Monday, March 22, 2010

Alphabetical disorder

This recent post on The Online Photographer got me thinking about the best way to store photo books. I'm guessing that many folks out there are in roughly the same boat as me, which is that my book collection is a total hodgepodge. I should categorize them but I don't. It's more of a "whatever fits" system. Whenever I buy a new one it gets crammed wherever I can find room. The oversize ones usually go in one place, and the Frank books are sort of together, as well as HCB and a few other people, and the small show catalogues go over here, and so on. But for the most part it's a clusterf*ck. Ask me to find a certain book and it may take a while.

Pieces of my scattered library

That said, I do know the way I would file photo books in my ideal library: Alphabetically. Not because it makes things easy to find, but because alphabetical order mixes order and chaos in a wonderfully arbitrary way.

In a photo library, alphabetical order creates improbable neighbors. Lange butts up against LaChapelle. Sander follows Samaras. Wall, Waplington. Davidson, Day. These photographers have nothing to do with each other, yet on the bookshelf they are neighbors. On the shelf there are no categories, no division by subject, seemingly no sense at all to the sequence. Chance is in control. And yet ask me to find a certain book and I know exactly where to look.

When have order and chaos been so unified?

Ever listen to an iPod song list in alphabetical order? It's a beautiful thing. When else are you going to hear "Wrong Time Capsule", "Wrong Way", "Wrote a Song For Everyone" in sequence, or follow Big Star with Bikini Kill and Bill Cornett? I think one could construct entire radio shows from alphabetical songs. The order would be precise, yet no one could guess what was coming. Random shuffle crossed with a crystal ball.

Alphabetical order is like walking around with a camera, with no way of knowing what you'll find, yet suspecting some deeper underlying pattern. Sometimes you know exactly where to look. Sometimes you don't.


Unknown said...

At the library I always found a high density of interesting books between the letters D and G and somewhere around R-S-T.

Though it makes me think of: 'Tuesday is a bad day to do stock investments.The other bad days are Thursday, Monday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.' (quoting from memory)

I think the most fun way is ordered by hue.
Next rainy Sunday, you know what to do.

g said...


Joe said...

"Why is the alphabet in that order? Is it because of that song? The guy who wrote that song wrote everything." - Stephen Wright