Just the Right Place

I’ve always admired the Dewey decimal system, and the organization it imposes on libraries large and small. During my years as a volunteer at my daughter’s school library, I never ceased to be amazed at all the tidy little numbers on the book spines that denoted just where those books should go.

But I confess to subscribing to a much more idiosyncratic means of shelving at home. How do you organize your books? In addition to arranging by broad categories (picture books, children’s poetry, poetry for adults, middle-grade novels, favorite books from childhood, picture-book biographies, gardening, etc.), I like to organize by merit, friendship, project, and level of temptation. For example, the picture-book biographies about women precede those about men because, well, women deserve pride of place after having been denied top billing for so long. Poetry books by Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, and May Swenson can be found side by side since they were friends or strong influences on one another. Project books are stuffed into the bottom shelves with related folders, clippings, objects, print-outs, etc. And all novels by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer must be kept on the top shelf, behind two rows of other books. I must hide them from myself! If I so much as glimpse a cover, I tend to open the book, read just one passage–and then end up not just reading the whole thing but precipitating a reading jag of all the books by that author. Alas, for now, I must put that indulgence aside.

So where do your books go, exactly, and why that particular place? And many thanks to Sarah Ellis and Susan Fletcher for the conversation that jumpstarted this post.


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6 responses to “Just the Right Place

  1. Kathy Quimby

    I had to laugh when I read where you kept your Jane Austens and Georgette Heyers. Mine are in the living room–I can see them from where I sit this minute, but like you I have to resist the temptation to pull them down and read a favorite passage.

    Aside from those two favorites, I tend to organize my books by type–fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc. My small shelf of books from my days as a student of German lit is separate because the titles run the opposite way. All my truly important books are in my office, where signed books by friends and VCFA people get their own shelf, and books related to my current project have a space of their own, which right now means the floor, because there’s never enough room for books.

    • Kathy, I can picture you surrounded by helpful treasures and working away in your office! And yes, books certainly become rugs and towers in my house, too. (When my daughter was little, our decorating scheme was large plastic toys, books, and shed fuzz from the pets.) And I loved that you were a fellow fan of Austen and Heyer. Do you have a favorite title from each?

  2. Martine Leavitt

    After my books were destroyed by the flood, I got a Kindle. I had resisted them for years, but now I adore it! All my books are with me wherever I go, my whole library. And it has a light behind it, so it’s easy to read, and I can change the font size whenever I want, and if I want a new book, I can have it in seconds… This probably isn’t the kind of comment you were thinking of, Mary, but I have to share!

    • Your own portable library, Martine! And it’s probably a lot easier to re-arrange your books than with my system and–just think!–no dusting. But sometimes I pick up my childhood copies of favorite books and a wave of memories washes over me…. However, I do have to squint more these days at teeny-tiny print so the ability to, with the swipe of a finger, enlarge font and switch on a light would make my old favorites a lot easier to read. Thanks for sharing!

  3. louisehawes

    Thanks for this topic, Mary. And now I’m going to diverge from it, ever so slightly: Whenever I visit someone’s home, friend or stranger, the first place I look is the bookshelf. Somehow that tells me more about my hosts than anything else. And among the things I look for are what I call “the wear and tear of love.” If the books are pristine and immaculate, I know I’ve encountered a better housekeeper, but probably a less violent book lover than I am. Yes, I dog-ear pages, talk back in the margins, take books to lunch…and dinner. Which is why, at a book signing, when someone brings me a rumpled, bent, marked-up copy of my book to sign, I know one thing for sure — this reader lives by the book! A kindred soul 🙂

  4. I’m a bookshelf lurker, too, Lou! And a lover of the worn-torn on my shelves and those of others’. This may sound odd but, to me, beloved books are like old dogs. One must be quite tender with them ’cause they have “been there” for many years, giving comfort and kindness and insight. Thanks for sharing!

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