious, or even grim, from time to time. Hear this song?” I’d been playing my current iTunes mix in the background. Silence creates a pressure to talk, and Fic needed think time. But this track was a perfect segue into my next point.

“Hmm?”

“It’s about a girl who’s drowned by her sister, and about how a wandering fiddler makes a violin out of her corpse. Grimmer than grimdark. But I play it because it’s beautiful. And the blues are a valid musical form. Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruitchanged the world.

“No one’s asking you to be all fluffy and cute. Just…you know, stop mistaking darkness for value. It’s a tool in the toolbox, not a measure of quality.”

“Right.” Fic drank a mouthful of coffee. “Hey, this is cold!” It stuck one finger in the mug and stared into space for a moment. Steam started to rise from the drink. It took another sip. “Better.”

“How did you…?”

“Burned a few calories from my waistline and transferred the thermal energy to the liquid. I’m Speculative Fiction, Abi. If I can explain it, I can do it.”

I laughed and pushed my mug across. “Sensawunda, baby! Can you do mine too?”

“Sure thing.”

Comments on Talking it over:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 08:43 AM:

I'd like to point out that while Billie Holiday sang "Strange Fruit" and made it famous, she didn't write it. It was written by Abel Meeropol using the pseudonym "Lewis Allan".

It thus counts as a crossover. In four ways: from folk to blues; from protest to blues; from Popular Front propaganda to blues; from the Jewish experience to the black experience.*


* Granted, some of us automatically do the last.

#2 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 08:43 AM:

I have been detained by Their Gnomish Lownesses.

#3 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 08:47 AM:

Awesome.

Absolutely totally awesome.

And yeah, that tendency to look at the "cool kids over there" and wish you were part of the group also means missing the fact that you're "alone" over here with a huge number of friends who somehow showed up when you weren't looking, and accepted you or you accepted them or something, and who you enjoy when you're not doing all that angsty naval gazing.

#4 ::: pnkrokhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 08:56 AM:

This made my morning!

#5 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 09:24 AM:

Fragano Ledgister3:

From the Luminescent Explicarium:

The Gnomish Lowlands are not so much a country, as a collective of territories which lie lower than their surrounds, and are thus prone to drainage and runoff (See also: fen, delta, landfill, and primary debate), resulting in the accumulation of the of detritus, effluvium and marginalia. The lowlands are usually poor places with few resources of their own, partly due to their natural composition, and partly due to the fouling of the environment that occurs when the surrounding areas allow their varied effluvium to run naturally to its lowest point.

To make matters worse, the Lowlands are fraught with quickmires, labyrinths, and intellectual dishonesty which tend, once something has entered their environs, to hold it fast, suck it in, and hinder or prevent attempts to repair, restore, or improve the environment.

The leaders of these areas, often designated as "Their Gnomish Lownesses" have, of necessity, become scavengers and hoarders, considering anything which falls into their territory their property and seeking anything which may be used as a resource. It is claimed they find URLs and grammatical errors particularly valuable for their contradictory nature, being simultaneously stable and ephemeral.

Once something has come into the property of the Lownesses, it takes a special person called a Moderator to seek out and recover these items. Moderators are well trained in the seeking out of pearls among swine, the recognition and discovery of needles in haystacks, and are skilled in utilizing Occam's razor to cut through bovine effluvium and find the true path.

#6 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 09:31 AM:

That was perfectly wonderful. Thanks, Abi.

#7 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 09:54 AM:

That was lovely, thank you!

#8 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 10:00 AM:

Also, did you ever notice how the popular kids at school turn into the fat balding insurance salesmen who make reunions such a chore?

Hey, I wasn't that popular at school*!

I have an occasional rant about how "SF should be taken seriously by [someone or other, but usually the literary establishment, whoever they are]" and "SF is special and needs to be marketed/read differently to [mainstream literature]" are often being argued at the same time without acknowledging the contradictions. Good work in showing SF the contradictions.

* Also I don't sell insurance any more.

#9 ::: Affenschmidt ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 10:00 AM:

Huh--I figured "goram" was Chinese, given all the Chinese that showed up in Firefly, but thirty seconds of research (aka Google) indicates that it isn't...

Also: given mention of "The Cruel Sister," I recommend for any who haven't read them already Deborah Grabien's Murder Ballads series of mysteries--there's Cruel Sister, Matty Groves, The Famous Flower of Serving Men and a couple of others.

#10 ::: Rob Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 10:55 AM:

It is interesting that many themes that have been associated with SF are creeping into mainstream lit. Examples: alternative history, time travel, post-apocalyptic living, and classic dystopian futures. Locating the mainstream lit sources is left as an exercise for the reader. :)

#11 ::: FaultyMemory ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 10:55 AM:

Thank you, abi.

#12 ::: Rob Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 10:59 AM:

It is interesting that many themes that have been associated with SF are creeping into mainstream lit. Examples: alternative history, time travel, post-apocalyptic living, and classic dystopian futures. Locating the mainstream lit sources is left as an exercise for the reader. :)

#13 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 11:00 AM:

Exactly, sweetie! The issue, SFF, isn't the seriousness or the commitment. I love those things about you!

The issue is the cynical emo pose--and the fact that, frankly, all of your friends (meaning the critical establishment and readers and other writers) have all been encouraging it by taking it way too seriously when you take yourself way too seriously.

I just want you to put a little punk back in your goth, is all. Punk looks good on you. And I don't mean hyphenated-punk, either.

#14 ::: Harlequin ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 11:05 AM:

I have an occasional rant about how "SF should be taken seriously by [someone or other, but usually the literary establishment, whoever they are]" and "SF is special and needs to be marketed/read differently to [mainstream literature]" are often being argued at the same time without acknowledging the contradictions.

