Categorize or Categorise and other classification issues
In this house we have books in every room. Organisation is important but I haven’t reached obsession level mania of insisting everything needs to be shelved absolutely correctly. Today the Times has an article on the Russian KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky written by Ben Macintyre. I have always been interested in this area and have lots of books by the latter, two copies ‘the Gordievsky papers’ and many other related books on spying and the Cold War. The article got me thinking about putting those books on this website and that led me to think about classification.
Until now non-fiction classification in our house was only a question of which shelf to put them. All the spy books on one shelf which in turn is part of a bookcase that is almost entirely ‘war/ history/spying’ – all logical to me. However, when one starts to think about making a list of them classification immediately becomes an issue. It’s my issue no one else’s and I could decide to classify by purchase date, colour, size – anything up to and including my subjective feelings about the book but realistically there has to be some sort of logical system. Take for example, today’s exercise on the spying/cold war books. I have the official histories of both MI5 and M16. Are they to be classified as spying, history, given both categories – what? The answer, of course, following Humpty Dumpty, is that the right category for any given book is just what I choose it to be -“ neither more nor less.”
So for me this area will be
Non Fiction / Escape
Non Fiction / Cold War
Non Fiction / War / First World War
Non Fiction / War / Second World War
Non Fiction / War / Vietnam War
Non Fiction / War / Falklands War
Non Fiction / War / First Gulf War
Non Fiction / War / Second Gulf War
Non Fiction /War / Honourable Artillery Company
Of course this particular set of categories only represents my book buying habits of 45 years or so. For example, I have books on the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. I know that that should be in the category ‘First Indochina War’ but sorry ‘tough’ it’s going in the Vietnam war category. That classification issue raised itself when many years ago we bought a scanner to scan ISBN codes to create a database. The problem with it was that the database was generated from other users. I scanned all the Vietnam books in and found that every one of them was catalogued differently. I wanted the category to be simply ‘Vietnam war’ but, for example, with ‘We were soldiers once and young’ I got ‘helicopter’, IA Drang’, Air Mobile’ etc, That scanner and database was short lived!
I will start on the spying books today and slowly move through non-fiction. At the same time I will deal with fiction whenever I feel like it. I expect as much can be written about fiction classification as about non-fiction. With fiction the main distinction seems to me to be between those books that are something and the residual class that are not. The ‘something’ in this is fantasy, crime, historical, science fiction, romance novels and whatever other “genre” . The daft thing is that there exists some snobbery about ‘genre’ fiction. A friend of mine makes the distinction between the science fiction ‘genre’ and ‘real’ fiction by using Margaret Atwood and Iain M Banks as examples. His point is that Booker prize winning author Margaret Atwood clearly passes the quality test but still writes science or speculative fiction – Oryx and Crake being an example. That book, by the way, was short listed for the Booker when published in 2003. I bought it new in hardback on publication:
And I have the Booker Prize winning ‘The Blind Assassin’ both UK first edition first impression:
Also pictured is a promotional bookmark about the Booker from the year Margaret won the competition.
Here are the other Margaret Atwood books.
As for Iain M Banks and Iain Banks well the distinction is well known. What I think is slightly less well known is that the police sergeant twins in Hot Fuzz are reading one of Iain M Banks and Iain Banks each with the humorous angle that the scruffy twin is reading Iain M and the neat and tidy one Iain. It is of course terribly sad that Iain Banks died in 2013. Both types of his books are fantastic but for me the Culture series of novels stand out and in particular the State of the Art.