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<p>Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images</p>

Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

People Of The Bookshelf

Alpha by subject ... or by dinner party seating rules? Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Geraldine Brooks on a shelving obsession.

I was expecting my sister and her husband for dinner, but she arrived solo.

“I didn’t feel like bringing him. We just had a big fight,” she said.

“What about?” I asked.

“Alphabetising our bookshelves.”

For most couples, this would be thin gruel for a contretemps. But my sister is a bibliophile and married a man of similar passions. They had just completed a house renovation, a feature of which was a magnificent bookshelf that spanned two floors. All had gone well as they placed their novels, histories, memoirs. But schism had arisen over the biographies. She wanted to shelve them alpha by subject, on the grounds that she wouldn’t necessarily be able to recall the author’s name. (Since she is, herself, a biographer, this view seemed both pragmatic and un-self-aggrandising.) But that notion was anathema to her husband, who wanted to follow proper library practice. Heated words had been exchanged.

<p>Courtesy Penguin</p>

Courtesy Penguin

I too have a book-loving spouse, but fortunately he adheres to no rigid shelving doctrine. In fact, he prefers to ignore the shelves, piling books around him in tottering redoubts. When he can no longer move freely in his study or get out on his side of the bed without negotiating a mogul field of mounded volumes, he’s happy enough for me to gather the books up and arrange them as I like. If he wants a particular title, he just asks me where to find it. His indifference is fortunate, for my own philosophy is more dewy-eyed than Dewey decimal; more idiosyncratic than ISBN.

I start out conventionally enough, alpha by author. But while I take account of the first letter of the writer’s surname, I have other ambitions for my shelves that transcend the conveniences of mere alphabetical accuracy. It’s impossible for me to place one book alongside another without thinking about the authors, and how they would feel about their spine-side companion.

I arrange my shelves as I would seat guests at a dinner party. Anne Tyler and Anthony Trollope both seem devoted to a diligent scrutiny of manners. So I imagine them, shelved side by side, comparing notes on the mores of their respective eras.

It’s impossible for me to place one book alongside another without thinking about the authors, and how they would feel about their spine-side companion.

Claire Messud and Alice Munro? I’m sure they’d get on. But Norman Mailer and Anne Michaels? I think not. Best move the poetic and exquisitely sensitive Michaels next to Andre Makine — a much better match. Mailer can slide back along the shelf to sit beside D.H. Lawrence. If nothing else, they can always brag to one another about their sex lives.

I wouldn’t dream of subjecting Jane Austen or Margaret Atwood to the misogyny of Martin Amis (although they might find him rich material for an eviscerating satire). Paul Auster seems mensch enough to manage Amis, and then Atwood and Austen can get on together undisturbed.

Sometimes I stand there, book in hand, paralysed by indecision: Is it okay to shelve Jonathan Safran Foer next to Jonathan Franzen? Perhaps the two Jons are dear friends in real life, but what if they dislike each other? Safest, maybe, to put William Faulkner in between.

I’m not always so benevolent. When Thomas Mallon gave one of my novels a lacerating review, I retaliated by reshelving him. I snatched him from his place beside an author I thought he might enjoy — David Malouf — and wedged him instead alongside Toni Morrison, hoping that her liberal feminism might prove a thorn in his conservative spine.

<p>Courtesy Penguin</p>

Courtesy Penguin

As mad as all this is, it gets worse. Sometimes I ascribe metaphysical effects to my shelving choices. Placing Tim Winton alongside Virginia Woolf, I wonder whether his life-affirming wisdom might ameliorate her existential despair.

I thought I was alone in my craziness, until I confessed it to a friend whom I consider a model of sanity in most respects. “That’s nothing,” he said. He confided that he had a “punishment shelf” in his garage, reserved for writers he does not like.

When my sister came solo to dinner, I counselled her to compromise with her spouse, pointing out that his shelving proclivities could be far more eccentric, offering up my own as an example. “Yes,” she nodded sagely, “You are mad. But it must run in the family.” She then confessed that one day she’d been horrified to find a book by my husband, Tony Horwitz, shelved next to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. She’d rushed to reshelve him.

72 comments on this story
by Victoria Roberts

Wonderful story! It reminds me of a church in San Cristobal deals Casas in Mexico, where certain saints had been removed from their altars -"Los santos castigados"-"the punished saints"-because they weren't delivering miracles. I had a friend who color coded her books, which I considered a crime of book abuse. Books are dear companions and need to be in the right place, reflecting where they are in our hearts.

