library confusion

November 23rd, 2011 | Uncategorized

I made a post here in the summer of 2010 about a book called Unpacking My Library that I was being included in. Now the book is out. I haven’t seen it yet, but I just noticed a post about it on the New Yorker’s website.

It’s kind of a photography book—it’s pictures of different writers’ libraries. But the funny thing is, in this New Yorker post, the photo they run with a quote from me is of Holly’s books, not mine. It’s a shelf full of field guides and shells and Rachel Carson and John McPhee, all very interesting, but not my books. The skull is that of a sloth that Holly found in Panama once. She cleaned the maggots off of it and brought it home. She can’t remember if it was a two-or three-toed sloth.

41 Responses to “library confusion”

  1. Kate L says:

    Sounds like Holly’s got an interest in the natural sciences… well done, Holly! 🙂 And, Happy Thanksgiving to the whole DTWOF blog gang!

  2. Renee S. says:

    Gobble gobble gobble

  3. Alex K says:

    For my money, there’s likely not a lot of difference between skulls of two-toed and three-toed sloths. Or the beasts would be named differently. The two-toothed sloth, the three-toothed sloth… and now THIS is going through my mind.

    Conductor, when you receive a fare,
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
    A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
    A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
    A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

    Not my fault. I’ve been primed; just back from Opera North and RUDDIGORE, which ends in the chorus of “They will toddle off tomorrow / from this vale of sin and sorrow / for to settle in the town of / Ba – sing – stoke!” And I whistled it all the way to Great Swan Alley, where I caught the bus to the Monument, and thence home.

  4. freyakat says:

    @Alex: Yay for Mark Twain!

  5. Andrew B says:

    In the context of the project, that’s a real fail. If you think photographs of a person’s library are interesting, you must think that the contents and arrangement of her library are interesting. Her partner’s library doesn’t cut it. We all know what full bookshelves look like.

    As a problem, it’s not exactly up there with paramilitary policing, war in Somalia, and the possible collapse of the Euro. But still, in the context of the project, somebody blew it.

    Happy Thanksgiving, all. (I thought about limiting that to Americans, but it’s better to share.)

  6. Andi says:

    Happy Tofurkey Everyone!

    Today I’m grateful for all the wit, humor and insight I’ve found on this great blog. Thanks for keeping me laughing and making me think. Hope the day is a great one for all!

    Andi O

  7. Kate L says:

    Andrew B (#5) At least we Americans don’t still celebrate Evacuation Day. That’s the day in late November when the British army left New York City during the American Revolution, and not just because of the high cost of living! Now, that would have been a difficult holiday to share with our British bloggers!

  8. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, turkeys dear! Although we are having a duck, the meme is the same.

    I quite agree, whatever is the point of a book of photographs of people’s libraries if the editorial staff can’t feature the right library? I know you love Miss Holly dearly, but that ain’t your library. Do you borrow books from each other?

  9. Cathy says:

    So much for the “New Yorker’s” reputation for fact checking! I agree with Andrew and with Therry and St. Jerome.

    BTW, the shelves in that photo look a lot like a couple of shelves from my own library–the shelves with my birding guides, signed books by Jane Goodall and other naturalists, and some feathers. I found a fox skull one night while watching woodcocks displaying in a meadow, but I didn’t have a bag with me, so I left the skull there. Now, if that had been a SLOTH skull . . . .

  10. Kate L says:

    Andi (#6) I think that my brother and his wife have a cabin near where your cabin was. Or, had one.

    Hey, National Public Radio’s Sarah Vowell dropped by Jon Stewart’s Daily Show to talk up Evacuation Day! Caution: British folk and Abraham Lincoln fans may find her comments a little hard to take…

  11. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    Who’s gonna tell ’em?

  12. hairball_of_hope says:

    The Scrabble players among us know that the three-toed sloth is ai, one of those nifty legal two-letter words, as per the official Scrabble Dictionary.

    I wondered why the shelves attributed to AB weren’t overstuffed as I had envisioned them. Now I have an answer, those weren’t her shelves.

    Knowing that AB is an avid archivist, I wonder how she has managed not to turn her abode into something akin to the Collyer Brothers’ brownstone.

    I envy her ability to squirrel away the archives.

