I used to spend hours fixing my books until I realized it was a colossal waste of time and I changed my ways
How do you organize your books?
Is it by the author’s last name? By the height of the spine? By gender? By publisher? Or maybe they are categorized by “read” and “unread”, then broken down by genre subcategories, then by the writer’s last name, then the time when the books were published, followed by the font style of the back?
I am ashamed to say that I have tried all of these methods, because for most of my life I have been grieved by the desire to fix my books. A fun night out for me, 12, was sitting under my bedroom ceiling with stars glowing in the dark and flimsy purple dreamcatchers, agonizing over how to order my Jacqueline Wilsons – for a while, I Got her books in order of how many times I reread each one – and where Wilson sat in relation to the Malory Towers collection and Judith Kerr’s WWII novels. Very different publication times, subjects, and use of the title font, of course, but all reads 10/10. You can see the problem.
Things only got worse. When I left home and moved into my first apartment, I wasted days drawing military-style diagrams to attack, not the enemy, but the shelves. I needed my books arranged in a fun, useful but also aesthetically stunning way, which would also suggest to the casual visitor that I was intellectual, broad-minded, mysterious and free from the Zeitgeist prison, but also totally culturally connected. .
This week, fashion designer Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs said her husband strongly disapproves of her decision to display their books by the color of their sleeves. He asked her, “Why the hell are you turning our shelves into rainbows?” Sounds really bad. She replied, “Because it’s pretty.”
She is not alone. Instagram and Pinterest are full of “shelves,” pictures of elegantly organized shelves, a sight so enjoyable it would make a poet cry.
Author Laura Pearson also organizes some of her books at her home in the East Midlands by color, creating a literary rainbow. “They bring me so much joy every time I go into the room,” she tells me. “I know a lot of people go for the alphabetical organization or want to keep the authors together, but, for me, it’s the best way because of its visual impact.”
Editor and book lover Kjell Vandevyvere says he organizes his books first by language as he has books in Dutch, English and Spanish and then alphabetically. Sports books are separate. “For a few days I tried to organize them by color,” he says, “and that just doesn’t make sense to me; how am i supposed to find books fast? But I had the joy of rearranging them again afterwards.
A bookworm on Twitter suggested they could try to organize their books around the characters who should be talking to each other; Frodo’s Lord of the Rings having a conversation with Connell from Normal people, may be. There was also a 2018 trend for ‘upside down books’, which meant placing them with their backs against the wall for a ‘neutral and minimalist’ look.
“Ideal home The magazine featured the shelves of a lifestyle blogger called Lauren, “i-arts editor Alice Jones reported at the time,” who “keeps the look neutral by stacking the books upside down.” . On Pinterest, there are pages and pinpages dedicated to the blank, decidedly non-utilitarian look.
Then, of course, during the pandemic, as we zoomed in from our living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms, our shelves were subjected to intense and unexpected scrutiny. David Cameron, it has been noted, has pulled a Hitler biography from its shelves; either because he was re-reading it, or because worried people might think he was a fan rather than just interested in the story.
I support those who want to organize their shelves in a smart way, but it can go too far. I had a dream before moving to a new apartment this month that I had stored my shelf in for so long that every book started to fall apart and I started to eat the pages. In the morning I decided that was enough and I vowed to change my ways.
By unpacking my moving boxes, I forced myself to put books on the shelves arbitrarily. I fought all my instincts. I now have an Ali Smith novel on a shelf, and another Ali Smith novel just a few books! I agree with the fact that I have Kill a mockingbird from 1960 right next to Sarah Moss Summer water from 2020. A UK wildlife documentary guide lives next door to JG Ballard, and I don’t feel stressed out. There is a Penguin next to a Picador. A large book next to a small one. My shelves do not suggest that I am mysterious, independent-minded, or culturally astute. Still, I feel free and not tormented by the pursuit of library perfection.
Shelf rapists, enjoy your rainbows and alphabetical organization, but remember, if you ever find this stalking your dreams and also your waking life, I advise you to change your ways and let the shelf chaos ensue. Yes, it might take longer to find a novel now, but I also got back some of the youth that I had lost torturing myself over the height of the books and spine fonts.
And, without all the arrangements, I have more time to read the damn things.