I'm not sure those necessarily contradict. It depends if the first part means "SF should change to be more appealing to the literary establishment" or "the literary establishment should change so that it appreciates SF." Like any genre (including mainstream literature) SF has a range of quality, from the really crappy stuff that I love anyway because it hits my narrative buttons up to the amazing stuff that I can convince my non-SF-loving friends to enjoy; they have a different experience reading those works than I do, because it's outside the genre context, but they still appreciate them.

Or, to put it another way, mainstream literature is special and needs to be marketed in a particular way, and that doesn't mean nobody but mainstream literature fans can take it seriously.

Anyway, yes, wonderful post; thanks.

#15 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 12:06 PM:

A post of graceful truth, abi, with a lovely garnish by pedantic peasant @ 5.

My own connection with SF began in childhood; that's had a major effect on my personality, my view of the universe, and my way of approaching life and its problems. This is probably true for a lot of the people reading this, and the SF community in general. I doubt that turning away from SF or even trying to make SF more like the "popular" lits is really possible for us without wrenching changes to ourselves. It's true that childhood friendships rarely last through life, but when they do, they're the deepest friendships there are and should be treasured as such.

#16 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 12:15 PM:

That was fun; thanks.

#17 ::: Cathy Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 12:22 PM:

I just got back from a funeral. I have a paper due. I read this while shoving a sandwich down my throat before I pass out. Glad I did, this is just a great piece of writing. Fic, can you come over and warm my tea up?

#18 ::: Maygra ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 12:50 PM:

Saves forever and ever.

This is good stuff, Abi. Thank you.

#19 ::: jennythereader ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 01:42 PM:

Wonderful post. There's a reason I've been re-reading old favorites more than buying new stuff the last few years.

It's felt like Science Fiction has lost that sense of hope for the future and Fantasy has lost the joy in the past (both real and mythical) that are a large part of why I love both genres. I hope that SF rediscovers both.

#20 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 02:26 PM:

pedantic peasant, #5: Well done!

Rob, #10: It's even more interesting that as those themes have edged over into the mainstream, there has been a determined effort to file the SF serial numbers off them. Urban vampires? Not SF. Killer robots? Not SF. Post-apocalyptic dystopia? Not SF. Time travel? Not SF (although there are still people who push back on that one).

As far as I can tell, the primary reason for this is that there are a lot of people who like these things but are convinced that they "hate SF" -- so, of course, these things can't possibly be SF because they like them!

#21 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 02:35 PM:

But Fic has been a friend since I was four years old and in love with Spock and Aragorn at the same time.

Oh, thank God. It wasn't just me (though I was a little more than five).

#22 ::: Walter Hawn ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 02:35 PM:

Let us never forget that SF began as mainstream lit, H.G. Wells at the forefront. Some years later, Kingley Amis wrote a very well-received critique, The Idea As Hero, of the genre, which may have reignited the gentrification of SF.

And I was sorta surprised that Kurt Vonnegut was not mentioned as one of those who dissed SF after succeeding mightily. Let us never forget Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan.

#23 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 02:35 PM:

#9 ::: Affenschmidt

Huh--I figured "goram" was Chinese...

I took it as TV-speak for a blaspheme, related to gol-durn and gosh-darn.

Hilarious thread! I came to a(nother) full stop at Pedantic Peasant's fen, delta, landfill, and primary debate.

#24 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 02:41 PM:

Yes. Yes indeed.

And yes, Lee, the "SF isn't good, so anything that's good isn't SF" is still a common bit of circular reasoning. I propose we call it Atwooding.

#25 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 02:48 PM:

pedantic peasant #5: You win an internet.

#26 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 02:49 PM:

Abi: That was, to put it mildly, wonderful.

#27 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 03:17 PM:

Funny, clever essay, but while we're on the topic of expecting people to put up with things...

the fat balding insurance salesmen who make reunions such a chore

...could we add that kind of thing to the list of things up with which we will not put? I'm pretty sure some man using, say, "frumpy middle-aged office manager" as a signifier of inherently-tedious-person would not be welcomed here.

#28 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 03:49 PM:

Rob Thornton@10 and Lee@20: It seems to me that those themes, with the possible exception of time travel, have always been part of the mainstream. Of course, you can argue that the books which include them are 'really' SF, but then you can (and people do) argue the same of current books with the same themes. But there's nothing new about such books being written by mainstream writers for mainstream readers, and sold on mainstream shelves. (Vampires aren't mainstream, to be sure - but they are, traditionally, Horror, which is a different genre - which doesn't make that much sense in terms of content, but does probably make sense in terms of communities of readers.)

You can define genres purely in terms of content; or you can define them in terms of traditions and communities and expectations. If you do it the second way, it will be true that some books with otherworldly and futuristic content are not SF. This is not surprising: not every book which features a murder is Crime, and not every book in which two people fall in love is Romance. It may be the case that some people are just convinced that they 'hate SF'. But it's equally possible that they genuinely don't like the stuff sold as SF because it's packaged in a particular way, building on knowledge and expectations which they don't share, and are happier with SFnal content when it's packaged in a way they find more accessible.

#29 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 04:03 PM:

Andrew 28: It seems to me that those themes, with the possible exception of time travel, have always been part of the mainstream.

Well, SF was the mainstream for a long time, but since that ceased to be true...really? Can you give any examples between, say, 1900 and 1980 (and I won't quibble about the edges of that) of a novel in the literary mainstream (that is, not considered "genre" and taken seriously as "literature" by stuffy professors of English) that had alternative history as a major theme? Post-apocalyptic living? Killer robots?

I think I must have misunderstood your point. I can't think of a single "mainstream" novel where killer robots were a central plot element.

#30 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 04:05 PM:

I have been gnomed. This time I really have gno idea why.

#31 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 04:06 PM:

Avram @27:

Well, on the one hand, what I meant was "that subset of [fat balding insurance salesmen] who make reunions such a bore."

