The Written Image: Sorted Books

“Cats / Holy Terror / Hostage to the Devil / Monsters Among Us / Passing for Human.” So reads a stack of five books from the personal collection of William S. Burroughs, arranged and photographed by the Brooklyn, New York–based artist Nina Katchadourian. In her ongoing Sorted Books project, Katchadourian visits a book collection and arranges stacks of books whose spines can be read in sequence—some like a poem, some like a joke, others like an aphorism—revealing what she describes as the “focus, idiosyncrasies, and inconsistencies” of each collection. For her latest series, “Kansas Cut-Up,” completed in May 2014, Katchadourian perused Burroughs’s personal library in Lawrence, Kansas, which includes around five to six bookcases and fifty boxes of books. The twenty-six stacks of books Katchadourian assembled and photographed reveal Burroughs’s preoccupations with, among other things, guns, animals (particularly cats), and medical thrillers. One stack of books reads, “Sharks Don’t Get Cancer / How Did They Die? / The Whole Truth / The Unbelievable Truth! / The Dentist,” and another reads, “How Did Sex Begin? / Uninvited Guests / Human Error.” Katchadourian, who started the project in 1993, has sorted the books of ten libraries, from private homes to museums and galleries, across the country. In 2013, Chronicle Books published Sorted Books, a collection of photographs from eight libraries. The photo pictured above, Only Yesterday (2014), is part of the “Kansas Cut-Up” series; visit for more images from the Sorted Books project.