I just finished a book called The Power of Maps (Denis Wood, 1992) -- a book about a number of aspects of maps and mapmaking, but especially about how maps reflect the opinions and prejudices of the mapmaker and yet the reader assumes the map is without viewpoint and prejudice. A lot of the book is about how the brain codes and decodes maps. Towards the end, there's a lot on semiotics -- at which point I was only grasping half of what was said because it's couched in language that has meanings different than the ones we speak -- but, just in time, it got back to Winnie the Pooh, which is more my level.
But this piece isn't about The Power of Maps, exactly. It's about the fact that I'm going to put this book on the bookstore's shelves somewhere, and I can't decide where. We don't have a Cartography shelf. I've considered Science, History, Psychology, Philosophy and Sociology -- and each has its arguments. Part of the problem is that different chapters cover different facets of mapmaking and mapreading, and the general theme is almost political, but not quite.
I like reading books that don't fit any one category perfectly. Books with titles like The History of Science, or A Sociological History of the United States, or Walden. Some are on the cusp of two, but others cover a range within their pages. And it doesn't really matter how you categorize them, really, but I have to choose a shelf nonetheless.
Part of the point of The Power of Maps is that the mapmaker decides which of the many features belong on the map and which ones don't. They won't all fit, or it wouldn't be a map -- it would be the real thing. For instance, I have a Hudson's map of the Twin Cities in my car that I use all the time; it shows where all the hockey rinks are, but not the libraries. That's an interesting choice. In the same way, if I decide to shelve Walden in the Nature section, I'm emphasizing a different aspect than if I shelved it in Philosophy or Memoir. And so, if I had the credibility that we all grant cartographers unthinkingly, bookstore browsers would automatically think of Walden as a Nature book.
For my bookshelves (and music shelves) at home, I can categorize however I want, because the whole purpose is that I can find them when I want them. At the bookstore, part of the purpose is so that other people can be looking in a favorite category, stumble across a book they haven't heard of, and become interested.
If you're looking for The Power of Maps, it's on the Sociology shelves -- so it must be a sociology book, right?.