Welcome to another segment of my ongoing series, “A Writer In Her Library.” Today, I’d like to pull the focus a bit and talk about categorizations.

When one goes to a library, the books are organized according to some particular method. The most common are the Dewey Decimal System, as seen in many high school libraries and some public ones; and the Library of Congress System, as seen in, well, the Library of Congress, as well as many universities and some public libraries (for example, the Chicago Public Library System).

Both of these systems are useful, and a good way for Librarians to manage information. When I set up my library, though, I wanted something simpler and that fit the way I use my books. This leads me to an important observation about managing information that I’ve learned over twenty-five years managing offices and the information in them.

The critical part of any information management system, be it books, paper files, or online content, is getting the information back out of the system when it’s needed. Fifteen years ago, before Google was even a common term, (Google was founded in 1998), the internet was described as a global library where all the books were piled in the middle with no rhyme or reason. That’s one of the reasons Google has been so successful. Its search algorithms allow users to get more and more precise search results for information they need. There are other methods of doing so, Yahoo! being one of the most markedly different, but my purpose here is more to discuss the philosophy of organization rather than its specifics. I use Google as an example, though, because its key success factor is its ability to return the information that the user needs, when the user needs it.

That, fundamentally, is the purpose of any organizational system. Some of them require more training on the part of the user in order to use them (Dartmouth’s university library catalog in 1993 is one of the most complicated I have seen), but the fundamental purpose behind them is the same: organize data in such a way that it can be retrieved, as needed, in accordance with the need of the user. (So when you look up flowers, you don’t get baking flour, for example.)

What I’ve learned handling this process for various offices and people that I’ve worked with is that this last point is the most challenging. It doesn’t matter how well I understand file management. It matters how the people USING the files recall the data, because that is how they’ll look it up. Some people recall colors better. Some recall people and authors better. Some, like me, recall by date and subject.

In setting up my own library, something I haven’t taken the time to do until recently, I have complete authority over the subjects I pick. This is a rare pleasure. Usually, I’m working with a team and I need to set up the system according to how the team thinks rather than my personal preference. But now, with my books, I get to be boss and peon.

I was surprised to find out, then, that my cookbook collection had a lot more subject divisions than when I started to pull all of the books together. It was fascinating to start separating them into their relevant subjects and I found that I had more than I thought. I’m one short of 13, so it’s not a proper Thursday 13, but I share my subject headlines both from a sense of personal pride and fun in that I get to determine the subjects, but also in the rare chance that one or more of my readers might see something in my subject divisions that might inspire them with their own libraries.

1. Comprehensive Cookbooks

These are the traditional “cookbooks” that one thinks of when one thinks of the generic term: Betty Crocker, Better Homes and Gardens, etc. General, all-purpose, and comprehensive; the cookbooks in this category fill most of the needs of the home cook from main dishes to beverages and such.

One interesting thing I noticed is the books in this category tend to be organized in one of two ways: by meal or by ingredients. Some cover topics like Breakfast, Lunch or Light Fare, Dinner, Entertaining, Beverages, and Desserts; the second group covers topics like Meat, Fowl, Fish, Soups and Stews, Vegetables, Beverages, Cakes, Pies, Candies, Ice Creams and Frozen Custard, etc.

2. Cooking for Two/Working Adult Cookbooks

If you had asked me before I started collecting cookbooks when I thought the “cooking for two” idea came about, I would have said it was my own generation (Generation X) when we were in high school in the 80’s. The so-called nuclear family of Reagan and then the growing propensity of people to marry late and have children late would have engendered a need for such books.

Boy, was I wrong. My earliest book of the type is 1963. Granted, it’s not strictly for two people, but it’s called THE WORKING WIVES’ (SALARIED OR OTHERWISE) COOKBOOK by Theodora Zavin and Freda Stuart. They discuss smaller portions and also the ideas of making items ahead and all sorts of time-saving ideas. I have also seen titles from the 1920’s on the same subjects, so my generation is hardly the first to realize that the primary cook of a household may, in fact, work for pay outside that household but still need to feed its members adequately.

3. Canning and Storage

It will come as no surprise to my long-time readers that I was probably born in the wrong century and would privately love to be a frontierswoman. In fact, I used to play in the Society for Creative Anachronism, otherwise known as the SCA, who at times describes itself as an organization for re-creating the medieval times but with plumbing and without the Plague.

I like the idea of canning and storage. While I haven’t had the time to devote to it or a large enough garden to make it cost-effective, my plan is to remedy that when we buy either our first or second home. In the meantime, I’m an armchair frontierswoman. I love reading about malic acid and fruit pectin, and know that apples can be used as a good natural thickener. Until I can really go to town putting up the fruit crop from my peach orchard, I’ll fantasize in my books.

Besides. My neighbor has a lovely mulberry tree and if I go late at night, maybe they won’t notice my ladder and bucket. Pardon me, I’ll be right back…

4. Family Cookbooks

It turns out I have several cookbooks compiled by family and for family. I find these at garage sales, through my family, and as fund-raisers. They’re an interesting window on how other people cook, as well as their favorite recipes.