October 11, 2012 @ 1:53am
by Luke

I shelve mine about once a year alphabeticly. The rest of the time by pile :)

October 11, 2012 @ 4:13pm
by AnnaBD

many years ago, when managing a major chain bookshop, my staff and I would day dream about the possibility of shelving by colour, as many "Oprah" fans would ask for that blue book that she was passionate about. Myself,I shelve by size and category or the floor.

October 11, 2012 @ 6:07pm
by Globe trotter(not)

Now inspired to do some 'spring reshelving' ...

October 11, 2012 @ 10:38pm
by Ben Rose

I shelve my books based on how well I liked them and secondarily by size and shape. My favorite books enjoy the high shelves, while my least favorite books languish on the bottom shelf.

October 12, 2012 @ 1:20pm
by Mike C

Nice to know I'm not alone. I look at the books stacked in piles rising from the floor, books in horizontal between the stoutly shelved and the shelf above. There's no system, each book needs to be known individually.

October 12, 2012 @ 8:46pm
by Stephanie

Gosh, now I feel like I have OCD. My history books arranged by country and then roughly chronological. My food history books ditto, My cookbooks by country or type of cooking : baking, Asian, modern Australian, with a special section for CWA cookbooks. Does being an ex-librarian excuse me?

A lovely essay by the way, Geraldine. I'm glad others feel like I do - that books are more than the paper, they contain feelings and memories and character

October 13, 2012 @ 7:18pm
by Petrina

I arrived home one day to find my step-daughter had organised all our books by colour. I can't find anything but gee it looks great!

October 14, 2012 @ 8:39am
by Joanna Austin

English literature changed so much with the shock of the Great War - always left me with the problem, when splitting pre and post war English novels; where to shelve FMF's "The Good Soldier". That thorny issue has kept me up nights. Not sure about books having a naughty corner though...

October 14, 2012 @ 10:10am
by Stuart

I love the idea of a naughty corner for naughty writers. My mother was a librarian before she had children then a book editor, so our shelves were strictly organised and all in one room (the library).
Now I have shelves in just about every room, with different _rules_ for each room, though the dinner party guest placement system is used for biographies, novels and textbooks.

October 15, 2012 @ 4:56pm
by Anne Hudson

There is a Dorothy L Sayers novel (can't remember which one) where the villain is revealed as an imposter because he has shelved his books by HEIGHT ! The horror of it ...

October 15, 2012 @ 9:29pm
by Mandy

Lacking large bookcases, I have pockets of books all over the house primarily organized by when I read them. Childhood books are in one spot, teenage favorites in another, those I read while overseas in my 20s keep company somewhere else, etc.. They are accompanied by bookends & photos from the same era. This way, when I find myself thinking back to a certain time/place I drift over towards the books I read at that time and say hello again to the friends who journeyed with me.

October 15, 2012 @ 11:55pm
by Carol McAllister

Why is is necessary to illustrate this interesting story with a picture of a woman in short shorts? No one can afford to ignore the obligation to consider not just the image but its cultural "text", and what does this image say? "It isn't that a woman has eyes and a brain, it is that her most important attrtibute is a bum and bare thighs."

Tony Abbott doesn't get this sexism stuff (and never will). But I expected better of the Global Mail.

October 16, 2012 @ 7:59am
by peachyteachy

Carol - She's on a beach want that she wear a dress down to her ankles? Trust me, those are NOT short shorts ...

October 16, 2012 @ 10:27am
by DavidAtEeyore

great article - there are never enough places and spaces for books around here! we try to shelf by author for fiction and subject for other books, but they mainly end up in piles.

October 16, 2012 @ 2:28pm
by Marty Hubbard

Thank you Geraldine! I could read your writing or listen to you talk for ever! I love your reverence for order and disorder and for you're ability to launch headlong into conversations we only have with our closest friends! As a librarian, I totally appreciated your husband's approach! Many of my colleagues and best friends talk about their piles of "to be reads" that are stacked precariously by the bed until they are overtaken by dust balls and spiderwebs! Alas.... the "order" may be in the nature of the disorder....but don't touch my pile(s) of books!

October 17, 2012 @ 3:44am
by Durango

I shelve by topic, mostly. So all my "get outdoors and do things" guides are together. General science gets its own shelves. Kids' books are shelved together, with my very favorite picture books in their own section. Random books my husband bought are shelved together. Books by the same author are always kept together. I have several horizontal stacks for visual interest, and the stacks are linked by either topic or author.

