Poster by Maggie Appleton
All hail the Dewey Decimal System. This helpful classification created by Melvil Dewey, an American librarian, has been with us since 1876. Since then, libraries have had a system of placing non-fiction books on shelves clustered by subject rather than organized in the not-so-helpful way by height and date of acquisition.
Mr. Dewey divided the world into ten classes (philosophy and psychology; language; science; literature, etc.), which were again sorted into ten divisions and within each division, ten sections.
So neat. So tidy.
And so helpful when one is meandering about the library stacks looking for nothing in particular but hoping for Surprise and Delight.
At the downtown public library, I often troll the 800s (Literature, rhetoric and criticism), and yesterday I was specifically nosing about in the 808s (Rhetoric and collections of literature) and discovered the following:
Essays of the Masters (808.84 ESS) is a collection edited by Charles Neider of essays by masters of world literature, not professional essayists. So we have W.H. Auden writing "What I Believe"; Franz Kafka musing on early aviation efforts; D.H. Lawrence visiting a busy Mexican market; and Oscar Wilde entertaining us with his impressions of America. I do so love a book of essays.
Magic & Madness in the Library (808.8394 MAG) is edited by Eric Graeber and contains descriptions of libraries featured in works of fiction. To wit, among others, we have Edith Wharton's look at a room full of first editions in House of Mirth; take our after-luncheon coffee in the library featured in Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley; and tour the twelve-thousand volume library on the submarine Nautilus in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. There are some nifty woodcuts of libraries and bookish things by Frank C. Eckmair. Very fitting, if you ask me.
Ah, what delights are to be found in the stacks. Thank you, Mr. Dewey. Without your system who knows if I would have ever discovered these two books that once would have been set upon the shelves years apart and now are so conveniently shelved so closely together.