The People in Your Neighborhood

They’re the people that you meet. You know, those people in your neighborhood? Well, for those of you who aren’t humming the song from Sesame Street, and even for those who are, let me talk a little about the song.

The point of the song is to show that the people who live around you do all sorts of interesting things. That you’d be surprised at who is living in your neighborhood. You could have doctors, policemen, teachers, garbagemen, dentists, etc.  This was one of my favorite parts of Sesame Street growing up. It tied in, in my mind at least, to the idea that you could be anything you wanted to when you grew up.

I also liked the idea that there was no reason for the varying and disparate types of people to live together. You didn’t have neighborhoods of just policemen, or just bakers, or just writers… Everyone lived everywhere. Or better put, anyone could live anywhere they wanted.

When I stare at my bookshelves looking for the next thing to read (the photo above is about three years and four addresses ago) this song comes into my head as I look at what authors are next to each other on my shelves.

Now, a lot of my personal library is genre-oriented, but I don’t restrict myself. For example, my wife is an English teacher and I have a degree in English, so there are a lot of canonical works in our collection. I also have a degree in Philosophy, which adds a chunk of relevant texts from that discipline.

But, that’s not to say I have Heidegger next to Heinlein, even though the alphabet dictates it should be so. As I’m sure many people with a decent collection do, I have my own idiosyncrasies in how I shelve things.

First, I have all my anthologies pulled out separately (you can click on the ‘anthology’ tag in my LibraryThing account to see what I have). Which means that Dangerous Visions is not anywhere near The Essential Ellison on my shelves. In our current home, we have less shelving than in previous homes, so there are a lot of books in storage, and not even on shelves. (I know!) I used to separate out my mass-market books, but now I intermingle them with the hardcovers and trade paperbacks. And of course all the cookbooks (some 90 in all) are in the kitchen.

Regardless, I still find it interesting what kind of authors end up next to each other, only by merit of their last name. Sometimes it’s a pairing that kind of works; for example, Jonathan Lethem and Kelly Link. But sometimes you get a nice disconnect with Lemony Snicket and Neal Stephenson. Or you get a nice stretch of neighbors like Italo Calvino, Jonathan Carroll, Michael Chabon, Robert W. Chambers, Stepan Chapman, and Ted Chiang, who are all very unique and different writers. Of course a classic example, which you can find in some used bookstores (and I think Rick Klaw made reference to this once, but I could be mis-attributing it) is Edgar Rice Burroughs and William S. Burroughs sharing shelf space.

My personal favorite from my library (if I shelved everything together)? It’s a toss-up between Ludwig Wittgenstein and P. G. Wodehouse or R. A. Lafferty and Emeril Lagasse. How about you? Do you have any interesting pair-ups on your book shelves? Any interesting way that you shelve your books?


[Photo from my Flickr collection, used with my permission.]

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