How do you organise your bookshelves?

07:08, Feb 08 2013

Despite being such a huge reader, I am actually quite lazy when it comes to organising my books. They are arranged in what I can only describe as higgledy-piggledy order (completely random titles sitting together, think chaos theory), Joanne Harris and Stephen King sitting next to Doris Lessing and Maya Angelou. Note to self: potential for an interesting literary dinner party seating arrangement.

When I recently moved to a new place, I attempted to order my books by author surname. That lasted about all of 20 minutes before I decided it was too time-consuming and gave up. Now, like in the Jungle Book, my beloved novels are free to run rampant on my bookshelves like little Mowglis.

The only two concessions I've made to some shred of common order are a couple of shelves dedicated to speculative and dystopian fiction, and a couple more dedicated to non-fiction. I suppose if I'd thought about it at the time, I could have arranged everything by genre, which wouldn't have added a lot of extra time on to the unpacking and tidying.

I think that's how I'll do it in future moves, separating my books into categories like horror, classic literature, feminist fiction, thriller, etc

My editor Nick, over at Four Legs Good, is a lucky man as his partner is a librarian. Their bookshelves are like shrines to the Dewey Decimal System, with a place for everything and everything in its place (see pic to the right). 

One of my favourite things to do every time I enter a new space is to scope out bookcases - nearly everyone has one, and what they've chosen to put on them are often revealing. Even something as simple as magazines can tell you a lot about what a reader is interested in, which in turn can tell you a little something about their personalities too. After all, the selecting of what goes on your bookshelf is serious business. It's what you're making space for in your homes, lives and minds.


I have done a few big culls over the years, getting rid of titles I no longer read, books that have been gifted to me that hold no appeal, awful impulse purchases, airport books (of the 'crap, I'm stuck on a 12-hour flight with nothing to read so I'll just buy this because it has an interesting cover' variety) and books from university reading lists that I've hung on to for nostalgic reasons.

The ordering of a bookshelf can tell you certain things about the owner - level of 'house proudness' (are the books in mint condition?), level of practicality (if volumes are arranged by author, title, etc), level of pretentiousness ("I only read Proust and Dostoyevsky, dahlinks - now be a dear and pass me those madeleines") or even just level of laziness (spines turned upside-down, shelves not stacked at all).

In writing this post, I decided to try and look at my bookcases from an "objective" stranger's eye. What would my choice of books and their ordering tell people about me? I guess it would be easy enough to tell that I am a woman, by the sheer number of Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison tomes I own, that my reading tastes are melancholic, that I'm not much of a perfectionist when it comes to house proudness and that I don't enjoy non-fiction.

Still, I dream of the day when I'll finally muster up enough energy and enthusiasm to arrange my bookshelves perfectly. Just like in a library, I'll have my books ordered by genre, author surname, hardcover and softcover. Until then, I prefer to spend my time actually reading rather than ordering.

How do you organise your bookshelves?

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