How do you shelve your books?

Today I ran across an amusing article that provides a funny point of view on the question. It’s called People of the Bookshelf, and it opens with a couple who are having an argument about how to organize their books. It’s worth the read—go ahead and take a minute to read it!

Image by Stewart Butterfield

I admit, I’m tickled by the idea of shelving books based on how the authors would get along in real life. I couldn’t do it, personally, since I’m often insensitive to such issues and could never keep it straight anyway. But it’s interesting, and I can relate to the desire. After all, I’m the one who shelves his books based on how well he liked them. My least favorite books hang out on the bottom shelf gathering dust.

My wife doesn’t object to this scheme but she does object to my secondary level of organization (yes, I have another level), which is to group them by size and shape. Given two authors that I like roughly the same who reside on the same shelf, I’ll put their similarly sized books together, so the spines and tops are as even as possible or at least ascend or descend in pleasing lines. To my lovely wife, that screams wrongness. To her, the natural state of a bookshelf is uneven. They could be organized by author or subject or whatever, as long as they don’t look so evenly unnatural like my shelves.

We agree to disagree on the matter. I keep my books on one shelf, and she keeps hers on another. It works for us.

How do you organize your books?

People of the Bookshelf

4 thoughts on “People of the Bookshelf

  • Friday, 12 October 2012 at 7:07 am

    That’s funny. My wife prefers your secondary method: to organize by size and shape and appearance. She goes for a certain effect on how it looks on the shelf. To me, that’s a totally illogical way to organize books. (Well… it’s not a way of organizing at all, I think, just a way of displaying them.)

    I go for the “favorites” method, grouping series. After that, alphabetical by author.

  • Friday, 12 October 2012 at 7:35 am

    I’m glad to see there’s someone else who organizes their books like I do.

    I think placing books by size and shape can be a style of organization. I know at least one Bible scholar who remembers the location of verses at least partly based on where they appear on the page. The size and shape of the verse, along with the general shape of the page (chapter headings, indents, etc.), help him to remember where the verses are. Since I don’t rely on alphabetization for my books, I often think about the size, shape, and color of a book to help me locate it when I’m scanning the shelf. Grouping books into similar sizes can help with that, at least in a minor way.

    Of course, I also find pleasure in the aesthetics of the display. Books have a physical beauty to them, which is one reason why I still haven’t moved completely to electronic books.

  • Saturday, 20 October 2012 at 9:55 pm

    That was a great article. I have to admit, I sometimes think that way; I’ve been known to move certain books away from my favorites, not wanting them to somehow taint the great ones by association. Toni Morrison (who really irritates me) does not get to bask in Tolkien’s top-shelf glow. (Besides, I sold Toni to the used bookstore and spent the ill-gotten gains on a Bernard Cornwell novel). I’ve even gone one better than the “punishment shelf in the garage” guy: I’ve taken a few truly intolerable books and executed them by firing squad for their crimes against my shelves. :)

    I usually shelve by favoriteness (my favorites getting shelved at eye level), then by subject, then by author, then by aesthetics.

    An exception is the “vanity shelf” in the living room, which contains the elite few: books that proclaim my good taste and erudition, and look beautiful together on the shelf.

  • Wednesday, 24 October 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Personally, it drives me crazy that all books aren’t the same height. I want it level across the top.


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