No, this is not a picture of Island Books (thank goodness). This, my friends, is what happens when you tackle some home reorganization. Far too many of your possessions get shoved into the home office.
Don’t be misled by the bookshelves. That’s only a fraction of the books in my house. The rest are in boxes or scattered randomly across the room. But my purpose today is not to complain about the mess that is my house, because eventually we’ll get it put back together again. Instead, I’m here to pose a question. How do you organize your bookshelves?
As I watched this mess pile up, I took note of where my books have been living. When we originally moved in in 2010, it made some sense. My husband’s books were mostly separated from mine. His were mostly medical journals, history, classics, narrative nonfiction, and science. Mine were mostly literary fiction, thrillers, more classics, ballet books, and some young adult. By keeping our books separate we had some categorical clarity.
I did try to keep books by the same author together, so we had sections for Stephen King, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, and the Nancy Drew set from my mother-in-law’s childhood. But that’s where the organization ends. As the years went by things disintegrated. Gardening books were tossed sideways on top of Tana French psychological thrillers. Advanced copies of books I’ve never gotten to were crammed in by memoirs like A Beautiful Mind and The Glass Castle. Worst of all were the bottom shelves, which you can’t see in the picture. My two innocent-looking poodles had gotten to those books. Besides the various chew marks, there was a giant urine stain on the side of Three Cups of Tea. They must have been mad about the inaccuracies and financial impropriety that tainted Mortenson and Relin’s bestseller.
The state of my home library is causing more guilt and distress than the state of my house (it’s a disaster). Island Books is a haven. At the store, books are lovingly and beautifully organized, deliberately placed on shelves according to category and the alphabet. While these books aren’t in their final home, they are there waiting as nicely as a groomed puppy in a pet store window. (Confession: It’s not just my books’ lives that degraded after leaving the store. My dogs need a haircut too.)
So, fellow book lovers, I need some feedback. The time is coming to clean up this mess, and this time I want to do it right. How do you organize your home library? Alphabetically? By subject? Cover color (just kidding)? If this mess ever gets organized again, I swear I’ll keep putting things back where they came from and add new books appropriately. But don’t hold me to it.
Miriam Landis is a web monkey for Island Books on Mercer Island, WA, where she also writes for the store’s journal, Message in a Bottle. She joined the publishing industry in 2004 with an internship at Simon & Schuster and worked as an assistant editor at Hyperion and a site merchandiser on the Amazon books team. A former professional ballerina, she’s the author of two novels about ballet, Girl in Motion, and the sequel, Breaking Pointe and the mother of twins.