Book Shelving as Social Commentary

Back in the days when postmodernism was almost new and you could still get a good riot at a political party convention, Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “In a modest, silent way, by arranging books on shelves, we ply the critic’s art.” Today, we have all the same literary experiences that previous generations enjoyed, but we do them harder, faster and longer — and perhaps with less silence and modesty, to boot. Most obviously, we “shelve” music and video with the same ease that Borges’ contemporaries arranged books. In our immodest, noisy way, we’ve all been music critics since about 1999.

Even before Napster and the MP3, we made mix tapes; long before multi-gigabyte hard drives, we had the drawer full of VHS cassettes. It’s just gotten easier, more global and more slick. More now, and less TwenCen.

Concomitant with all this has been another change. When, in the early years of the Barnes-and-Borders-a-Million, idle teenagers would move William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959) to the “summer reading” section — because there was nothing else to do in Huntsville, Alabama — we (I mean, they) didn’t put up weblogs about the experience.

Enter Biologists Helping Bookstores, a site operated by a man with a mission. Specifically,

It is my mission to correctly re-shelve books to the appropriate section of the bookstore.

For example, “Darwin’s Black Box”, the famous pseudo-science book by the non-evolutionary non-scientist Michael Behe, should not be in the “Evolutionary Biology” section, but something more appropriate, such as “New Age”, “Religion”, “Christianity”, or even “Fiction”. You get the idea.

So far, he’s hit a Bookstar in La Jolla and a Barnes & Noble in Irvine. Where will “Ste” strike next, and will it be “Ste” or a copycat?

Behe in the Religious Fiction section

Inquiring minds want to know. Inquiring minds also want pictures.

(Tip o’ the shifty anarchist’s slouch hat to Retrospectacle.)

4 thoughts on “Book Shelving as Social Commentary”

  1. It’s funny you mention this. I’ve been known – or rather, SOMEONE has been known – to move Sylvia Brown’s books out of the Science section whenever he finds them there. Same with certain UFO/ghost books that find their way into Science, and even (on occasion) Behe and other religious pseudoscience purveyors.

    Typically this SOMEONE puts them into the New Age/Spirituality section, though I like the idea of putting them into Fiction, as surely they belong there far more than anywhere else. I’d say Sci Fi, but it’d be an insult to all of the legitmately good science that goes into Sci Fi books to have to share space with these clowns.

  2. I have been doing this for years, but never admitted to it. I never dreamed anybody else would have been moving those same books around. I guessed that there were others in Cedar Hill B&N looking for the same books that I was, and apparently hiding the ones in plain sight where they actually belonged, because I’m there a lot, and usually for a long time. Now I’ll be watching from a cozy chair behind a book.

    See, now I can read and actually spend a few minutes on your blog without covering my eyes and running away screaming. Once I get past Pharyngula, I’ll be back.

  3. After working in a library shelving books, finding books out of place now kills a small part of my soul. As much as I consider Behe a (shitty) scifi writer, I couldn’t bring myself to defy the decimal. On a related note, experience suggests studying art or ballet destroys the primary shelving gland in the brain. Slide those intelligently designed tomes beside Baryshnikov and they’ll never be put back.

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