October 17, 2012 @ 4:01am
by Elizabeth Danzig Teck

What a great article! Geraldine Brooks had me laughing and nodding my head so much - I can totally relate to what she meant about putting certain books and authors together. So witty and down to earth honest. Made my day!

October 17, 2012 @ 7:22am
by Peter Knox

Great essay. I started a blog based on user-submitted photos of bookshelves, starting many conversations based around shelving techniques:
Hope readers will submit their own shelves!

October 17, 2012 @ 7:25am
by Karen Carr

Why is she on a beach? I agree that it appears bare shoulders sell papers.

October 17, 2012 @ 8:28am
by Kris

Best method for shelving books: by color.

October 17, 2012 @ 6:13pm
by Dominic Newbould

Books by personality and genre above alleles - but idiosyncrasies still creep in. The problem is remembering where you put them…

October 17, 2012 @ 8:36pm
by Duke

I go alphabetical by title. I usually don't care who the author is as long as I like the book.

October 18, 2012 @ 8:36am
by A. Bowdoin Van Riper

I'm still trying to wrap my head around a world where -- per the opening anecdote -- "proper library practice" involves something *other* than shelving biographies alphabetically by the subject's last name. Good grief!

October 18, 2012 @ 1:12pm
by AmyCat - Book Universe

I'm a bookseller, and sell primarily at science-fiction conventions... which means I'm setting up my displays "from scratch" at each event. This usually means having recent releases face-out (or face-up on a tabletop), books by authors who're attending the convention in their own prominent area (with face-outs for the newest titles), and the "back-list" alphabetical by author... but I've been known to consider personalities as well. I frequently wonder if the John Ringo books are muttering complaints about being shelved next to a "hippie pinko" like Spider Robinson (one of my personal faves, but then, Ringo would probably think I'm a hippie pinko too). :-)

I definitely agree with the author's sister on biographies! I file books *about* authors like Anne McCaffrey (and her "Pern" series), Robert Heinlein, or the "Harry Potter" books under McCaffrey, Heinlein, and Rowling, respectively.

The one part of this which doesn't ring true for me is the guy who banishes authors he doesn't like to the garage... Why give shelf space (even in the garage) to books or authors you dislike?
One of the joys of being my own boss is that I can use my own judgement and tastes in stocking books, rather than ordering dozens of copies of "Twilight" or "50 Shades Of C/r/a/p/ Grey"... A personal library should, even more, reflect the owner's preferences and personality! In fact, there are a couple "big-name" authors I've boycotted due to dislike: when Orson Scott Card published a viciously homophobic rant on his blog, I packed up and returned all his books from my inventory, and won't stock him again until he apologizes for his bigotry. Life's too short to waste on bad books or mean people!

October 19, 2012 @ 6:43am
by Diana Kash

I am strictly an alphabetical zealot when it comes to fiction and biography and find it annoying that bookstores now shelve bio and memoir by subject. As far as I'm concerned that only ups the odds that only musicians or other famous folk will be published. My current pet peeve--publishers who arbitrarily change the size of a book in a series. Example: The first eleven books of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency sit neatly together in a matched row. But #12 is two inches taller and has to lie sideways on my non-adjustable bookshelf. Either that or I could move Smith up a shelf to stand next to Saramago or to the end of the alphabet next to Sarah Waters. Neither seems ideal. By the way, friends have hired me, for a fee of buying me dinner, to "arrange" their books so clearly there are many of us bibliofreaks out there. Diana

October 20, 2012 @ 12:25pm
by Dianne Masri

I love your reverence for books and writers. I too place books "as I would seat guests at a dinner party" however lately it's a bit more like a wild party and books are everywhere. However, your People of the Book is on my desk at the moment, having just read this beautiful blog which so reminded me of your book.

October 20, 2012 @ 4:10pm
by Tarek Fatah

Placing books alphabetically on a bookshelf is a nightmare. I have them distributed according to the subject or area of discourse. How could Churchill's History of the Second World War be placed next to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales?

October 21, 2012 @ 11:26pm
by Margo Reveil

I had a shelving issue come up at our house when a book my husband had on tying flies landed next to a book I had on caring for our Koi. I moved them to opposite ends of our nature and outdoors section. I had not taken it to the level of whether authors would get along, but I won't be able to shelve again without thinking about that question. Thanks for the new perspective.

