Sunday Reads: Don’t mess with my books, the world is already chaotic enough

In case you missed it, Madison Magazine is sharing our introduction to the last month's edition of our monthly 'Sunday Reads' newsletter.
Sunday Reads banner with red bars and an illustrated cat sitting atop a stack of books next to a plant and coffee mug.

This short essay originally appeared as 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 within and outside of the magazine, plus book coverage and other literary news around town. Sign up for future newsletters here. There is still time to sign up for the next newsletter, which will be emailed on Sunday, August 28.

Yesterday my husband made an elaborate show of gathering the scattered books on my couch, crossing the room as if he were carrying the weight of the world, and dropping them into a single stack on the hutch near the kitchen with an eyeroll to rival those we get from our teenaged kids. Naturally, my world was thrown into chaos.

Messing with my books is, to me, a sin far greater than simply loading my dishwasher incorrectly or carelessly installing the toilet paper roll in the wrong direction. I’m not rigid — I can navigate those obvious wrongs with grace. But, my books? They’re not just thrown willy-nilly about. This isn’t some frat house.

First of all, the hutch is already reserved for 15 of my favorite titles, in rainbow order, starting with Hanna Halperin’s Something Wild (red) and ending in Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs (white). You can’t just … stack any old book there. Secondly, the books on my couch don’t yet have a home — they’re new or under review, and they need to stay within reach. They can’t yet go into my permanent shelves (arranged alphabetically by author’s last name), nor can they go on my purgatory shelf, which is the four-shelf section that lines the tops of my bookcases and serves as an extended “to-be-read” stack. They can’t go next to the bed, or to the stacks next to my yellow reading chairs in my office, because those spots are reserved for books I’m enjoying but don’t have a deadline to finish. Which brings us to the couch books — these I’m reading or revisiting right now, and you never know which I’ll need to pick up at a given moment.

That new stack 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” that I chose as an Editor’s Pick in our current Best of Madison issue; Richard Goodkin’s “Mourning Light” because I’d just attended his reading; the books that arrived at my house this week (Judith Brenner’s “The Moments Between Dreams” and Deb Rogers’ “Florida Woman”); Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” because it’s chilling how prescient this 1993 book, set in 2024, really was; Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” (which I am also listening to while running); Louise Erdrich’s “The Sentence” because Laura Anne Bird texted that she needed to talk about it now; and, finally, the book our 17-year-old is reading, Meg Wolitzer’s “The Wife,” which is an excellent classic — but I didn’t even put it there, so I can hardly take all the blame for this so-called mess.

The point is, I have a system. If the man had just waited a few days, these titles would have at least moved to the top of the as-of-yet-unmentioned mini-shelf next to the bookcases on their way to the four “to-be-read” purgatory shelves. If only he’d practiced patience, the way I do when it comes to dishwashers, toilet paper and eye-rollers, the couch would have been cleared again. These are chaotic times. Somebody’s got to set the world to order.

This short essay originally appeared as the introduction to the July edition of Madison Magazine’s monthly “Sunday Reads” newsletter, which is curated by Associate Editor Maggie Ginsberg and includes a rundown on the current print issue, links to print stories you might have missed, web exclusive content like the 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 emailed on Sunday, August 28.

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