5. Cook’s Illustrated

This is both a magazine and they do a hard-back annual compendium. I have one of the annuals, as well as a couple years’ worth of subscriptions. Of all the cookbook magazines, I like this one the best because they review multiple cooking methods for the same type of food, as well as multiple iterations of the same kind of dish (like, say, oatmeal).

6. Specific Technique and Equipment

This is fairly self-explanatory. It’s a category for the cookbook that came with our microwave or the blender, etc. I have a title called ELECTRIC BREAD, for example, that has recipes for using a breadmaker. Anything of that type goes in this section.

7. Meal-Specific Books

Again, pretty self-explanatory. It’s not the compendium as mentioned in section one, but it’s a book all about a specific meal – I have one entitled BRUNCH, for example.

8. Weight Watchers

It startled me how many Weight Watchers cookbooks I actually own. (They’re really good about making their cookbooks sexy, full-color, and food-porn, though I’m sure their marketing department wouldn’t describe them in those terms.) (But if I didn’t like food porn and sexy full-color exposes on my food, I wouldn’t NEED Weight Watchers, now would I?)

(Get your mind out of the gutter. I don’t mean porn with food, I mean food porn. As in, a sexy spread about Zanzibar Chocolate Ice Cream that won’t add twenty pounds to your ass just by reading the recipe.)

9. Vegetarian

Um, this about, like, Vegetarian cooking.


10. Health and Instructional Books about Food and Eating

Hmm. My topics are getting more and more self-explanatory.

Do I need to discuss what Health and instructional Books About Food and Eating are?

In all seriousness, I include topics like the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for treatment of intestinal disorders and other such topics in this area.

11. Culture-Specific Cookbooks

Russian, Jewish, Mexican, Asian, etc. all fit in here. I have, for example, an excellent review of all types of Russian cooking by Anne Volokh, the first post-Soviet food reporter in Russia. (Prior to Glasnost, they didn’t have such an occupation; at least not openly.) I lump other cuisine-specific books in this category because that’s where I expect to find them when I go looking for ideas.

12. Ingredient-Specific

As in, 101 Different Ways to Prepare Chicken, and such. I have a book on Mustard, one on Garlic, and actually two on Mushrooms (since my husband LOVES them).

I don’t have a 13th Category, so I ask you, the Reader: tell me, in Comments, what you might add to my list or how you organize your own cookbooks.

As I’m typing this, my buddy who is sitting here reading while I type, said, I have one. So, here is Dorothy’s additional category:

“Making Ingredients” as in, How to Make Cheese, How to Make Flavored Vinegars, How to Make Butter, How to Distill Oregano, etc.

Oooh. Those sound fun. Hmm. Maybe I need to go cookbook shopping here soon.

Book addiction? Me?

Silly. There’s no such thing. ~nods~

Happy TT!

12 thoughts on “Thursday 13: A Writer In Her Library

  1. Suzanna says:

    Book addiction, check.
    Cooking, not so much.

    I’ll admit the whole canning thing baffles me. Why go through all that trouble? I guess I’m just lucky I was born in *this* century. Well, later 1900s. You know what I mean. :p

  2. Heather says:

    I have only a handful of cookbooks myself, some of which I inherited from my mother. I also have a recipe file that was my paternal grandmother’s. Only problem is, she used her own shorthand system so a lot of them are difficult to decipher.

  3. Paige Tyler says:

    Fun TT! We have a lot of cookbooks, but don’t really cook! LOL!


    My TT is at http://paigetylertheauthor.blogspot.com

  4. That’s a lot of cookbooks. But hey, nothing at all wrong having a book addiction!

    We do a lot of cooking in our house, but oddly enough we don’t have very many cookbooks. Considering how often “What the heck should we make for dinner tonight?” is said in our house, you’d think we’d have gone to the bookstore and remedied this already.

  5. Maddy Barone says:

    . Weight Watchers

    It startled me how many Weight Watchers cookbooks I actually own. (They’re really good about making their cookbooks sexy, full-color, and food-porn, though I’m sure their marketing department wouldn’t describe them in those terms.) (But if I didn’t like food porn and sexy full-color exposes on my food, I wouldn’t NEED Weight Watchers, now would I?)


  6. Janice says:

    I only have a few cook books, which my daughter has confiscated since she is now learning to cook.


  7. Carla Krae says:

    I only have a few kid’s cookbooks, myself. The S.O.’s dad has boxes of them. He never uses them, but he collected them obsessively for a while. My family all had the Betty Crocker Cookbook and I love the pie crust recipe. Always works.

    As for food-porn, I’ve watched PBS cooking shows for *years*.

  8. I have NO idea what you mean. Just because I have five bookcases and they’re all in order by genre and author…….

  9. Very interesting. My daughter wants to be a librarian. She has one more year of highschool before she begins the journey.
    Welcome back, Catherine.
    Happy T13!

  10. Wonderful list! I like the idea of a cookbook devoted to mushrooms, too. Yum.

  11. Jenny Woolf says:

    Wish you could come to my house and sort out my books and papers for me. I make a start with a system and then I forget to implement it, and I don’t even notice I’ve forgotten. I don’t know what the answer to that is.

  12. Aww, Jenny. Maybe just start small and do one type of book (like, cookbooks, say). Then when you have that the way you want, tackle the next part.

    Good luck, whatever you decide!

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