But on the other hand, that's not what I wrote. I apologize. I'll rewrite that section of the post.

#32 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 04:10 PM:

At my 10-year reunion it was the people who had not changed since high school who were a trial. They were still doing the things that made them popular back then, not realizing that they caused nothing but eye rolling in the adults the rest of us had become.

#33 ::: Edmund Schweppe ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 04:44 PM:

Xopher Halftongue @29: I can't think of a single "mainstream" novel where killer robots were a central plot element.

Not even ICBMs with thermonuclear warheads?

#34 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 05:24 PM:

Xopher @29

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

The Aerodrome, Rex Warner

No, I can't think of any killer robots either.

#35 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 05:46 PM:

Nothing particularly useful to add on the main topic, but for what it's worth, Gillian Welch does a really nice version of "The Wind and Rain". Which, thanks to Affenschmidt's comment at 9, I now know is alternately known in various versions as "The Cruel Sister" or "The Twa Sisters". Hooray for incidental learning!

#36 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 06:21 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue@29: When I say 'mainstream' I don't mean specifically books taken seriously by English professors; I just mean the great mass of fiction which doesn't have a specific genre label.
That said:
Post-apocalyptic living: Shute, On The Beach.*
Alternate History: Nabokov: Ada; Amis, The Alteration.
OK, I give up on killer robots. What books about killer robots are being treated as mainstream now? (Though actually, Lee didn't say mainstream, just 'not SF'.)**


*Yes, I thought of Lord of The Flies too - which is certainly SF, broadly construed, if you go by content - but while it begins with a nuclear war it's not clear how central that is to the plot.
**And if we are just thinking of 'not-SF', I can think of several alternate histories sold as crime or spy stories.

#37 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 06:38 PM:

George Stewart's Earth Abides for post-apocalyptic mainstream (yes, it was published as mainstream). Capek's R.U.R was a mainstream play about robots. Seven Days in May probably counts as alternate history, though it's really close to contemporary. Most of Wells' SF wasn't treated as genre, and is published in the period between 1900 and 1950.

For fantasy, Cabell wasn't treated as anything other than mainstream when it was coming out, and was looked at seriously as literature. The people writing reviews for Tolkien included major literary people (ISTR Auden wrote a very positive review, and the pre-publication blurbs [printed originally on the back flap of the eighth printing of The Hobbit and the front flap of Fellowship] were by C. S. Lewis, Naomi Mitchison and Richard Hughes -- not totally a genre group).

There's a lot more than you think out there.

#38 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 06:57 PM:

Dear SF,

I love you just the way you are. Always have.

In the last little while I have read Yves Meynard's _Chrysanthe_ (fantasy), Karl Schroeder's _Ashes of Candesce_ (SF), Mary Robinette Kowal's _Glamour in Glass_ (fantasy), C.J. Cherryh's _Intruder_ (SF) and I'm about half way through Samuel Delany's _Valley of the Nest of Spiders_ (SF). I'm also really looking forward to James Corey's _Caliban's War_ (SF) and Daniel Abraham's _The King's Blood_ (fantasy) which are due out really soon.

I think you're awesome, and in really wonderful shape this year.

all my love always,

Jo

P.S. Also, the Hugo nominees? Best *ever*.

#39 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 07:32 PM:

Vampire novels go back to the early 19th century: The Vampyre (1819) by Polidori, and Varney the Vampire (1845). It became a genre after Dracula was publish in 1897. And there were folktales about vampire long before any novels were published.

In some ways, Gulliver's Travels is science fiction. Many tropes came from it - the very large, the very small, the flying island.

And I got this all from surfing Wikipedia for a little while. Genre is a relatively new g/h/e/t/t/o marketing tool.

#40 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 07:33 PM:

Gnomed, and I have no idea why. No urls, but lots of italics for titles.

["marketing tool" did it. Filter adjusted so that only "marketing-tool" with a hyphen will trip it. -- JDM]

#41 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 07:46 PM:

Most of the people who show up at high school reunions (not all, thank Ghu) are the people who are still in high school.

#42 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 07:48 PM:

Jim Macdonald:

So the spam filters assume that anything coming from some marketing-tool must be spam?

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (Apparently Speaker to Gnomes) ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 07:50 PM:

My previous post has been gnomed, probably because I referred to the phrase "mrktng-tl". My bad.

#44 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 08:24 PM:

I would like to suggest that the distinction between SF-the-genre and mainstream is not the topics, but the tendency to hold a "conversation with itself" (I have heard that phrase used somewhere for it; was it here or LJ?) — specific tropes, references, in-jokes, etc. that tend to draw a border between readers who are insiders and "get it", and those who are not. This also characterizes other genres of my experience.

#45 ::: adelheid_p ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 08:43 PM:

I absolutely love this post. It made me smile and is right on. Thanks abi.

#46 ::: distraxi ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 09:06 PM:

SF, Dude, wake up and smell the roses! The war is over, the geeks won. In fiction as we did in life. OK, so we may have had to enlist the technothriller and the paranormal romance to do it, but a win's a win, right? The cool kids just won't talk to you because they're afraid people will think they're stalking you.

#47 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 09:52 PM:

#29 Xopher--I don't think it's the professors you have to worry about WRT accepting SF/F (and Horror); it's the mainstream critics who get the twitching murbles over it.

Criticism done well requires developing a deep familiarity with the area you're working in, as well as the toolkit to analyze and discuss it. They're not familiar with it, and may resent having to put in additional time to get to that point; their toolkit doesn't have what they need in it--it's like trying to do roofing work with the tools for installing hardwood floors. Instead of saying "I'm not set up for this", they get pissy about it, as if the book was to blame for what they aren't in a position to do well.

