Sunday Salon: On Labelling Books
Recently, I decided it was about time I started using LibraryThing as my default to-be-read list. So I instituted a new system, in which I just bookmark any posts/websites/library catalogue records that catch my eye, popping them into a special folder. Then, when I’m in the mood for my audiobook, I’ll listen and go through the links, adding them to my LT wish list. This has worked remarkably well, and I wish I’d started it years ago! Oh well, live and learn. Anyway, this provided a catalyst for sorting out how to label my reads: on LT, although it’s slightly unwieldy, I include the author’s nationality and, if relevant, the blog I heard about it from. Other than that, I needed to decide how to distinguish the fiction and nonfiction. At first, I thought I’d get whimsically specific, including labels like ‘ghosts’ (my equivalent of Anne Fadiman’s Arctic explorers shelf) or ‘natural history.’ But then I realised how unwieldy all of those labels would eventually become, especially in my list-obsessive desire to categorise everything. So I approached it from the other side: when I’m choosing a book to read, what ‘types’ of books do I crave? That way, my wish list would actually work for me and facilitate my various reading moods.
I ended up with five fiction categories (I just copied & pasted the descriptions from my review directories page): Fiction Written Before 1950 (essentially, classics but without the baggage that label carries for some), Suspense Fiction (a book whose plot is a major focus and/or has a frightening atmosphere, e.g. mysteries, thrillers, horror, gothic, etc.), Imaginative Fiction (a book that includes elements you don’t encounter in everyday life, e.g. high fantasy, urban fantasy, magical realism, sci-fi, etc.), Historical Fiction (a book set at least a generation earlier than the author writing it, which includes classics such as Les Miserables), and Modern Fiction (a book written in 1950 or later without any imaginative, historical, or suspenseful elements.). The latter is obviously more a catch-all tag than anything, but these broadly cover my favourite ‘styles’ of fiction.
For non-fiction, I borrowed inspiration from the way my college divided its majors (each big group had its own building) and then added one: Humanities (topics such as history, art, philosophy, religion, and literature, aka ‘books about books’), Social Sciences (topics such as international relations, anthropology, economics, and social justice), Natural Sciences (topics such as biology, astronomy, chemistry, and medicine), and Personal Nonfiction (nonfiction written primarily from the author’s subjective viewpoint, such as memoirs and travelogues). That last one is important for me; I find memoirs to be a hazy area in between fiction and nonfiction anyway.
And then, I was so delighted with my new, svelte labelling system that I decided to bring it over to my blog! Of course, anyone subscribed via a feed reader knows that, since my changes to posts’ categories resulted in many of them being ‘published’ at once in my feed. This was embarrassing, but still worth it: every time I look at my categories list now to label a post, I smile. My old categories list arose randomly (organically would be more charitable) over time, and its lack of governing logic showed. Now, the categories reflect my actual approach to reading: sometimes I’m in the mood for a natural science book, other times I’m craving some imaginative fiction. The fiction categories specifically were inspired more by ‘feeling’ than by traditional genres, which works well for me since I find the divide between ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction absurd. And it’s easy to include books in more than one category; for instance Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell would be both historical and imaginative. The point is: I feel these labels work for me and facilitate my reading without forcing any books into too-constrictive categories. And they make adding books to my wish list (currently at four hundred thirty-three titles) even more fun! And there’s still room for a whim or two; on the blog I saved my old women’s studies category, which I plan on adding to my LT system. And I’m sure a ‘ghost’ category will appear one of these days as well. ;)
Do you use categories/tags/etc. on your blog or when cataloguing your books? What approach do you take to them? What are your most-used labels?
And now on to the books I’ve read this week that I won’t be able to do full posts on…as you can see, I’m still reading up a storm!
Read Becoming a Heroine by Rachel Brownstein if…you’re interested in the relationship between woman and novels and/or you enjoy reading smart literary analyses of classics.
Read The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot if…you don’t have the time for a reread of Middlemarch, enjoy atypical Victorian heroines, are drawn towards sharp portrayals of the ills of patriarchy, and don’t mind a discordant ending.
Read Swami and Friends by R. K. Narayan if…you have a soft spot for classic coming-of-age schoolboy stories and you’re interested to see this British staple translated in one of its colonies.
Read Hijas Americanas by Rosie Molinary if…you’re a Latina living in the US and curious about your fellow Latinas and/or in need of encouragement.
Read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters if…you’re in the mood for a rich, gothic ghost story that lends itself to multiple readings.
Read Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk by Boris Akunin if…you’re not easily offended by gender stereotypes and a ‘maybe she wants it’ attempted rape scene or if you don’t mind your murder mysteries completely muddled.
Read The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart if…you’re curious about early 20th century mysteries or have a soft spot for spinster sleuth/narrators and aren’t bothered by all the devices of a classic potboiler.
Read The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins if…you love Collins, or Victorian sensationalism, or are collecting ‘stories by Brits set in Venice’ but want a quick taste instead of an epic read (it’s only 150 pages long).
Read Inheritance by Lan Samantha Chang if…you’re curious to see how every stereotype possible of a Chinese American woman writing historical fiction set in 20th century China can fit in one story.