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?


la agua fresca - ready to go home? said...

My book organization is simple. I only have one big bookshelf in my apartment. The top one for the non-fictions the rest for fictions.

Usually I place the new one in the middle.

Some of my other books are still kept in my parents'. They still keep my room the way it was :D

Dorothy W. said...

Organizing books is a very complicated endeavor! The Hobgoblin and I keep most of our fiction downstairs in the living room, shelved alphabetically by author. We each have a study, and we keep books that are personally important in them. I have my 18C books (of all sorts) upstairs, as well as my anthologies, poetry, lit. theory, philosophy, and religion. But all this in my study accounts for only two bookcases. In truth, I don't have an overwhelming number of books. Compared to a nonreader I do, but compared to book bloggers? Hardly any at all!

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

Right now there is very little in the way of true organization but I envision having walls of bookcases with an old fashioned library ladder...I think I might organize the fiction alphabetically and the non-fiction by subject. I do like your idea of a shelf for the library books and another for recent acquisitions and a whole case dedicated to a particular collection...

Jordan said...

I dream of a time when I am able to separate memoir from fiction; film from art from gender studies; religion from philosophy. Alas, I am still living in my parents' home and sleeping on most of my books.

Stefanie said...

I have two bookcases in the living room one for poetry and one for "classics." In the bedroom my husband and I each have a small shelf next to the bed for books we are reading. In my office I have a shelf of books about the European withc burinings, they are for research for a novel I hope to write someday. Also in my office I have literary criticism and my collection of books about books and my TBR shelf. In the basement we have a library. All of the walls are lined with shelves of fiction. In the center of the room are four bookcaases of nonfiction. We go by alpha order in all cases but break the rules for biographies and put those with the author they are about. I have two shelves that are nothing but books by and about Virginia Woolf for example. It works for us though sometimes we forget where we shelved a book but then we get to have fun looking for it :)

Kate S. said...

Jordan, I remember that vividly. Also the years after I'd left home but wasn't yet settled anywhere and seemed to leave a trail of books everywhere. There was a point in time when I had a number of cherished books with me in the city where I was attending grad school, books left behind in a storage locker in the city I'd lived in the year before, and two caches of books in my home town (one in my parent's basement and another in my brother's basement). With my books scattered about like that, I felt as if I too was fragmented across those different spaces.

Pauline said...

I am right now packing boxes and moving to a new flat, so I have to think a lot about how to organize books in our next flat! Very timely choice of subject for me, thanks Kate... I do not hope for much, but at least we'll try to do better than in the current flat, where we just put books in every corner of each room! The only thing we managed to keep in order is the shelf for Asian literature, then I'm afraid the rest is only organized by dimension (and the load capacity of the shelf itself!)

Ella said...

Most of my books are in boxes now, because we're moving in a few weeks, but this is how it was:

I had all my Modern Library books in one bookcase, and all my other fiction in another one. Also, I kept reference books in a stack by the computer, and books I owned but hadn't read yet were in paper bags in the closet. Library books were in a stack by the door. The baby's Seuss collection was in a stack by the crib.

Now it's all a giant mess. Nothing looks sadder to me than an empty bookshelf and a few piles of paperbacks headed off to Goodwill.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking of splitting up my literature by era--ancient, medieval, renaissance, modern--and separating out English lit as well. Right now it's all just alphabetical by author. My non-fiction is definitely split up by subject and similar books grouped together.

Bibliochef said...

This is a great post. Organizing books is hard -- the main goal being, of course, to be able to find them -- and to have the organization make your midn work through juxtaposition. I categorize, I guess, and then alphabetize.Plus I have a pile in the bedroom (which the cleaning person, which, gasp, I do have) reorganizes almost every week. Also, a big problem for me is which books should be at home and which at the office. And what happens when one's books disappear into the chaos of my partner's organizational heaps?

Annabooklover said...

I loved the post and the whole blog. I've been reading for an hour and can't get enough.
My organisation is much simpler since I don't have so many categories. Mostly fiction, so I keep all books of a writer together. I had the additional problem of having books by the same writer in different languages (namely Greek and something else) but I decided against this and I now I have them all together despite the language.
My favourite place is my bedroom though: I keep saying I have to buy bookshelves but instead I pile them up. At the moment there five piles: three I read (one in Greek, two in Eglish), one I've begun and stopped reading because I didn't like, and one more with books I still haven't got round to reading.