A long time ago, my books were logically organized on neat, dust-free shelves. (A long time ago.) They were arranged alphabetically by author and subdivided by topic and genre. As new books came in, which was often, I spent a lot of time shifting, sorting and rearranging. Never did I consider shelving them spine-inward.
And now after reading the dozens and dozens of e-mails you wrote in response to my recent column about that egregious decorating trend, I think it’s safe to say that you never have, either.
I was glad to see that spine-inward had few defenders. (One person approved of the practice in a bookstore devoted to mysteries.) Gladder still to see how many fascinating ways you organize your home libraries. And gladdest of all to see the pictures you sent of your bookshelves and book rooms.
“I organize my books by genre and author,” wrote Elizabeth Hermeier (and so many others). “However, at some point, the size of the shelf determines what goes on it. Art books, for example, only fit on select shelves. It’s an art and a science getting them in order when you have more than 2,000 books and some of the built-in shelves are only tall enough to contain paperbacks.”
Shelving is also a way to keep track of which books you’ve read. Anne Kelley Twiss writes, “I am flummoxed by the notion that books should all be turned around backwards. For me books are tools, not decorations. Many are in two barristers in our living room, mostly sorted into subjects. We have heaps of books on our bedroom nightstands, and there are a couple more bookshelves in the kids’ rooms. And one shelf has books that either my husband or I has read, but the other has not.”
Tadhg Mac an Bháird of Anoka started out organizing by subject but then everything swiftly grew more complicated.
“I roughly — very roughly — shelve books by subject, which entails occasional anomalies such as a prized first edition of ‘Lonesome Dove’ tucked in with Byzantine histories,” he wrote. “I have 13 bookcases, each with three to six shelves, and I use a fly-by-night letter/number system: bookcases are assigned a letter, A through N, and shelves are numbered top to bottom. If I’ve catalogued a title on A3, I know where it is. Space is at a premium — my library is stashed in my basement — so I’ve extended my system to include things like ‘on Mom’s sewing machine,’ ‘on the bar’ and ‘bedroom night table.’ I can find any book within three minutes.”
Laurie Sayre of Carver organizes by priority. “I organize my book shelf like my liquor cabinet,” she wrote. “The items that I place the most value in are the ones that go on the top shelf.” On the bottom shelf are books that “I don’t want to look at or be reminded of, as they are the ones I read and didn’t like, or I feel guilty for not having ever read them.”
Diana Cumming has come to realize that no matter how well she organizes, she will always have too many books. “The shelves next to my bed are supposed to be what I’m reading now, plus about to read, maybe, soon,” she writes. “When those shelves fill up, well, books can get stacked on top of what’s on the shelf.”
Perhaps giving them away is the answer?
“I took one book to a Little Free Library this past week as an experiment,” Cumming wrote. “But it hasn’t started any wave of books out of the house. Yet. Just to be clear, my stacks and overflow are not a decorating idea. And I can usually find the book I’m looking for.
“My one tip for tidiness is to use the public library. Works like a charm.”
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks