(This post was written for and was first published over at BookBear.)

Do you ever have difficulty finding a particular book in your collection?

I do not believe that it is possible to own too many books, the problem is better defined as not having enough book shelves. As any self respecting bibliophile knows, preventing books from becoming a trip hazard around the home can be a challenge. Sorting them so that any book can be quickly located is nigh impossible.

So, what is the best way to order the many shelves that a well read household will have accumulated? In this post I plan to consider a number of options, do let me know if you have any other ideas.

1) Separate fiction and non fiction.

It makes sense to keep, for example, all travel books together. If planning a simple walk the key search is for location, not author. Likewise, when going on holiday it helps to know which guides are already owned. Depending on personal interests, non fiction books can be grouped by type: history, science, business and so on. If a collection is vast then sub grouping may be considered.

Systems such as this work well so long as everyone in the household remembers to put books back after reading. I am sure that mine is not the only family to have piles of books on every table and by every bed. This could be why we sometimes end up acquiring multiple copies of the same book.


2) Fiction ordered alphabetically by author

Just as in a public library, this works if you can remember the author’s name. I sometimes have difficulty remembering even the title of the book I wish to find and can end up searching every shelf in the hope of recognising the cover when I see it.

Even so, I keep my fiction books ordered in this way. Apart from my bad memory, the main drawback is that it is not as aesthetically pleasing as some in my family would like due to the variety of sizes of books published and the fact that they have been acquired over a lenghty period of time. It can be quite annoying when a publisher releases a new title in a series and it is not the same design as its predecessors. My son would have me replace entire collections to circumvent this issue, which leads me on to the next alternative.


3) Sort by binding

When I was a child my father had a fine collection of Penguin Classics (black paperbacks) and Penguin Modern Classics (orange paperbacks). I loved to look at these grown up books and dream about when I would be old enough to read them. I stole a few when I moved away, although I have yet to work my way through all of the classics that I took. One day I will find the time to read Ovid, Homer and Plato.

Then the modern classics were given grey covers and grew taller. I had at least one friend who replaced all of his books because he didn’t think that the different sized orange and grey books looked right on his shelves. Sorting by binding may be aesthetically pleasing, but could prove expensive. It will, however, avoid the mish mash look of, for example, my DH Lawrence collection, or my Spook books. Interestingly, these latter books are now available in a variety of bindings. It would appear that my family is not alone in being a little OCD about the look of our bookshelves.

P1020529     P1020530

4) Sort by genre

Some people like to keep their children’s and young adult’s books separate to the rest of their collection. Others go further and sort by thriller, fantasy, romance and so on. This can work so long as you remember which genre you assigned a book to. Perhaps you choose books in this way so it suits to sort by type. As I try to read widely and diversely my books rarely fit just one label. Given that I struggle to remember title and author, I suspect that such a method would make it even harder for me to locate a particular book when I wished to.


My daughter sorts her books by genre: mystery, fantasy, non fiction

5) Go digital

Thus far I have avoided ebooks but I can see certain advantages to being able to carry an entire library of books in one slim device and allow a processor to do the searching. I cannot see such a thing ever replacing my bookshelves though.

Whatever they look like, however many times I lose a book that I know I should have somewhere, I still wish to decorate my home with walls of books that I may sit amongst them and imagine their stories and wisdom leaking out from between the covers to nourish my soul. Order is all very well, but sometimes in searching for a particular tome I have discovered the forgotten treasure of an old friend.

“When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before.”

So many books, so little time to read them all. How do you order yours?

2 comments on “Shelfies

  1. inNateJames says:

    Back when I worked for Borders, this was a surprisingly common debate topic in the break room. I miss that.

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