#48 ::: Christopher Wright ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 10:07 PM:

This post was brilliant, as was Elizabeth Bear's (Bears? Bears'? Damned apostrophe!) It also inspired me to post something of my own, which I will not link to because that would me a marketing t-- er... a person who is compared to a device used to make labor easier, but not compared in a flattering manner.

But the point is it got me to think about the nature of SF enough so that I was actually able to distill something that I felt for a long time but never specifically stated, and then in that mad rush of inspiration to actually state it. And that's the kind of great thing about these kinds of posts. It inspires people to talk, and, you know, decide things.

#49 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 10:12 PM:

A Canticle for Liebowitz is surely mainstream.

#50 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 11:09 PM:

OK, boundary problems here. I can't imagine how A Canticle for Liebowitz could be anything but SF. And I certainly don't see anything post-apocalyptic about Lord of the Flies, which is a "desert island" story, and no more post-apocalyptic than Robinson Crusoe.

So I'm satisfied that we're just using different definitions, and that mine is based on the idea that if there's substantial speculation in the fiction, it's speculative fiction. Therefore ANYTHING that speculates about "what if the CSA had won the Civil War" or "what will life be like after a devastating nuclear war" is by definition speculative fiction.

Maybe that's circular; it seems self-evident to me. But that's why I tried to put in the bit about being accepted by the snoots who insist that "literary" fiction is not a genre and stuff like that.

#51 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 11:22 PM:

I wouldn't waste time on what the snoots think; it's the usual "my literature, your genre, their fishwrap" stuff. "Genre" is not about content, but about community.

#52 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 11:29 PM:

I've always felt that trying to tidily put books* into categories spins into madness as you hit edge conditions. Gabriel Garcia Marquez obviously belongs in fantasy, for example. Libraries and bookstores are compelled to try, because readers want to browse similar titles. They can (and should!) cheat a bit, and shelve the same title in a few different places. The funniest bit of shelving I've ever seen was in Scribners -- David Sedaris in "Classics for Young Adults", along with Dickens and the like. I would have adored Sedaris as a teenager, but I wouldn't have expected to see him on the AP English test!

Webstores usually have some sort of "similar products" tab. I was just looking at a product that Bruce Schneier mentioned on his blog: a flash drive shaped like a tampon. I looked at the sales listing for it, noticed the "Similar Products" tab, and clicked it with some trepidation...


*or most anything else!

#53 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2012, 11:48 PM:

Xopher @ 29

Jack London's The Scarlet Plague is set in San Francisco after an epidemic has wiped out most of humanity. If Kurt Vonnegut counts as mainstream Cat's Cradle is apocalyptic, though there isn't much post- in it.

Not a novel, but the anthology If It Had Happened Otherwise came out in 1930. Many of the essays were written by historians (and one by Winston Churchill), and a number of them were written as narratives. Churchill's had the clever structure of an alternate history essay about the Union winning the Civil War from an alternate universe where the Confederacy won the Civil War.

R.U.R. has already been mentioned. On the one hand it was a play written in Czech, and not a novel written in English. On the other hand, not only does it have the first robots, they are killer robots.

#54 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 12:13 AM:

Before I wander off for the night - high school reunions can be a lot of fun. I've been to my 20th and 40th (missed the 30th for various reasons). Don't bother with the 10th; people are still finding out who they are. (The 40th was a blast.)

#55 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 12:21 AM:

I found my 10th tremendously healing, overall. Some weird moments, like when the husband of one of the girls in my class hit on me in the men's room, but mostly it was realizing that the terrible way people treated me in high school was mostly about high school students being abominable...and that they weren't those people any more. And I stopped hating them.

Yea, even unto B**** J****, who had gone from being a sadistic and doltish thug to a still-somewhat-doltish decent ordinary guy. If I'd had access to firearms when I was in 8th grade, B**** would not have lived out the year, and I would have spent a couple of decades (at least) in prison. But after the reunion...I honestly and truly ceased to bear him any ill will at all.

It was great. I had no particular need to see those people again, though. They were affable strangers.

#56 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 01:09 AM:

janetl @52: The funniest bit of shelving I've ever seen was in Scribners -- David Sedaris in "Classics for Young Adults", along with Dickens and the like.

I've told this one before: James Joyce's Ulysses in the Biographies section, in a Barnes & Noble.

#57 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 02:25 AM:

Avram, how many young retail bookstore clerks do you suppose have mistakenly shelved Joyce's Ulysses in the Ancient History section?

"Why'd you put that there, kid?"

"We read Homer in senior year, sir, so I thought it was about an old Greek guy."

#58 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 02:28 AM:

(The dialogue continues . . .)

Manager: "Kid, Ulysses is Latin!"

Clerk: "But sir, it's still Ancient!"

#59 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 02:33 AM:

There was the book distributor's catalog that included Black Beech and Honeydew in the forestry section. The author's name caught my eye — Ngaio Marsh. Yes, the author of the mystery novels. It was her autobiography.

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 02:50 AM:

In the Sutherland Home Library, all non-comic books except reference books (narrowly construed: dictionaries, grammars, language instruction books, and travel guides) are alphabetized by author.

My personal breakpoint was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: fiction or biography?

#61 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 05:21 AM:

Also, did you ever notice how the popular kids at school turn into those self-absorbed twits who make reunions such a chore?

Great, another crack at this! There were other people at the reunion?

Harlequin @14 Or, to put it another way, mainstream literature is special and needs to be marketed in a particular way, and that doesn't mean nobody but mainstream literature fans can take it seriously.

It's certainly possible to navigate a course between the two points I made. Maybe SF thinks people don't take her seriously for wearing a T-shirt with a rocketship on and changes into a black shirt and leather jacket. The anti-rocketship people are still going to clear off when they get invited in for coffee and realise that SF lives in a converted rocketship[1].

