Don’t mess with my books, the world is chaotic enough

This short essay was originally the introduction to the July edition of Madison Magazine’s monthly “Sunday Reads” newsletter, curated by Associate Editor Maggie Ginsberg. The rest of the monthly newsletter includes links to other articles inside and outside the magazine, as well as book covers and other literary news in the city. Sign up for future newsletters here. There is still time to sign up for the next newsletter, which will be sent by email on Sunday, August 28.

Yesterday my husband put on an elaborate show of gathering up the books strewn across my sofa, crossing the room as if carrying the weight of the world, and dropping them in a single pile on the hutch by the kitchen with an eye roll to rival those we get from our teenage children. Naturally, my world was thrown into chaos.

Playing with my books is, to me, a far greater sin than simply loading my dishwasher incorrectly or carelessly installing the toilet roll in the wrong direction. I’m not rigid – I can handle obvious wrongs with grace. But, my books? They are not simply thrown away willy-nilly. It’s not a brotherhood.

First, the hutch is already reserved for 15 of my favorite tracks, in rainbow order, starting with Hanna Halperin’s Something Wild (red) and ending with Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs (white) . You can’t just… pile any old book over there. Second, the books on my couch don’t have a place yet — they’re new or being revised, and they need to be close at hand. They can’t go to my permanent shelves yet (listed alphabetically by author’s last name), nor my purgatory shelf, which is the four-shelf section that lines the top of my bookcases and serves as a “to-be-read” extension. They can’t go next to the bed, or on the stacks next to my yellow reading chairs in my office, because those places are for books that I enjoy but haven’t deadline to finish. Which brings us to the couch books – the ones I’m reading or revisiting right now, and you never know which ones I’ll have to pick up at some point.

This new pile he so thoughtlessly created included Patricia Skalka’s latest book (just finished, see my new Q&A below); Alison Townsend’s gorgeous “The Green Hour” which I picked as the Editor’s Pick in our current issue of Best of Madison; “Mourning Light” by Richard Goodkin because I had just seen it read; the books that arrived at my house this week (“The Moments Between Dreams” by Judith Brenner and “Florida Woman” by Deb Rogers); Octavia Butler’s ‘Parable of the Sower’ because it’s chilling how prescient this 1993 book, set in the year 2024, really was; “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami (which I also listen to while running); “The Sentence” by Louise Erdrich because Laura Anne Bird texted that she needed to talk about it now; and, finally, the book our 17-year-old daughter is reading, “The Wife” by Meg Wolitzer, which is a great classic – but I didn’t even put it there, so I can hardly take it all blame for it if- called disorder.

The thing is, I have a system. If the man had only waited a few days, these titles would at least have moved to the top of the as-yet-unknown mini-shelf next to the bookcases en route to the four “to-read” purgatories. shelves. If only he had been patient, like I do when it comes to dishwasher, toilet paper and curlers, the sofa would have been cleaned again. These are chaotic times. Someone has to put the world in order.

This short essay was originally the introduction to the July edition Madison Magazine’s monthly “Sunday Reads” newsletter, which is curated by Associate Editor Maggie Ginsberg and includes a preview of the current print issue, links to print articles you may have missed, exclusive content on the Web sites like Doug Moe’s Madison Blog, book recommendations, author Q&As, and other literary coverage around town. To sign up for the monthly newsletter, enter your email address below. The next newsletter will be sent by e-mail on Sunday 28 August.


Colin L. Johnson