Monday, 27 June 2011

A Sense of Shelf

I recently moved all the furniture in my apartment around because I was bored, and that's just how I roll (in reality we have a 6 month old daughter and are desperate for more space). Something amazing happened when I moved my bookshelves.

Having worked as a bookseller for some time now, I'm quite traditional when it comes to shelving. It's always alpha by genre, with the literary books first. But that always meant that my sci-fi collection was at the bottom and not at eye-level, where I would prefer it.

A bookseller's bookshelf at home should be a source of pride and identity. After all, we are meant to be the people who KNOW. We know what to read because we read it ourselves. We know the difference between what's cool and what's simply popular. We know what we like, we know what you like and we know what your uncle who you have to buy a birthday present for who doesn't read much wants. So our bookshelves should be full of prestige, fantastic authors, books that mere mortals haven't heard of and plenty of proofs that we somehow forgot to return to the communal pile at work.

So since I had pulled everything off I reflected on what my bookshelf said about me and decided to reorganise. What to do? Put my sci-fi at eye level? But then my literary books would be down the bottom and visitors wouldn't think that I was smart. Keep the status quo? No. The answer was simple. Annihilate the boundaries. Smash it together and live with the consequences.

Book snobs now recoil from my shelves in horror and run, screaming from my apartment when they see Blue Mars next to The Satanic Verses or The Finkler Question next to It. Personally, I find it quite liberating and have been telling everyone about it. And I have been completely forbidden from doing the same thing at work.

Written by Mark


  1. My bookcase arrangements were ever egalitarian... Janet Evanovich sits very comfortably (if more colourfully) beside Janet Frame. But while I have about eight or so bookcases (not to mention assorted towers of books piled in various corners!), my three hallway bookcases do have distinct divisions: one is exclusively adult fiction (with a few non-fictions in the mix), one is for young adult fiction, and a third is for science fiction/fantasy. I find it useful when I'm in the mood for a particular type of book, but then enjoy browsing the random 'non-arrangement' of titles on the shelves.... serendipity! PS The security word was 'so need'... indeed!

  2. Wow, sounds like you have whole bookshop in your house! I am also a big fan of having towers of books lying around, but my partner frowns on this habit so I have to use shelves.

  3. Plus, your six month old daughter will soon be chewing on the pages if you leave them lying around... oh yes, she'll be crawling soon enough.

    I will definitely be re-shelving alphabetically after we move house. Let visitors recoil in horror at the results – I don't like sharing my precious books anyway (they always come back with various stains, uck)!

  4. Good point Zena, arrange your books in an unappealing way to avoid people borrowing them forever or ruining them. I like it!

  5. In theory, my shelves are all arranged by genre, then alphabetically by series and year. However, they are currently a mess in desperate need of rearranging since SOMEONE keeps adding to the collection. The secondary filing system is "by fit" - books (carefully) jammed into any space above the neatly shelved copies and piled in towers along the front.Any other flat surface in the house is also liable to grow towers of books at any time.
    The Other Member Of The Household has resorted to bribery before acquiescing to further bookshelf acquisitions, so we are currently having a stand-off.
    No 6-month-olds here - perhaps I should build a book-fort instead? Walls and turrets by genre?

    Zena - I am with you in the non-lending dept, although I do find that sometimes lending a stack of books can aid with storage...

  6. My books are not organised in any order whatsoever. As long as they fit on the shelf, I am happy. I have romance novels sitting next to science encyclopaedias, philosophy next to board books, Mad Magazine books next to ecclesiastics.

    As a librarian, I feel the need to leave Dewey and alphabetisation at the work door. My home is the antithesis to my work place.

    The only order I do adhere to is that all my favourite books are kept in my bedroom, away from the eyes of would be borrowers.