Or to put it another way I talked to an SF dilettante about a book and thought I was talking about a novel about Norse culture, honour, cross-cultural communication, sacrifice for what you love and pushing some fantasy tropes to logical limits. She heard that it was about trolls, and elves or maybe dwarves, and the hero had an animal companion[2]. I invite people into the territory that their map says "Here be Dragons" and say "Look at the landscape, the people, the crafts," and they're all like "Their are dragons. EVERYWHERE," and I say "Sure, but what's fascinating is the links between.." "DRAGONS!"

Some of them fall in love with the dragons. Some don't. Maybe they were bitten by one as a child. My metaphor has got out of control so I should probably stop and have a coffee.

[1] They will never find out that it's not converted at all and can blast off at any moment.
[2] Have we fought and died in vain?

#62 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 07:43 AM:

In my home library, I have non-fiction and fiction shelved separately, because I use different ways of locating them. Shelving the non-fiction books by author would be unhelpful, because for many of them the author isn't a detail that comes to mind when I'm trying to remember where I put it.

(My brother, whose home library is significantly larger than mine, has gone to the trouble of cataloguing it. I think he also shelves non-fiction separately, because I remember him once telling me he'd decided Moby-Dick was best categorised as a non-fiction book about whaling that happened to include illustrative passages of fiction.)

#63 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 08:21 AM:

We're about to do some overhaul of the home library. Mainly in centralizing - the current scheme of piles of books all over the house is really, really not working for locating X. Some reorganization of the basement will create enough space to have pretty much all the books down there.

I've been thinking about organization schemes. The genre fiction (SF, mystery, romance) will be all together by author because it makes no sense to separate them (which of those 3 gets the J.D. Robb books?). The science & engineering reference books are already all shelved together. There needs to be a separate section on religion & spirituality because that's the category currently giving me the worst "Somewhere in the house we have a copy of..." problem. I think the rest of the nonfiction will get a loose topical grouping - writing & language, foreign language, travel, history & politics, popular science (distinguishable from reference), things relevant to special education & kids with disabilities. A catchall "other" section.

#64 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 08:35 AM:

In my home, genre fiction has a room all to itself. A big room. And it's full. SFF has two walls all by itself.

Thankfully, my husband likes E books now.

#65 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 08:48 AM:

Returning to the original post (which I greatly enjoyed) ...

SF, we seem to be finding it harder to agree on something to do together these days. You were always my go-to friend, and we still share good times, but I think we need to go our separate ways part of the time. We don't have as much in common as we used to. I'm changing - I'm more of a homebody, less willing to take off into totally unknown territory where I don't speak the language, don't know the customs, and have to take a lot of time figuring out what's going on. I have a low tolerance for violence and betrayal. I'm more interested in the quiet aspects of a life well lived, and that's always bored you.

You're changing, too. Probably you always had obsessions and I just didn't notice them before, but now? You're way more into dystopia and grimdark than I care to go. And the vampires and zombies? Just, no. Oh, I know that's not all that you are, and I continue to enjoy the more hopeful parts of you when they are showing. But I'm going to be a little more choosy about which trips I take with you, and which ones I wave you off and am happy to see you when you get back.

But let's stay in touch. We go way back, and I don't ever want to lose that.

#66 ::: praiisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 09:21 AM:

abi @ 60

Shouldn't the question be 'religion or DIY'? (I'd always assumed it was a novel written in autobiographical form, rather than a true story.)

#67 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 09:23 AM:

Going off on a tangent, Bear's point -- and Abi's response -- triggered some thoughts on the death of genre.

#68 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 09:39 AM:


Why, T3-RNs, this is stupid stuff
You get your upgrades right enough
There can't be much amiss, that's clear
To see the way you oil your gears
But oh! to hear the tales you tell
It makes a carbon-based life form say 'What the Hell!'
'The cloned triceratops is dead
It sleeps well the horned head'
Outwith your Terms of Service 'tis to keep
Sending your licensee to sleep
With tales so grimly paranoid.
Come, make me laugh, my sweet android.

I'm not sure I can keep up a Housman pastiche up for the full five stanzas - at least not today - but while I enjoyed both the OP and the post by Elizabeth Bear that prompted it, those who know the original will see that I incline to Jo Walton's sode of the question.

#69 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 09:53 AM:

Xopher (50): Lord of the Flies gets counted* as SF because it takes place during/immediately after a nuclear war. This is just set-up--how the boys ended up on the island--and has nothing directly to do with the plot, but it's there in the background.

*not necessarily by me

#70 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 10:17 AM:

Xopher @50, Mary Aileen @69

There's something odd about how the boys describe the plane at the start of Lord of the Flies; they refer to a passenger tube and seem to think the passenger tube got dropped by the rest of the plane. They might just not understand how the plane works, but it seems we're supposed to be in a nuclear war with future planes. I still wouldn't classify it as SF, but I might stand there thinking with it in my hand for 3 or 4 seconds.

#71 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 12:00 PM:

On the mis-shelving of books:

It took talking to three different librarians on visits that spanned a month before I was able to convince the librarians at Columbus Public that Drawing Down the Moon by Marot Adler was non-fiction. I kept finding it in the Fiction...

Oh, they were also shelving McCaffrey's Pern books in the Fantasy section. That battle took several months. (But it's about DRAGONS!) I had to make them read the prologue.

#72 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 01:05 PM:

OtterB, #63: My books are shelved partly according to topic and partly according to bookshelf space. :-) MMPB SF is on the 3 bookcases in the hallway (one of which also has a shelf dedicated to Regency romance), sorted by author; collections are filed with their author, anthologies go in a different section and are filed alphabetically by title. SF hardcover and media reference books are on the large bookcase in my computer room (which would be the dining room in a non-fannish household). Trade PB SF is on the middle-sized bookcase next to that, which also holds poetry and related books. MMPB mystery is on the bookcase in the bedroom; hardcover mystery is on the 3rd bookcase in my computer room, along with graphic novels and some art books. Most reference is on the bookcase at the other end of the hallway, which also holds some of my partner's books; the rest of his are on the other bookcase in the bedroom. The oversized art books are on the tall bookcase in the living room, which also holds the TBR piles. Various smaller topics such as Arthurian, humor, lit-fic, and language are pulled out into scattered smaller bookshelves where they fit, to make room on the bigger ones for more of the stuff that goes there. (SF/mystery crossovers are generally filed with the mysteries, because the SF shelves are the most chronically short of space.)

