The Help Desk: The shelves of desire

Cienna Madrid is on vacation this week. Since this week is the second anniversary of the Seattle Review of Books, we're re-publishing her very first Help Desk column from the site's launch week in 2015. As always, you can send your own literary etiquette questions to

Dear Cienna,

My boyfriend and I are moving in together next week. I'm very excited about this, and I'm confident it's the right move. But we just had our first fight over a moving issue, and it's something I feel very strongly about: he wants to merge our book collections together. I want to keep our shelves separate. It's not that I fear intimacy; I'm 95 percent sure we're going to get married one day, and I'm very happy with him. But I'm not sure I ever want our books to mingle. Is a lifetime of bookshelf non-monogamy too much to demand?

Judy from Ballard

Dear Judy,

I have never lived with a man — not because I refuse to blend my bookshelf, for far more broken reasons — so feel free to take my advice with the same side-eyed respect you’d give a porn star in sweatpants. As I see it, how you arrange your book collection is a sacred thing. For instance, my books are arranged on three shelves: The top is all-time favorites no one is allowed to touch; the second is books I have never read, arranged in the order I aspire to read them; the third is books I have stolen from other people, mostly for petty reasons.

If a MAN came into my space, swinging his DICK around and inserting copies of How to Win Friends and Influence People and Atlas Shrugged and Hemp: A History all willy nilly — trigger warning — my shelves and I would feel a little violated.

Explain this to your boyfriend. If he still does not understand the importance of separate bookshelves, I suggest you get a cat. Name it Cienna. Then, whenever you and your boyfriend have a domestic dispute, wait until he sleeps. Take one of his books off the shelf. Piss on it. Blame it on Cienna. This will provide you with a physical way to vent your spleen after a fight (full disclosure: I don’t know physics) while slowly weeding your bookshelf of his books.

You’re welcome,