Book Review: A Place for Everything

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There’s one final book review for this year, and it’s a book I always wanted to read: the history of alphabetical order! Be still, my heart! A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order, by Judith Flanders is a book that begged me to read it. And with its huge index (alphabetized, of course), end notes, and all the hallmarks of a modern nonfiction book, it did not fail to disappoint, at least if that’s the kind of reading material you like.

Nice cover!

I’ll have to resort to memoirs to explain my excitement at finding this book. You see, when I was in second and third grade, I was annoying to teachers. They could not find enough work for me to do to keep me quiet, and I kept raising my hand to answer all the questions. I probably annoyed other kids, too. To remedy this, they passed me off to the patient librarian at Sidney Lanier Elementary School in Gainesville, Florida (also at the time home of education for deaf, mentally handicapped, and otherwise challenged kids, which was GREAT for teaching us that those are regular kids that are fine for playing with at recess). And yes, I know now that Sidney Lanier served in the Confederate military, but we were told he was a poet. The End.

Anyway, I proceeded to read through the contents of the library that matched my reading ability. I also needed books that matched my social development, which means not books with a lot of sex or overly “adult” themes that would confuse me. The librarian was very glad that I loved horses, because that made it simple. Just give Sue Ann books about horses, she thought. Then, she taught me how to find them myself in the magical card catalogue. OOOOOOO.

I loved the card catalogue. I’d just browse through it, amazed at its orderliness. I aged a bit and started my own collection of books, of course starting with Black Beauty. Duh. Once I had more than a few books, I was compelled to alphabetize them, by author, of course. There WERE a few I organized by size (which I learned from the book I’m supposed to be reviewing was common).

By the time I was in middle school, I had my own card catalogue (always spelled that way in my mind), made from index cards. I had a title index and an author index. Each card said when I got it and had an indication of its type (mainly F, NF, and SF for fiction, nonfiction, and science fiction (I moved on from horses)). This went with me and was updated throughout high school.

Sigh, alphabetized by author, but not title.

Even as I got older, I obsessively alphabetized my books. It made me happy. It also made finding books easy. I was an academic. I had a LOT of books, but added categories like Japanese, linguistics, knitting to the system.

Once I had children, I gave up and just shelved books by type. Every time I’d get them alphabetized, something would mess them up, so I gave up.

Back to the Book

Judith Flanders taught me a lot about books and their organization, or lack thereof. First off, there weren’t many books for a long time, and they were often bundled together randomly. That’s parchment books. Papyrus ones were scrolled, of course. And you generally read a book from start to finish, so there weren’t many organizational helps like subtitles, page numbers and such. All those things had to be invented!

Once libraries showed up there were lots and lots of ways to organize them. Some organized by size, some by topic, and some by the conventionally used systems of organization, which were fascinating hierarchies. God always came first, then rich people, then other subjects. That’s how lists of all sorts were organized, not just books. I have no idea how anyone found anything in the olden days. People also wrote all over books, and no two copies of any book were the same, since they were hand copied. Challenging.

Eventually, typing and carbon paper made organizing correspondence less complex, while double entry bookkeeping made financial stuff easier, but that all depended on having notebooks and files. So many things we take for granted today are NOT that old, like filing cabinets, file folders, staples, desks, and more. This book will blow your mind and really, really make you respect all those humans of the past who had to memorize everything.

So, as you can see, Everything in Its Place shares the history of a lot more than ordering systems! There’s writing systems, ways to permanently or impermanently record things in writing, storage methods, and of course, organizing systems.

Today’s shelves are beautiful, but disorganized. We are still unpacking books. I still have a lot in Austin. Eek.

That brings me to my favorite discovery in the book, which is about Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System. I was always very annoyed by this whole thing. Topics just didn’t make sense to me, especially the order in which they were arranged (all that Christian stuff in the beginning with lots of numbers, but then just one number for each other religion, for example, and science was weirdly arranged). I never arranged my books by that system, nope.

Was I ever thrilled to discover that Melvil Dewey was an asshole! A sexist! An anti-Semite! A homophobe! A creep! I just knew it. And these biases of his made finding certain topics really hard (there were changes made…but now I see why they use other systems now).

In the end, while Flanders didn’t make the book overly exciting, she did add some fun footnotes that I enjoyed, and she was certainly thorough in her research, which was complicated by the fact that there actually hasn’t been all that much research on organizational systems and alphabets. People just take them for granted. I was glad she addressed how to organize information in non-roman alphabets, like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. I really feel bad that typewriters are still based on Western principles, which can make typing and printing take a while.

Another Thanksgiving

Sure, weirdest Thanksgiving ever. But it’s an adventure. I’m making turkey and sides, but not dressing. I’m incapable of making small quantities of dressing. But it’s just me and Anita. Poor Declan can’t come, because there was an exposure at Rollie’s workplace. We will miss them.