An awful lot of this is judgment calls, or just a feeling on my part that "this book belongs in that group". Anyone who was looking for a specific book on my shelves, outside of the major categories, would probably have a very hard time finding it. I wish we had enough space to devote one room to being a library, rather than just shoehorning in bookcases wherever we can.

#73 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 01:18 PM:

Now I'm remembering my pleas to the librarians to change the titles on two displays from "Men's Books" and "Women's Books" to "Westerns" and "Romance". That was the Lancaster, Pennsylvania public library in the late 1970s.

#74 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 01:25 PM:

Lee @72, I was just downstairs working on the basement and realized that bookshelf space will also have to be a consideration. We have a couple of homebuilt shelves, one that is entirely sized for mmpb and one where the top two shelves are sized that way. So that will have to come into play on what goes where.

But even an imperfect organization will beat what we have now. "It could be here or it could be there" beats the heck out of "It's here somewhere."

#75 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 03:46 PM:

Lori, #71: I consider Pern to be fantasy up to The White Dragon; the lost-colony prologue is not enough IMO to tip the balance until it gets some backup in the books themselves. More broadly, Pern is the classic illustration of why science fiction and fantasy should be shelved together. There are a lot of edge cases.

Re finding pagan books in the fiction section, this is sadly not uncommon; I've encountered it at bookstores with labeled "Religion" sections. Some people are really unwilling to admit that there is more than one religion in the world.

#76 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 03:55 PM:

When I was an ASM at a Barnes & Noble in 1984, one of our new hires, young and industrious and not a SF reader, put every last one of the hardcover copies of Job by Robert Heinlein face-out in Business and Careers.

My manager laughed like a drain when I showed her. We were so charmed that we left it that way for three days.

#77 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 04:48 PM:

I tend to file within fiction by author and size (paperbacks in the mass market/trade sizes and hardcover), and in non-fiction by general topic.

It's never really occurred to me to split the fiction up into genres -- there are enough authors that write in multiple genres (Andre Norton wrote science fiction, fantasy, westerns and romance, for example) to render it annoying to have to search all over for one particular author's works.

#78 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 05:33 PM:

Our unfeasibly large and cheap apartment actually has a room we call the library. Oddly, it is not where the built-in bookshelves that hold all of our classics-related texts and fiction -- far more than half our holdings -- are. The library has cheap folding bookshelves with the poetry, plays, anthologies, and nonfiction organized by Dewey Decimal number; after we moved in here, we spent a blissful Saturday evening drinking and cataloguing. I don't know how we'll reorganize if/when the room is repurposed as planned, for the storage of a new human.

Separating our fiction by genre sounds profoundly unsettling, although I find it useful in stores. Too many edge cases, too many multi-genre authors, and the potential for embarrassment. (Do we own more books by Laurell K. Hamilton than from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries combined? It's not impossible, and I'm not sure I want to know.)

As for high school reunions, I went to my fifth, which was utterly unnecessary and dull, although I did at least get to show a handful of classmates that since high school I'd lost weight, dyed my hair pink, and become able to get a date. I skipped the tenth. Facebook does remove a lot of the curiosity about what people are doing.

#79 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 05:40 PM:

praisegod barebones @66:

I understand that portions of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance are substantially factual. They're not necessarily the same portions as the ones that are true.

That puts it pretty solidly in the "autobiography" camp, albeit somewhat novelized.

We periodically recatalog our library with LibraryThing. The bulk of it fills the walls of part of our living room, though there's overspill into a number of areas in the house, notably the Bob Shaw collection in the bedroom (Martin's a fan) and the technical and bookbinding books that congregate near our desks.

Of course, since books are also input to one of my hobbies, we have some that should be classed less as literature than as raw materials, at least until they've passed through the bindery. Which may take some time.

#80 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 05:45 PM:

I have 2 types of books: books in boxes, and books on shelves. Books on shelves may be divided into 2 subcategories: books I have not read, craft books.

This year's project is carving out my extraneous possessions, and setting up my life, which includes bookshelves.

#81 ::: Nancy C. Mittens has been GNOMED!!!!! ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 05:46 PM:

For the first time ever!

So exciting! (Seriously, I find this exciting!)

O magnificent master-gnome, please do not let my unseemly excitement prejudice you against my comment!

#82 ::: Roquat Rufus, Rex Gnomi ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 05:56 PM:

My dear Nancy,

It is so rare to have anyone actually delighted to make our acquaintance. I hope that you enjoyed the biscuits and conversation as much as we did.

If you can manage it without resorting to such vulgar tactics as bad grammar or advertising medications, we would be delighted to have your company again in the future.

(The proximate cause of your visit to us was the verb that you used to describe your activities with regard to your extraneous possessions. I am certain it will bemuse you as much as it has us to know how much spam we receive on the subject of sculpting fruit. Honestly, sometimes people baffle me.)

#83 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 06:36 PM:

"what if the CSA had won the Civil War"

I had a brief brain glitch, wherein I interpreted CSA as Community Supported Agriculture, and that made this question extra strange.

#84 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 06:43 PM:

I am sure it has been noted before on this very blog, but Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons is covertly science fiction.
I don't know that the UK had quite the same gated community of literature, though.