October 22, 2012 @ 4:44am
by Captain Noble

For my fiction books, I shelve them alphabetically. It gives me a strange thrill to be putting "literary" novels next to schlocky genre fair. For non-fiction, I group by subject. For now I've grouped biographies by author, but I haven't been completely satisfied with it and have often contemplated changing to arranging by subject.

October 22, 2012 @ 5:56am
by Françoise

I too am an alphabetizer. My wrinkle is that I keep different genres in different rooms. So poetry and fiction live where i paint, my French "library" (some books dating back to the 50's) is in the family room while short stories, mysteries and 2 graphic novels are in the guest room. That leaves the big living room wall bookcase for all non fiction. Cookbooks and books on food are, where else?, in the kitchen. My bedroom drawer used to be filled with just and to-be-read books but since the advent of Kindle most of those are neatly stored in one place, including The People of the Book, already read and loved, and Caleb's Crossing as yet unread but, quite unplanned, in the queue right after The Black Count.

October 22, 2012 @ 6:10am
by Pokarekare

What is it about biographies? Fiction is easy peasy - alphabetical order always! the rest are sorted by subject first then alphabetically within that, although with a little adjustment here and there to maximise space within the confines of shelf width and height. But biographies! At the moment, they are separated into Australian/Aboriginal and New Zealand/Maori biographies.
I often wish I was a librarian and had a knowledge of one of the major classification systems though. Another problem area for me is "children's" literature - at the moment it has its own shelves, but some books could or should be in the general fiction area.
One problem with alphabetizing though is keeping books in order. Whenever i am faced with an unpleasant deadline I feel compelled to resort the shelves and incorporate the books in the 'to do' pile into their correct places, which obviously involves moving everything!!!
Another secret vice of mine is the compulsion to classify and catalogue all my books into a database, just in case I ever forget if I have a certain book, and if so, where it is located. I haven't actually needed it yet but it is kept religiously up-to-date.

October 22, 2012 @ 11:53pm
by Sally Greene

I worked in a used and rare bookstore and the owner could not stand the combinations that arose from alphabetizing, so fiction was arranged chronologically: groups of early, mid, or late century. Within that, placed with the general hope that one thing would lead to another. It worked quite well for browsing, but was difficult when the phone rang with the usual, "Do you have TITLE by AUTHOR?" You had never heard of Lord Utterly Bottomless, and had to ask when did he write? A question which dumbfounded most people.

October 23, 2012 @ 6:30am
by Karen

I used to file by genre but since I moved I have so little "library" space it really doesn't matter! Question...If you owned the books, where would you shelve the Shades of Grey series?

October 23, 2012 @ 8:22am
by Evamaria

When I finally moved into a flat with more than one room, one of the drawbacks for me was having my book shelves in different rooms (before that they were all in my one room, piles upon stacks upon overflowing shelves).

I have always sorted fiction by genre non-fiction by topic, plus a shelf for my to-read books, but I don't feel content with fantasy dominating the living room (along with philosophy and anthropology because that's how they came out of the moving boxes)) while the rest of my beloved books are in my bedroom, where no one except me sees them (except for the to-read shelf, which is in the hallway). This needs to change, just as soon as I decide on a system... I swear, one day I'll have a living room big enough to host my entire library!

As for the question above from Karen, I will never ever own Shades of Grey, but I do have a small section with erotic fiction, so that's where they'd go, alongside the Decameron and "Salt On Our Skin". :)

October 26, 2012 @ 11:43pm
by Carmen Amato

My husband and I have esoteric reading tastes and tend to arrange books by topic and by author within topic. Where possible (pathetic confession time) I organize the topics by color/height/cover drama. All this led a houseguest, when looking for a book to read before falling asleep, to ask if we had any books for "normal" people.

October 26, 2012 @ 11:50pm
by Sara Allain

I love your shelving system, but I don't think I could handle it. I have broad subject categories (Art & Architecture, History, Biography, Fiction, Shakespeare, etc.) but within those, perfectly alphabetical is the only way I can deal. I have it in my head that someday I'll need to locate a book really quickly - "Get me the collected poems of W.H. Auden, stat!" - and since I have a terrible memory, I can't compromise efficiency by submitting my collection to a non-linear system. We all have our neuroses, I suppose :)

November 2, 2012 @ 1:15am
by Denise

What about the shelves full of books you have bought to read but have never got around to reading?