    I have my own Collyer-like tendencies, so about once a decade I attempt a purge. I’m in the midst of one right now, and as I plowed through boxes of papers from an ex, a paper authored by Muriel Dimen and Don Moss, entitled “Erotics of Destruction,” tumbled to the floor and randomly/serendipitously opened to a quote from Donald Winnicott. It read, “A mother has to tolerate hating her baby without doing anything about it. She cannot express it to him. If, for fear of what she may do, she cannot hate appropriately when hurt by her child, she must fall back on masochism, and I think it is this that gives rise to the false theory of a natural masochism in women.”

    This is a typical example of why my decennial dreck purges take so long, and don’t really clear out as much detritus as expected. I ended up reading this paper, and then a few others, and off I went to bed, my head full of thoughts, and regrets that this particular ex is an ex.

    De-clique-ification note: The Collyer Brothers were famous for their monumental hoarding. One brother died when part of their stash (which included booby-traps to ensnare intruders) collapsed on him. The other brother (blind, presumably from diabetes) died of dehydration and malnutrition shortly thereafter because he could not navigate on his own to food/water in their packed Harlem brownstone.

    Read the Wiki for more info:

    (… goes back to her lair amid the books and her thoughts …)

  13. hairball_of_hope says:

    OMG… just a few short hours after I posted my de-drecking saga in #12, I plowed through another of my ex’s boxes, circa 1987. In it, found a copy of WomanNews from the summer of ’87, celebrating Lesbian Pride.

    I flipped through the pages, reading reviews of Alix Dobkin’s latest record, an interview with Julia Penelope, and ended up in the classified display ads.

    One ad for an insurance agent caught my eye, it had a familiar-looking comic panel. Yes indeed, it was AB doing commercial art (“Illustrations by Alison Bechdel” written in the margin), with some of the DTWOF characters. Clarice is recognizable in one of the panels. Example of the text, “Does ‘financial planning’ mean taking only $10 at a time from the cash machine?” Clarice’s text balloon reads, “Really Alex! This is the fifth time tonight!”

    AB, if you’re interested in this bit of arcana, I’ll mail it to you.

    (… goes back to digging through the rubble of love squandered …)

  14. Andrew B says:

    It’s the Saturday morning of Thanksgiving weekend. Why do I feel the need to make that excuse? Because what is probably the original of the photo linked to by Anonymous, 14, is here. Pam I and anyone else who’s interested, Google reverse image search gave me much more useful results than Tineye. Anonymous, thanks, that is surreal.

    Hoh, wow, you’ve got an ex’s stuff from 1987? In a NYC apartment? You’ve beaten me at hoarding, and that’s saying something.

  15. S. says:


    I want to see an *actual* corresponding image; the description is fascinating!

    Though my interest’s a bit self-involved: I was not super surprised to find your organization of your collection, AB, not dissimilar to my own — before an awful move turned everything upside down at least (I kept thinking of the dispossession of everything in the beginning of the movie “Up”). A visual, I imagine, would reveal orderly, precisely upright, back-to-back tomes.

    Barthes’ work as a keystone though… nice. And potentially inspiring… will have to check that out.

  16. S. says:


    I want to see an *actual* corresponding image; the description is fascinating!

    Though my interest’s a bit self-involved: I was not super surprised to find your organization of your collection, AB, not dissimilar to my own — before an awful move turned everything upside down at least (I kept thinking of the dispossession of everything in the beginning of the movie “Up”). A visual, I imagine, would reveal orderly, precisely upright, back-to-back tomes.

    Barthes’ work as a keystone though… damn. Impressive. And potentially inspiring… will have to check that out.

  17. S. says:

    Whoops folks sorry for the re-post there. I thought I was somehow in preview, not post, and edited for clarity.
    – S.

  18. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Andrew B (#15)

    Actually, some of this stuff went as far back as 1979. It’s not all virgin hoard, however. Ex moved out in 1986, took most of these boxes, but left a few behind. Ex moved two times after that, the last one out of state. Sometime in the 1990s, I got a panic call, could I please grab some boxes from her soon to be empty NYC apartment, the subtenant was moving and she was finally giving up ties to Manhattan. She promised to deal with them on her next visit to NY. So the boxes moved in, and stayed for two decades.