Future cranberry sauce. Recipe.

Lee is at the ranch with his brother. My sister is alone at her house, but also cooking. And Kathleen and Chris are alone at the farm in Yorktown. Whee! But by gosh, we’re keeping our germs to ourselves!

Anita peels potatoes.

Hopefully after we eat we can visit neighbors in the cup-de-sac. That will be nice, even if it’s just us and Ruth next door. We have community!

And speaking of community, I’ve made a couple of calls to people I care about, as I said I’d do yesterday. And last night I went to a Zoom birthday party for my friend Mike’s mom. I laughed so hard at their Zoom confusion that my face hurt. But seeing the joy of the family getting together was worth it. Plus, I got to see the amazing cake her children got her.

All her passions are on the cake.

I hope you have things to keep you busy this holiday (or regular day if you’re outside the US). I’ve got that knitting.

It’s getting long!

And I have three new books. I’m so excited about the book about alphabetical order! But I’m reading the Obama book first. Wow, he is a good writer.

That’s it from me today. I’m grateful to have a blog and readers. And of course for having a healthy and safe family, which is quite extended. Virtual hugs to all of you.

Sure, I Relax

It was nice to get home from work and think about what’s eternal.

One thing is learning. I’m loving the book I’m reading, perhaps too much. The person who wrote How to Be an Antiracist has managed to clarify all sorts of muddy questions and gut feelings I have about race, class, and political systems. Perhaps this is not the most relaxing book ever, but it makes so much sense that my brain feels tidier or something. More on this when I’m done!

The other eternal thing is life going on about its cycles. I’m surrounded by birth, death, old age, and metamorphosis every day. The new calf, Nicole’s son who will arrive in a month, the lady in Cameron who died in the fire and had cooked all those burgers, Lee and me, a butterfly. I treasure all of it!

Now to stop writing so much and share photos of what relaxes me.

Tomorrow will be Rip’s week-a-versary.
He liked head rubs.
Gulf fritillary.
Happy to enjoy our golden years (ha ha) at the Hermits’ Rest.

Book Report Time

Ever since I joined the neighborhood book club, I’ve been reading more books that other people might consider reading. (Usually, I read really dry nonfiction that mostly only I would care about.) But, today I will share the past couple of weeks’ worth of reading. It’s better than ranting about Facebook and the internet, but will get fewer hits, I wager.

Book Club Book

This month, we chose my favorite genre, the memoir, as our book. Becoming, by Michelle Obama, had everything in it I like in a memoir, including figuring out how she ended up where she is, stories about interesting mentors, and from what I can tell, honesty. I always like it when I find things in common with others, and there were a few times when good ole Miche said something like it was coming out of my own mouth. It’s worth reading, especially if you’re familiar with Chicago and can enjoy a trip down memory lane.

Continue reading “Book Report Time”

Let’s Read Nonfiction

You might not be surprised to learn that I mostly read nonfiction (when not reading my many magazine subscriptions). I do this, because I really love to learn new things, especially how the natural world works and what makes living organisms tick.

For example, two of my past favorite books were an excellent history of the pencil and a book called Salt, which showed the importance of salt to commerce and history.

I also really like memoirs and biographies, so I’m really happy that my book club chose Becoming, by Michelle Obama as our next assigned reading. My quick recommendations for this genre from recent years include the memoirs/biographies of Keith Richards, Warren Zevon, Bruce Springsteen, and Sally Field (see, not all of them are musicians).

What am I reading now?

At the moment, I’m in the middle of the book you see here, Underground. It’s Will Hunt’s first book, but what a fun one! He goes all over the world looking at caves, mines, catacombs, and tunnels. Each chapter is very different, but always fascinating.

I learned a lot about what’s underneath Paris, and right now am learning a lot more about the significance of red ochre to civilizations around the world, while Hunt visits an ancient site in Australia and learns of how holy it is to the people of the region.

If you’re not a sufferer of second-hand claustrophobia, I recommend it!

I just received my copy of Never Home Alone, in which Rob Dunn makes it abundantly clear that you can’t clean a house well enough to eliminate all your uninvited “neighbors.” I can’t wait to learn all about spiders, crickets, dust mites, and their teeny-tiny cohorts!

This book really drives home the point that you can’t escape “nature” by staying indoors! It appears quite plausible that there can be “indoor master naturalists” who just focus inside the house. Hmm, with my never-ending battle against the moths in my kitchen cabinets and the yearly cricket invasions, I may already be one of those.

Oakleaf hydrangea. I love the contrast between last year’s purple leaves and the newly emerging ones that are so pale green that they are almost white.

Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments! As a reward, here are a couple of photos of some beautiful new spring growth.

Work redbud. If only you could hear the birds and smell the sweet olive!

PS: Baby hawks should be on the way! Mating was observed. They have no shame. Of course. They’re birds.