Wednesday, July 12, 2006
How Do You Organize Your Books?
I’ve been thinking about rearranging my books. This is how they’re organized now:
In the living room, there are two bookcases containing mostly fiction and some poetry.
In the dining room there are three bookcases. The first contains individual biographies; the second group biographies, travel, art, and photography books; and the third cookbooks, health and fitness, gardening, and home repair books. Sadly the third bookcase is mostly aspirational; we rarely consult those books.
In my home office, there are three bookcases. The first contains books related to my doctoral dissertation. I finished the dissertation a couple of years ago but I’m still working on transforming it into a book so I keep all my reference material handy. (My other work-related books are consigned to my office at work—law, political theory, sociology, gender and sexuality studies and so on.) The second contains essays, literary criticism and books about the craft of writing, plus odds and ends in categories in which I don’t have enough books to require a bookcase of their own (for example, religion, psychoanalysis, history). The third contains books that are related to research for two novels and one non-fiction book that I’ve been plotting to write for a while (my collection of books about Scotland is housed here).
My beau isn’t as bookish as me, but he has one bookcase in his office that contains mostly music and business books.
In the spare room there are two bookcases that contain my children’s literature collection. These books are not in exile in the spare room—I’ve put them there because I envision my nieces visiting and feeling at home sleeping in that room among familiar books.
In the hallway, there’s one bookcase for library books, books borrowed from friends, and books that have been sent to me for review. I’ve learned that library books need their own bookcase; otherwise they’re apt to get lost among the rest, particularly since some of my own books are ex-library ones that still bear call numbers on their spines.
In the bedroom, we each have a shelf next to the bed for books we’re in the midst of reading. In addition to those, there’s one bookcase that’s not assigned to any particular category. This is our most recently acquired bookcase and I just filled it randomly with books that had been stored in boxes plus some newly purchased ones that had been languishing in heaps on the floor.
The fiction and biographies are in alphabetical order by author and subject respectively, while the rest are just random within their categories.
That final bookcase in the bedroom demonstrates the breakdown of the system. I have too many books for my designated bookcases, particularly in the fiction, poetry, and biography categories. So the time is ripe now to rethink the categories.
One change that I’ve been considering is bringing together books by author and subject, categories be damned. Wouldn’t it be nice, for example, to have Virginia Woolf’s novels, essays, and diaries all together, with biographies of her alongside them, instead of having them dispersed over three different locations? And to have James Schuyler’s diary, his collected poems, and his novel together in a clump instead of just one lonely volume each in the biography/poetry/fiction sections? But how would I integrate that with everything else? I don’t think that I want my travel books filed by author, for example. I’d rather have those organized geographically. And what about those group biographies? They can’t be in several places at once. And I do like having bookcases devoted to different writing projects in my office. In fact, I’ve been fighting the impulse to colonise more of the books from elsewhere into them. For example, moving the fiction and poetry books by Scottish authors upstairs to take their place alongside the rest of the Scotland collection in my office. But then, surely I don’t want to get all nationalistic about fiction, segregating those fine Scottish writers in my office rather than leaving them to mingle with their literary peers in the living room.
I mentioned today in a comment on Stefanie’s short story post at So Many Books that I enjoy the making and breaking of categories when it comes to different literary forms. Evidently, I rather enjoy the categorization game when it comes to books as physical objects as well.
How do you organize your books?