    I’m clearing out my own junk during this decennial purge and putting some stuff in storage, and I couldn’t see the point is paying to store someone else’s junk, so with her permission I started going through the boxes. Lots of background research for her doctoral thesis, cancelled checks and utility bills from the early 1980s, all stuff that was either shredded or recycled. I’ve winnowed down the personal and grad school papers, saved the tax records, letters, and photos. She kept lots of my letters and cards, it’s been an emotional ride rereading them after all these years.

    Eventually, I will ship the pared-down collection so she can live with a bunch of boxes. I’ve done my time with them, it’s time to share the joy. 😉

    (… goes back to the shred-a-thon, trying to separate the material from the emotional …)

  19. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Andrew B & Anonymous

    Wow. That gravity-defying book collection is amazing. How do those books remain seemingly suspended from the ceiling?

  20. Feminista says:

    #15 & 19: I’m still going through my late husband’s stuff,some of which also from up to 30 years ago. But progress is being made.

  21. Kate L says:

    Feminista, Andrew B, hairball… I live in the house I grew up in (I don’t recommend this – I feel like the lone survivor). I’ve been here since late ’94 (1994).The other day, I was wondering if there might just be a crock pot underneath the kitchen counter, way in back…you never know…

  22. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Feminista (#20)

    The irony of me spending the vast majority of my de-drecking effort on clearing out the belongings of a long-ago ex (while ignoring the more salient and recent piles of my own stuff) is not lost on me. I’m sure there are a few years of fodder for therapy in this.

    I think I have you beat in the archival-antiquity-of-others department. I plowed through the ex’s stuff from the mid-70s this afternoon, before I was in her life, when she first moved to NY. That particular box moved six times (and one previous partner) before landing here, by my reckoning.

    I just finished clearing out a box from the late 80s, and hit AB paydirt again. This time, it was in a Sept 1987 issue of Sojourner. In the display ads in back is an illustrated offer of DTWOF postcards, with the tagline “Cheap & Portable Works of Comic Lesbian Art.” AB was living in Minneapolis at that time. $9 got one a set of solstice cards, and $6 garnered a dozen “clever, assorted, all-purpose postcards.” I wonder when she started selling them, and if this was her first ad ever. The ads only ran in Sojourner from Sept-Dec 1987, at least from the back issues that I’ve perused. Either they did so well she no longer needed to advertise her clever cards, or the ads were a loss.

    I hit lots of paydirt in the Jan 1988 (Vol 2, No 1) issue of Visibilities, a now-defunct lesbian mag. Two episodes of DTWOF (Risky Business parts 1 & 2, the theme is about lesbians and AIDS), the aforementioned insurance ad, and an article by Paula Ettelbrick.

    No wonder I can’t get any of this crap out of here. I read it all, and then decide to save it anyway.

    (… goes back to wondering if it would have been easier to hire 1-800-GOT-JUNK …)

  23. Alex K says:

    Speaking of cheap and portable and DELICIOUS works of comic art, sexual preference not specified: Click Here! for your nommy and viewing pleasure.

  24. Andrew B says:

    Hoh, 19, it was kind of you to rescue the ex’s stuff like that. I hope she’s appropriately appreciative. (If not, it’s her problem.) You’ve still got me beat for hoarding, but it seemed like I ought to add that.

    According to a comment from the photographer, the books in the photo were stapled to the walls and ceiling. There’s a part of me that finds that quasi-blasphemous, but a stronger part that thinks the photo was worth it.

    It seems like there might be an interesting comparison between the way that objects can connect us to a distant point in time and the way the Internet can connect us to distant people — thinking both of the commenters here and of the woman who took that photo — but I’m not coming up with anything specific to say about it now.

  25. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Andrew B (#25)

    Even without the ex’s stuff, I’m sure I have you and most others beat for hoarding. The ex is duly appreciative, and I did get a few items in the bargain that I use, such as a good drafting lamp, and a typing table that was given to us by Grace Paley.

    Some of these boxes moved multiple times, unopened, from the early-mid ’70s. Somewhere, there ought to be a rule of thumb that if you’ve moved a box of stuff more than X times and haven’t unpacked it, make a date with the box and purge. I wouldn’t say just pitch the box in the trash; I found her elementary school report cards, family photos, and other sentimental mementos that I know she would want.

    Now to apply that logic to my own junk…

    I resisted reading the letters from her partner who followed me (the reason the ex moved out of state), and from shredding her copies of tough letters to me.