#85 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 07:08 PM:

Had purged my 30-some feet of books down to a mere 10 or so, arranged mostly according to size--there was a 6.8-er some years back, and one shelf went down due to high center of gravity. Aside from that, there is one shelf for Left Hand Path/magical stuff, one for science--mostly cosmology/dimensions and stuff that I haven't gotten far into yet--2 shelves of fiction [speculative] much of which goes way, way back, a handspan of books on gender issues, and the rest is miscellaneous, with the small books on the higher shelves, the big ones below. Not sure how much the collection will expand in years to come.
Computer-related books and foreign-language dictionaries roam in a sort of asteroid-belt around my desk/table, which is built strong enough [by me] to withstand the building collapsing when the Cascadia subduction zone lets go.
I too have an allergy to excessive grimdark, or even a little of it; I don't like to read about violence and suffering, but prefer the cosmic wonder, Big Cool Objects and so on. For me, if things go really wrong in a story, they need to go really right by the time it's over.

#86 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 08:52 PM:

Kayjayoh I had a brief brain glitch, wherein I interpreted CSA as Community Supported Agriculture, and that made this question extra strange.

Imagine how I feel every time someone says "I joined my local CSA this year."

#87 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 10:51 PM:

Those of you who have built Book-Eating Bookshelves, I have a technical inquiry relating to design.

The instructions seem to imply that if you want to cover more than 30" laterally with them, you should make multiple completely independent units and mount them.

This, it seems to me, leaves you with a lot of doubled vertical members, wasting a book or so's space each time you do it.

I have a 10' (laterally) wall that I wish to completely cover in Book-Eaters. Is there another way to design it so that (a) I can still get to the sides of the shelves to screw them in and (b) I don't have doubled vertical members regularly?

The two suggestions that come to mind are covering the doubling-point with a decorative piece of wood (still wastes the space, but pretty) or offsetting the shelves a half-shelf-depth apart every other unit and having scalloped top and bottom edges of the unit as a whole.

#88 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 11:16 PM:

87
That's about as wide as you want wood bookshelves to be without additional support. And even then, they'll sag a bit in the middle, if they're heavy.

#89 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 11:34 PM:

The Hastings, NE public library insisted on shelving John McPhee's The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed as fiction. They were immune to my suggestions they read any of it, or any reviews that conveyed that this is not a person who has ever (?) written fanciful fiction.

*****

C'mon, guys, the way to shelve everything is by the color of the spines. Then you only have to decide which of three ways to run the rainbow.

#90 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2012, 11:48 PM:

PJ Evans @88: Oh, I agree, there needs to be a vertical member every 30" or so -- but do there need to be two, sistered?

#91 ::: Sam X ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2012, 10:32 AM:

"If I can explain it, I can do it."

That basically sums up how I approach literary criticism. Awesome.

#92 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2012, 12:47 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 87 ....
The instructions seem to imply that if you want to cover more than 30" laterally with them, you should make multiple completely independent units and mount them.

The Sagulator is a great way to check the amount of sag that you're likely to get with various shelf materials, spans and weights.

Geoff's Woodwork has a nice page about bits and pieces you might care to know, with the most interesting bit being the weight of books section at the bottom.

An approximate summary would be "You're looking at somewhere between 10-80lbs/foot, depending on the type of book".

This pdf about Shelving for Libraries is also an interesting read both for general information, and for things to consider when building bookshelves -- p26 gives standard dimensions for (commercial) wooden bookshelves in libraries, and the entire thing seems to suggest that a standard width for (purpose built, industrial/library strength) shelves is 36". I'd be pretty unlikely to go that wide myself.

This, it seems to me, leaves you with a lot of doubled vertical members, wasting a book or so's space each time you do it.

Depending on the strength of the materials in question, it's necessity, not waste.

I have a 10' (laterally) wall that I wish to completely cover in Book-Eaters. Is there another way to design it so that (a) I can still get to the sides of the shelves to screw them in and (b) I don't have doubled vertical members regularly?

Build the verticals with heavier/stronger vertical members?

Er... what do you mean "get to the sides of the shelves to screw them in?" I'm rather hoping that you don't mean using screws through the sides into shelves, to fix them in place...

The two suggestions that come to mind are covering the doubling-point with a decorative piece of wood (still wastes the space, but pretty) or offsetting the shelves a half-shelf-depth apart every other unit and having scalloped top and bottom edges of the unit as a whole.

I'd just add a face frame to your bookshelves, myself. It's probably much easier to build the casework as separate box carcasses, rather than trying to do something funky and interdependent.

Beyond that (and likely to get me gnomed...), some bookshelf porn...

The Blog on the Bookshelf
Bookshelf porn
Bookshelves Tumblr


#93 ::: xeger got Gnomed! ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2012, 12:48 PM:

... and as I feared, the combination of links and *bad words* got me gnomed.

[It was more than seven links. No words of power. -- Penniflux Arbiter, Duty Gnome]

#94 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2012, 01:31 PM:

xeger @92 asked me: Er... what do you mean "get to the sides of the shelves to screw them in?" I'm rather hoping that you don't mean using screws through the sides into shelves, to fix them in place...

That's how our gracious hostess' Book-Eating Bookshelves are designed (and I don't intend ever to move the shelves; they'll be sized for mmpbs or my hardcovers and they'll stay that way). If I use a single vertical member between sets of horizontals, I can't screw the second unit's shelves into place (because the screwdriver needs to be inside the shelf on the other side).

#95 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2012, 02:20 PM:

Stagger the shelves? It might look untidy, but then you could drive a screw in from either side of the vertical. Or you could drive a screw into shelf A, then us a bracket to support shelf B, and so on, repeating.

#96 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2012, 12:46 PM:

Abi #60, 79: My personal breakpoint was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: fiction or biography?

