To Sort Or Not To Sort | Newberry

To Sort Or Not To Sort

We have customers every July who inquire, “So where’s Shakespeare? I couldn’t find him in Literature. Don’t you think Shakespeare is Literature?”

Once, before I could answer this questing soul, her friend put in, “Well, duh! You should’ve looked in Classics!”

They were off before I could say, “Well now, wait a minute.”

The works of Shakespeare are generally to be found in Drama, because they are plays. Sometimes publishers bring out collections of his poetry and those can be found in, guess what, Poetry. There’s generally SOME method to our madness. (Method is often found in Show Biz, whereas Madness is generally in psychology. Don’t believe your friend who says it’s in Political Science. Your friend is a Cynic, and should probably read more Shakespeare.)

Classics, as I have mentioned hereintofore, is a section offering books from or about the Classical period, the Glory That Was Greece and the Grandeur That Was Rome. You would look for books on Julius Caesar there, but not Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

As for Literature, this is how it works. Once upon a time, we did not have a Literature section. Poetry went into Poetry, Drama went into Drama, and Fiction went into Fiction, unless it was specialized enough to put it in Romance, Mystery, or Science Fiction. As has been pointed out to us, there was some fuzziness in these specialized categories. Thrillers go into Mystery, while Fantasy, Horror, and Cave People Fiction go into Sci Fi. (I’d like to think we were one of the first Book Fairs to put Stephen King in that category, rather than Mystery.)

Life was good, and Fiction was huge. The idea was tossed out “Why not put Charles Dickens and F. Scott Fitzgerald and such towering powers into a separate category, called Literature?”

A voice (which sounded a lot like mine) said “If we do that, we’ll be fighting day and night, tooth and nail, about what goes in Literature.”

My boss said, in so many words, “Yeah. Won’t it be great?”

So that, jasmine jellybean, is why William Shakespeare is not in Literature. Literature is a spin-off of Fiction. It is where we put prose fiction which has satisfied one or more of several criteria (winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, for example, go into Literature regardless of the size of gun you’d have to put to our heads to make us read their work.) Poets do not have to go through this process, nor do playwrights. Someone who won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography will similarly not be found in Literature, and the classics of scientific writing will not find their way to that section, either.

See, technically anything that is written (expressed in letters) is literature: Fifty Shades of Grey, Origin of Species, The Paintings of D.H.Lawrence. We COULD, of course, just classify all our books as literature, and divvy them up some other way. (After a recent discussion about whether a book cover was light blue or teal, I can tell you we’re never going to do it by color.)

Short Stories? That split off Fiction around the same time: some customers just happen to like to read short stories, and it was easier to give these a section of their own. These, by the way, are also supposed to be Fiction. Books with titles like Tales From Colorado History or Cream of Mushroom Soup for the Nerves: Stories to Calm Your Ulcers go into various nonfiction categories.

Now, books ABOUT Shakespeare go into Books & Authors, along with books about Charles Dickens, books about Lord Byron, and even books about the author of Marley & Me. A book claiming that Nostradamus wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays is a book about Shakespeare, and will also be found in Books & Authors, not at all in Humor or Science fiction.

You can memorize all of this or you could come in July and ASK somebody. I mean somebody with an apron and an air of authority. Your best friend will just have you looking fort Shakespeare in Psychology. (“Though this be madness, still there is method in ‘t.”)

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