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Review: Sorted Books by Nina Katchadourian

Sorted Books
By Nina Katchadourian
Introduction by Brian Dillon

Chronicle Books

ISBN: 9781452113296
In Stores

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Schuler Books | Your Library

It began with some random internet meandering. In 2009 I came across Nina Katchadourian’s website utterly by chance. Her work, arranging books so their spines can be read as an organized thought, struck me immediately – this was my kind of poetry. Since then I’ve tried to spread the word about Katchadourian’s “sorted books”, trying it out with students and inviting anyone and everyone to share their creations in galleries I put up every April. And now we have a printed and bound collection of Katchadourian’s work. This is my kind of book.

“Sorted Books” is many things at the same time: a series of sculptures, or photographs, or site-specific installations; a collection of short stories, or poems, or jokes

Spanning nearly 20 years, Sorted Books runs the gamut of emotions, from witty humor to quiet sadness to bursts of outrage and anger. Once you get started, its difficult to stop turning pages – it’s an engaging medium. Photographs are arranged into eight sections – one for each of the artist’s specific sorted books projects.

Each project has its own character – a result of the books at Katchadourian’s disposal. She has sorted books from huge libraries to relatively modest personal collections, using fiction and nonfiction alike. She even jumps to a different language (Swedish, with English subtitles) once for the Sorting Strindberg project.

The photos are dark and rich, with the saturated colors of the spines standing out in front of often plain black backgrounds. A couple sections vary from the familiar “book stack” format seen above: Once Upon a Time in Delaware shows the covers of each book, and Composition finds the books upright on a shelf. These variances from the norm added interest.

It isn’t particularly for kids – most of these would be over the head of your average elementary student – but I could see this book working in high school and beyond. It would certainly expand the minds of students who see poems as a strictly pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) endeavor. I’m glad I stumbled across Nina Katchadourian, and this book deepens my appreciation for her art.

Review copy from the publisher.

Be sure to check out the Poetry Friday roundup at Live Your Poem…

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Irene Latham says:

    So “sorted books” = “spine poems.” It took me a minute to figure that out! Thank you.

    • Thanks for this very kind review! I wanted to point out that the sorted books project in Swedish has transcriptions of all the titles in English right next to the photographs, so you CAN read them. Also, although “Sorted Books” has been a project I’ve pursued for the last 20 years, this term “spine poetry” somehow cropped up only a few years ago as a nickname for the activity.

      • Travis Jonker says:

        Hi Nina – thank you for taking the time to comment! I updated the review to reflect the fact that the Swedish titles are translated. Thanks again for stopping by and thanks for sorted books!

  2. Great stuff!