Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What Your Bookshelf Says About You

A Portion of the Shelves Devoted to Old Favorites
I've confessed my weakness before for trying to read titles off of the spines of books appearing on bookshelves that just happen to be behind people whose pictures are posted in online newspapers and magazines.  I do the same thing when I spot shelves in Facebook photos or on personal blogs, regardless of why the pictures were posted in the first place.

Many of you have admitted to the same addiction.  Well, good there's a website for people like us.  Peter Knox and Graham Coursey have created Share Your Shelf, a site where people can post pictures of, and describe, the bookshelves in their lives.  Admittedly, while there are definitely some interesting photos there, it is not quite the same as peeking over someone's shoulders who has forgotten exactly what is behind him when his picture is being snapped.  Good stuff, nonetheless, so do take a look.  You might even want to share your own shelves there.

Mostly Joyce Carol Oates and Ruth Rendell, Two Favorites
This is some of what Peter Knox had to say about the website in this September 7 article on The Guardian website:
Only a bookshelf can truly hold a reader's history and future at the same time, while the present is usually found in a book bag or on a nightstand nearby. A lifelong reader myself, I've always had an obsession withseeing a person's bookshelf, to get a sense of what they've brought inside their home and their head. Bookshelves are universal in that almost everyone has one, and unique in that no two collections are the same. They reflect much more than just the book-buying habits of their owner. Titles are easy to acquire and even easier to sell off or leave behind, so if it's worthy of your shelf space, I want to know why.
And a Wide Shot Catching Most of One Wall
A bookshelf's organisation, or lack thereof, can show that practicality and discoverability is the priority when shelved alphabetically by author (as is the traditional way). But if it's arranged by colour or trim size of the book spines, the owner obviously prizes appearance and display above finding the right title quickly. More likely the shelf is representative of how the reader sees their own collection: frequent favourites at eye level,grouped together according to genre/topic/theme and other commonalities.  
The article concludes with Knox's personal tips on organizing bookshelves.  Over the years, I learned his tip on having "a growth strategy" the hard way...several different times, in fact.  Unfortunately (or, perhaps, that should be fortunately), I have again reached the point where adding a new book to the shelves almost certainly means removing another one first.  I suppose that's the best way of ensuring that my shelves reflect my  reading taste most accurately - but it does make for some painful decisions.

(Feel free to snoop and comment.  Just click on the pictures to see them full-sized.)


  1. My shelves are a mess. Every once in a while, I try to follow some kind of orderly system, or even just make a record of what books are in what bookcase, and I quit before I can finish, or I mess up what I've started. Every bookcase I own is stacked as deep as possible, not because I like it that way, but because I don't have enough space for the bookcases I'd need if I didn't stack them that deep. Unless I could manage to find affordable, as-tall-as-me bookcases and someone to help me cart them home and/or put them together. If I ever buy a house, I'll definitely save up for bookcases like that.

  2. I love spying on other people's bookshelves. Such a valuable glimpse into their inner life. And the phases they have gone through. We all do that, read more of a certain genre or author at a certain time in our life. And if you are someone who is forced to trim down your collection for spaces' sake, what you choose to keep is even more meaningful because it not only means you bought it and read it at least once, but you chose to keep it when you were in "decluttering mode".
    I also practically break my neck trying to see what people are reading when I see someone in public reading. I am just insanely curious about what people are reading. Ebooks are making it much harder, BTW.

    My books are casually grouped by type. Self help, photography, gardening, history, mysteries, act. I have my favorite authors all together.

  3. Library Girl, what you describe about your books reminds me of the old joke about a doctor's kids always being the sickest ones in towns. Do a librarian's books suffer a similar fate? LOL

  4. Ah, Susan, you definitely get it...a fellow bookshelf snoop will always be a friend of mine. :-)

  5. Lol, actually, as a cataloger I seem to be an oddity. Many catalogers I know carefully organize their books - every once in a while, there's a flurry of requests on professional listservs for recommendations of free book organization software. By comparison, it's kind of embarrassing how much my collection lack organization.

  6. Yep their is something strangely interesting to a book lover about bookshelves, organizing them, STARING at them, etc. Going to check out the shared link now you referenced. I do like blogger features and sites that display this stuff, have followed them over the years.

    Today Booking through Thursday did their meme with this question, on how they organized bookshelves.

  7. Erin, I sometimes waste way too much time organizing shelves and moving books around...time that might have been better spent actually reading. But there's just something soothing about handling books - yet another reason that e-books don't much appeal to me.

  8. I had started out arranging my fiction by alphabetical order, and then all the other categories by themselves - biographies all together, science, history, etc. It was when I began getting books on Jane Austen that I realized I wanted to put all of the ones relating to her together, so now I have little sections developing that are about my special interests too.

    And I confess to looking at bookshelves in people's homes to see what is there....and always peeking to see what people are reading, too!!

  9. Thanks Sam for the post and kind words. Always great to meet another 'bookshelf snoop' such as myself!

  10. Susan, that's pretty much the same system I've come to use. Fiction, alphabetically, and little groupings by subject or type for nonfiction and the like. It works well for me...and that's why I had to buy a separate bookshelf for my Civil War stuff, although I have brought the Civil War novels to that bookshelf as well as the nonfiction works.

  11. Thanks for stopping by, Peter...and thanks to you guys for coming up with the idea and actually doing something about it. Cool site.

  12. Sam, I just love the way you have your shelves arranged.
    This is glorious -- seriously.
    Thank you for this tour of your book lair.
    I hope you do not mind that I just wrote a blog pretty much totally about your blog!
    Cheers! <-- Clinking my beer mug with yours!

  13. Cip, my friend, I am both honored and amazed by that nice post of yours about my blog and shelves, etc. Thanks so much for taking the time to do that.


I always love hearing from you guys...that's what keeps me book-blogging. Thanks for stopping by.