November 2, 2012 @ 3:36pm
by Matthew Walther

One shelving crochet of mine that no one seems to understand is related to authors of Irish descent. Prefixes like "Mc," "Mac," and "O" refer to ancient patronymics and ancestral homes; they are less important than the "Carthy," "Donald," and "Brian" that follow them. Thus, A Charmed Life appears under "C," Against the American Grain under "D," and the Aubrey-Maturin books under "B."

November 6, 2012 @ 2:31pm
by Carol Booth

I have one bookcase of books I haven't read yet, when it gets too full I know I have to take one and read it even if I've brought four interesting books home from the library! They're roughly alphabetical - but biographies are the tricky ones. By author or by subject?
The other book case has books that are literature and I think other people might like to read. My sister, this afternoon, has taken The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
The bookcase in the hall has all the reference books and the other bookcase has those of mostly sentimental interest, they were my parents, or my favourites as a child, or my children's favourites. And the coffee table has piles of books for my bookclubs {2} and books we've brought back from places we've travelled to recently

November 6, 2012 @ 4:50pm
by Kulturtrager

Putting to one side the rather charming shelving method, the author is indeed mad: Amis is not a misogynist.

November 6, 2012 @ 6:47pm
by Linda Tobias

Fiction by author's last name - no exceptions (I don't care whether the authors would like each other or not - but authors I don't like, i.e. Foer and Franzen, don't get put in the library at all - they have to suffer random shelving elsewhere in the house. Travel books by geography, more or less. Poetry by era. Belles-lettres any way I feel like it. History by country, except for the eras: Roman/late antiquity; ancient Greece; Israel - ancient and modern; medieval history all have their own niches. You'd have to be me to find your way in our library - even my husband would ask for help, though he's the one who dictated that Brookner and other writers we don't admire very much should be banished from the "main library" to make more room for writers we love, like Amin Maalouf (though the French originals are shelved in my husband's domain - the French novels - elsewhere in the house - since most are paperbacks and he doesn't like paperbacks in the main room.) Our libraries are extensions of our brains - probably my internal stacks are just as idiosyncratic!

November 7, 2012 @ 1:01am
by Judy McGowan

My books are shelved in no particular order, except for the separate section reserved for my collection of Southern writers, both fiction and non-. Some lie flat, some straight up, all mixed in with my pottery collection and other things I love. Makes for very colorful, interesting shelves. One small pet peeve concerning the shelving of books: I've yet to understand libraries and/or bookstores which display Alexander McCall Smith books under "M". Were his name McCall-Smith, I'd say yes; otherwise, no.

November 7, 2012 @ 4:37am
by kayvaan

Believe it or not my wife organized our books by color one time and IT. LOOKED. AWESOME.

November 7, 2012 @ 5:15am
by DrBrydon

I read way more non-fiction than fiction, and history most of all, so that's my headache. I generally shelve chronologically by topic, with some separate shelving for topics like economics and religion. Those tend to be chronological within that subject. However, Greek and Roman literature goes on the shelves with history. Modern fiction? Alpha by author.

November 7, 2012 @ 10:46am
by Yola Miryam

What about shelving them as per Library of Congress call numbers?

November 7, 2012 @ 10:59am
by Mark Sipowicz

Yet another missed opportunity if screened and digitalized books replace the printed and bound. No sense of physical proximity to any neighboring authors, titles, or subjects, just a blur of wired bits and bytes downloadable on yet another indistinct screen. No physical place, no proximity, little to no synchronicity or its accompanying mundus imaginalis. Thank you for this ode to shelving and by extension our love affair with the book.

November 7, 2012 @ 12:05pm
by Gayle

my books are piled, higgledy piggledy on shelves that seem to merely exist to keep the books from the claws of my cats. It grows clear that I shall have to develop some more interesting eccentricities in my old age.

November 7, 2012 @ 12:58pm
by L Woolsey

My husband and I have another difference of opinion with our shared bookshelf (his books on the left, mine on the right) – whereas he prefers his books to be ‘faced’ and pulled to the front edge of the shelf like tins in a grocery store, I like my books pushed back to allow the space in front to be used to display other items. Obviously, he is completely wrong, but what can one do? His method does have one clear advantage in that the dust is hidden behind the books, whereas mine needs removing regularly.

November 7, 2012 @ 2:20pm
by Mike Hill

As a librarian, I love order. But the joy of finding a new author, or subject I have not encountered makes me think that a random walk down a book shelf can be an exciting adventure waiting to happen. Discovery and rediscovery await, waking me to the thoughts of people I would not have encountered in my daily world. Happy shelving, no matter what order you use.