    All of this trip down memory lane has me diving deep in the recesses of my psyche. I monitor my gauges and periodically surface for air. I can’t imagine how AB has been plumbing the depths of her life and relationships to author FH and AYMM. Tough slogging. At least she’ll have a new opus when she finishes the work on AYMM. All I’ll have to show for this effort is some reclaimed space in my apartment. And perhaps some new perspective on my relationships.

    (… goes back to unearthing the bottom of the closet …)

  26. Andi says:

    Hi All,

    Wow, this discussion about clearing out stuff is really surreal for me. I used to be good at getting rid of stuff when I moved, but now that I’ve lost everything to fire, there’s a part of me that wants to tell everyone, “No! No! Don’t throw away anything! Keep it all! That’s the history of your LIFE! You’ll miss it when it’s gone!” I get a little panicky hearing about throwing things away.

    Then, of course, is the part of my psyche that is enjoying the freedom from clutter and the release from having so much “stuff.” But jeez, this really goes deep, doesn’t it? It speaks to our mortality, our relationship to our things, and how much our attachment to material objects shapes our lives. Such food for thought, on this foodie weekend.

    Take care everyone, and enjoy digging out those closets!


    PS: New post and slide show are up on Burning Down the House – you can see how the new house is progressing! Just click on my name, above, to get there.

  27. Kate L says:

    The first openly gay minister in Smallville history retired last week, and his interim replacement, also a gay man, gave his first sermon this morning. Great, but when, oh when, will I ever belong to a congregation with a lesbian minister?

  28. Acilius says:

    I used to have a very elaborate, interlacing system for shelving my books. Some books were sorted by genre, some by language, some by title. Within each category they were sorted by author. The three categories alternated with each other on the shelves, though not evenly, so that if a particular book that was shelved by genre sat next to a similar book that was sorted by language, other titles in that language from that genre would cluster around it, or if books with similar titles appeared together they would give way to works by authors fond of such titles.

    Once a friend looked at my books and asked me to explain how I decided to put each book in its place. I did explain. He listened carefully, thought a moment, then said in a gentle voice, “So these books are in no real order?” I was shocked to hear such a statement, since I had invested many hours of work in creating that pattern, but at length I had to agree that there were not in any real order.

    It became clear to me that I had wasted those hours. It was already clear to me that I had too many books to shelve randomly; now I realized that I did not have enough books to create an innovative system. So I switched to a simple author/ title system, with a few special collections set aside.

  29. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    This talk of purging makes me want to throw stuff out! I have a box in the basement with the RSVPs to my wedding invitations, and I’ve been married almost 40 years. We’ve been in this house for 30 years, and we haven’t had a fire or anything cathartic like that. Definitely time to start throwing stuff away. Mostly books! Who wants a fifty year old collection, mostly novels and a lot of Progressive theology? I should probably go through the CDs, too, not to mention the closet. You know what I need? A good manic episode!

  30. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Therry (#30)

    CDs… how modern. I’ve been pitching 5 1/4″ and 3.5″ floppy disks, and data backups in every format imaginable: 9-track open reel data tapes, TK-50 tape cartridges, Travan cartridges, Zip disks, Bernoulli cartridges, DC600A cartridges, 8mm tapes, 4mm DAT tapes, you name it. Plus all those green-bar paper printouts that accompanied many of these tapes. I did stumble upon some punch cards being used as bookmarks, but thankfully a purge in an earlier decade got rid of all those card decks.

    I do have many boxes of CD and DVD backups, but at least I still have the means to actually *read* the data on them, at least for this decade (assuming, of course, that the media haven’t degraded and the bits are still readable).

    My little exposition about defunct media formats and the likelihood of recording media degrading to unreadability is an issue of great importance to historians and librarians. Could future historians and forensic scientists ever analyze the Nixon Watergate tapes? How will library materials on obsolete media formats be read? All recording media (including paper) degrade with time. It’s recommended that digital media be reduplicated every decade or so, first because the original media will degrade, and second, because the format is likely to become extinct. But libraries, with their shrinking budgets, tend to focus their meager resources on acquisitions and not on preservation. Ditto for governmental archives.

    Alas, there will be no digital Rosetta Stone for future generations. Hardcopy and microform (assuming the hardcopy is on acid-free paper) will still be able to be read, assuming they are properly stored.

