American fiction

It was pizza night at the Pullets’. The guys divvied up the jobs: Joe was the pick-up man, Evan was the salad man and Carl was the money man. All three had taken part in clearing the coffee table, which meant magazines, art books and carved wooden bowls were stuck randomly into the family room bookcases.

Audrey got home just in time to take out the pizzas before they burned. She walked into the family room where the guys looked like human couch cushions in front of the TV. Someone had crammed a pizza box between Jane Eyre and Tom Sawyer.

Photo by Pam Wells ©2010

“Hey, hon,” Carl said. “Your meeting ran a little late.”

She sat next to him. “That’s because they talked me into heading up the library committee.”

“How exciting for you,” he said.

“Could be. I’m going to overhaul the Dewey Decimal System.”

Audrey ignored the chuckling. She gave a brief rundown of the Dewey Decimal System which organizes all knowledge into ten major classifications, subdivides each of those into ten divisions, each division into ten sections, and so on as needed.

“Pretty solid, dear,” Carl said. “Tried and true.”

“Used to be, but not now,” she said. “Not in your digital world.”

“My digital world? Does Al Gore know about this?”

“Think about it. Books are going digital, right? Bookcases are almost obsolete.”

“Yeah, but they’re a handy place to put stuff.”

“Yes… well, my system will embrace the future in all its digital simplicity. Ones and zeros, Carl. On and off.”

“You mean binary?”

“Yes! Binary. The Dewey Binary System.”

Carl, Joe and Evan looked at each other. Maybe mom was onto something.

“So how would it work?” Joe asked.

Audrey spoke with groundbreaking energy. “Well, you start with Dewey’s original ten classifications, then group those into two categories, ones and zeros. There’s your binary system. Now you should be able to take every book and say, Is this a one or a zero? And by one I mean fact, and by zero I mean fiction. That’s it.” She stood up and opened her arms to her bookcases. “Let’s try it.”

On one side of the room they collected what logically fit into fact-based categories: Computer science, information & general works; Language; Science and mathematics; Technology; and History, geography, and biography.

“What about Social sciences?” Evan asked.

“Kinda squishy… but we’ll go with the fact stacks.”

“I know what to do with literature,” Carl said. Audrey kept her mouth shut.

“Arts and recreation?” Joe asked.

“Hmm… let’s say fiction. Self-expression.”

“Philosophy and psychology?” Evan asked.

“Fiction,” Audrey said, adding the family Bible to fiction without comment. Then she let her eyes wander around the empty bookcases. She assigned Evan to dust the shelves and Joe to make a nice arrangement of the Impressionists and the wooden bowls on the coffee table.

“And now, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you guys to put everything back, all dusted and in categorical, alphabetical order, and if I ever see another pizza box on my bookshelves, I’m gonna ban Mr. Deluxe Stuffed Cowboy Extra Cheese from this house.”

Nobody moved.

“What about zeros and ones?”

“What about off and on?”

“What about fact and fiction?”

Audrey picked up A Confederacy of Dunces. “You fools, zero; me, one. The books came off the shelves, now they’re going back on. And boys?” She smiled. “It’s all fiction.”

©April 1, 2010 Pam Wells


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