At the bookstore I work in, it's shelved with Philosophy. ;-)

You'd better believe we have categorization issues, aggravated by cramped quarters. Some of the results are... idiosyncratic. Notably, most authors get all their work (and usually their biographies) collected in whichever section "people expect" to find them in, as determined by the owner.

#97 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2012, 01:10 PM:

David Harmon @96, philosophy or some variant that includes reflective essays is probably where I would shelve that in my personal collection too. Although it might also go with "mmpb I've owned a long time that are not genre." A rather idiosyncratic classification, I'll grant, but a small set - most of the mmpbs I've owned since college are either SF or Heyer - and I wouldn't have any trouble finding it.

#98 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2012, 01:14 PM:

If I shelved it with philosophy I'd either have to admit how small our philosophy section is, or dig the theology books out of my private collection and put them on shared turf to pad out the neighborhood.

Yet another reason to steamroller all genres and just go by author, I think.

#99 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2012, 01:16 PM:

abi @ 60... all non-comic books except reference books (narrowly construed: dictionaries, grammars, language instruction books, and travel guides) are alphabetized by author

Remember that "Atomic Robo" is *not* fiction.

#100 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2012, 01:20 PM:

Serge @99:

It is, however, image-heavy and sits (protectively bagged, because they're thin books) with the graphic novels. Whose fictional status is not examined, or I'll have to make a judgment call on Flight of Dragons ;-)

#101 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2012, 01:37 PM:

abi @98 There is that, on the thinness of the philosophy section. Ours too. But, as Paul A. said @62, author is not going to be a primary search term for me for most nonfiction. There are exceptions ("Brother Astronomer," for example) but I think, despite the edge cases, that I'll do best if that is by author within a rough categorization.

#102 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2012, 01:43 PM:

OtterB @ 101... I met the Brother Astronomer, aka Brother Guy, at last year's worldcon. I was quite amused by his photo of the Pope examining his MIT Ring with greater interest than yet another Cardinal's Ring.

#103 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2012, 10:07 PM:

Back in the old house, the nonfiction was loosely arranged on two large 5-shelf steel shelving units, sciences on one and humanities on the other. The people who came up with the term wouldn't approve, but humanities included religion.

I got more organized in the apartment, sorting nonfiction by the first digit of the Dewey Decimal Classification. This works out neatly for ten shelves, except the non-computer part of 0 got crowded down with the meager philosophy/psychology section. Fiction was all by author, with MMPB on one set of shelves and larger volumes on another.

Since the move into the new house, most of the books are still boxed. The Better Half has decreed that no steel shelves will go up except in the basement. Once the old house sells, we will buy nice wooden shelves for the new livingroom. The few small wooden shelves we already have are taken up by the collectible authors* and by whatever books were used as filler in boxes that had partly been occupied by other things.

* Tolkien, Pangborn, Bradley, Deitz, Swann, Biggle, Rowling, and David Mason, plus in YA literature, Julian F. Thompson and Gary Paulsen.

#104 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 06:02 PM:

Every time I have to take my books out of the shelves and re-shelve them (3 times in the last 4 years now; 2 floods and one remodeling) I put them back according to a different scheme, hoping I can find a way to categorize them that more closely matches the way I use them. It never works; there's always something shelved outside of the group of books I end up using it with. Right now the two largest groups are Mathematics and Art and they're next to each other, to keep the books on Mathematical Art, Procedural Art, Film Making, Animation, and Computer Graphics together. But that separates the Physics books (Optics and Mathematical Physics particularly) from the Computer Graphics and Animation books and separates the other Computer Science books from Computer Graphics. If I had a few thousand more books it would be problem finding anything.

#105 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 12:28 PM:

Surely the 'mainstream' version of Killer Robots is the golem mythos?

#106 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 01:25 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 94 ...
That's how our gracious hostess' Book-Eating Bookshelves are designed (and I don't intend ever to move the shelves; they'll be sized for mmpbs or my hardcovers and they'll stay that way). If I use a single vertical member between sets of horizontals, I can't screw the second unit's shelves into place (because the screwdriver needs to be inside the shelf on the other side).

Ah :) I'd probably use something like dados, or dado and rabbets instead. That way I'd be sure that the weight was being evenly distributed across all of the joint, rather than at the screws.

That said, I'm clearly committing a Norm Abrams[0], and presuming the availability of both the requisite tools (of which there are a variety of options, of varying costs) and the inclination towards doing so.

[0] Notorious for saying the equivalent of "and with this specialized and expensive tool, it's simple to do ... "

#107 ::: xeger is a gnomen ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 01:26 PM:

I think it was only one url this time, so I'm guessing at words of power...

[I was hoping that if I brought you in for a cup of tea and a biscuit you might commit a few more Norm Abramses. Ahem. Also, your URL, while singular, used a syntax more commonly employed by spammers. -- Evangeline Gertrude Allopeciata, duty gnome.]

[Evangeline, we need to talk about your Norm Abrams fetish. When you have a moment. -- Roquat Rufus, Rex Gnomi]

#108 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2012, 12:19 PM:

xeger @106: Alas, I have a circular saw, a mitering chop-saw, and a power drill. Period. With a table saw things like dadoes and rabbets become much more routine, but I have not this thing, nor a router (which would open my woodworking horizons out considerably; I do know how to USE one, I just don't HAVE one).

#109 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2012, 02:38 PM:

Note to Charles at 67:"eight centimeters" may be a typo.

#110 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:19 PM:

"Strange Fruit changed the world"

Indeed it did.

Rudyard Kipling's "Easy as A.B.C." is a charming story, but wrong in almost all its particulars. I give him half-credit for two items:
1) He depicted airships navigating by "cloudbreakers", insanely powerful lighthouses beaming straight up (not unlike radar, with visible light)
2: He mentioned a monument to the victims of lynching which was undeniably beautiful, but so horrific that it could only be unveiled briefly once a year. The only thing he got wrong was to make it a sculpture rather than a song.

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