    Food for thought.

    (… goes back to sneezing her way through the archives …)

  31. Ready2Agitate says:

    H_o_H, I was once on the cover of Sojourner – photo of me holding a sign after the clinic murders in Boston (1994? 95?). (I swear a lot of us subscribed just to read DTWOF.)

    I’ve missed everyone. Glad tidings!

    (goes back to lurking and being a new mama to Quinn.)

  32. Kate L says:

    A few months ago, I laughed when the leader of the Kansas state association of district attorneys said that homosexuality was still “on the books” as a crime in Kansas. Turns out, it is still on the books as a crime in Kansas.

  33. hairball_of_hope says:

    @R2A (#32)

    The back issues of Sojourner I perused were so far back, DTWOF didn’t make an appearance, not sure when it started running.

    FWIW, Lois and Michigan are central in the two DTWOF Risky Business episodes I read in Visibilities, but although Lois was her sex-positive self, AB drew her somewhat differently from the current incarnation. Lois looks more like Holly these days.

    So the little tyke’s name is Quinn? What is the Hebrew name? (You don’t have to answer that one if you don’t want, privacy and boundaries respected).

    I hope parenthood has been treating you kindly. Glad you took the time to drop in here. Your time will not be your own for another two decades or so. Remember to watch your gauges and come up for air.

    (… goes back to diving amid the uncharted shoals …)

  34. Kate L says:

    A woman I dated once told me her Hebrew name. Maybe I didn’t realize what being told that meant. I’ve been in a funk all day, wondering why Kansas still has anti-gay legislation on its books, more than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled all such laws unconstitutional in the United States. Then I read this. Oh.

  35. Acilius says:

    Don’t feel too bad, Kate. After the New York courts struck down NYC’s anti-cruising law in 1983, the city failed to remove the law from its instructions to police. The NYPD kept arresting people for making advances to members of the same sex, and city courts kept collecting fines from them, until 2009. Slate had a story about it in that year.

  36. Dr. Empirical says:

    I saw a dogfood ad this morning featuring Tintin, Snowy and the Captain. While the writing, with the trio staggering across the desert, seeing mirages, was spot-on, the animation was ugly, ugly, ugly.

    Don’t know if I’ll be seeing the movie.

  37. grrljock says:

    I passed on the chance to see the Tintin movie when I was in France in October. There is that whole uncanny valley thing, plus they’ve made Captain Haddock so creepy. He was my favorite character!

  38. Feminista says:

    #20: Great to see you,R2A. Hola a la familia.

    I think I’ve got y’all beat in the antiquities dept.Not that there’s a contest or anything 🙂 I have stuff from my maternal grandma’s side of the family dating to the 1860s (some history books),Ojibwe baskets from the 1910s or 20s,pamphlets and documents from my dad’s involvement in the YPSL and other left groups in the 1930s, WW II letters from my father-in-law,and my 1951 baby book,for starters.

  39. judybusy says:

    Feminista, that’s stuff’s _cool._

    I don’t like clutter long term. Sure, I hang my coat on the chair because the closet is too far away and I might leave the bike bag out for two weeks after the season. That pic of the books all over the room evoked a gut-clenching reaction in me.

    So, in the spirit of de-cluttering, would anyone like a never-opened copy of the complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi? Some well-meaning friends gave it to me a few years ago after I’d read them all, and I haven’t cracked it open. Email me at jdybusy2000 at yahoo, and I’ll have it in the mail by Monday. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, but there was never the right opening!

  40. Ready2Agitate says:

    oOOH, I’m tempted Judy, but heck, our place is already full and now we’ve got a baby. Thx for the shout-outs. His name is Noah Quinn, but we alternate which one we call him. I like Quinn because it’s more androgynous; Noah for all sorts of other reasons.

    Check out the blog of a woman in my cmty, whom I’ve discovered since becoming mommified (I think her child’s name may be Quinn):

    NQ’s Hebrew name is Chaim Rafael, for both my maternal grandma Rose/Rachel/Ruch’l, and also my cousin lost too young named Hebrewly Chaim.

    Now to watch the vid of Alison inking b4 crashing.

    H_o_H your digging through the archives has been oddly inspiring.

    In other news, tell me how Maggie is doing, for those of you witnessing her love life (while we await Alison’s one day – another book).