November 8, 2012 @ 12:49am
by Wendy

Libraries shelve biographies by subject, not author. That way all biographies about one person are together on the shelf.

November 8, 2012 @ 1:26am
by ru

I have not read all the comments - perhaps someone else addressed this. But there are library practices that allow for the Cutter (the series of letters following the call number in the Dewey Decimal System) to be assigned based on the subject of a biography. So instead of a call number being 796.0592 SMITH (because Smith wrote the book), it would be 796.0592 JONES-S (because the book is about Jones, written by someone whose surname begins with S). So, in fact, Ms Brooks' sister has library practice on her side as well!

November 8, 2012 @ 1:32am
by Judy Duer

Actually, different libraries have different methods of shelving biographies. Some do shelve by subject (that is the person the biography is about), usually in 920 or 921 (or sometimes just B for biography). Others shelve them in the correct Dewey number for the occupation of the subject. So, all the basketball players are together. So, even in the anal world of library cataloging (and yes, I am a librarian, although not a cataloger) there are some variations. And even as a librarian, my personal collection is much less ordered than Ms. Brooks' system! I just group in broad subject catagories and let it go at that (did I mention I'm not a cataloger?).

November 8, 2012 @ 1:57am
by Catherine M.

How about shelving fiction by author and non-fiction by subject? Yes, I'm a librarian but my shelves at home are a mess so do as I say, not as I do. Just enjoy discovering and reading. Incidentally I have a decorating magazine at home which recommends shelving books with the page side out. Apparently it makes the look "softer".

November 8, 2012 @ 2:13am
by Terri Bonow

As a librarian spending years putting books in order so that the masses could related and find them in a structured order on shelves or from a catalog record, I find this capricious idea of like minded authors or those complementary authors sitting next to each other on the shelf appealing. However, how could a large knowledge seeking and shelf seeking group (those who use libraries) find the random titles in this creative arrangement? I guess my darling husband could find them no problem on my shelf.

November 8, 2012 @ 2:24am
by PW

Judy McGowan: His last name is McCall Smith, whether or not it has a hyphen. Different countries follow different naming patterns. Another example is the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose surname is Vaughan Williams.

November 8, 2012 @ 2:30am
by DTWalsh

My library also shelves biographies by subject. We affix a colored sticker on the spine, so that they stand out when you are looking at a range of shelves, but we reason that someone who wants books about physics, for example, will be happier to find a biography of Einstein in the same area rather than in a run of books that are randomized strictly by the subject's last name. As a rule, people don't 'browse' for a biography of someone like Einstein, they come in to retrieve one. We make an exception with the 'new' biographies (in our library, generally all books are 'new' if they are less than six months old) and they are shelved in our 'new book' area close to the other non-fiction. The whole range of books is a sea of green colored biography stickers, so that people can browse for a new book on a person they might be interested in knowing more about. Once these books are not 'new' they are shelved in their Dewey-designated subject area with the other material on the subject they most represent. Generally, this seems to work for everyone; patrons who like to browse get to do so with the newest biographies, and, when they are not new and popular any more, they spend the rest of their library life amidst the books that will appeal to people trying to figure out why their life work was valuable.

November 8, 2012 @ 2:35am
by Melvin Rosenberg

I'm impressed by this rage for order. I know where my books are and can always find them. When I weed, I give them to the library where I worked for twenty-five glorious years. At the moment I'm reading Clarice Lispector, a philosophical novelist of wit, grandeur, and a glamorous sadness. I don't have to shelve her books. They're borrowed from a library, due Nov. 9.

November 8, 2012 @ 2:53am
by Constance

I am a librarian, a cataloger even. I love order in my library, LC class order no less. In my professional view, Ms. Brooks' sister is correct. Absolutely 100% correct.

At home, however, I follow no such order. I love looking at my shelves and coming upon a book I forgot I even had.

November 8, 2012 @ 3:19am
by Lisa

I really enjoyed your essay. At our library the biographies are shelved under dewey (subject) and the individual that the book is about, not the author. This makes for easier locating. I like to stroll down the isles with eyes wide open. You never know what treasure will pop out!
Librarian Lisa

November 8, 2012 @ 5:17am
by Jill Chambers

doesn't matter- any journey along strange (or stranger's) bookshelves is a fascinating one

November 8, 2012 @ 9:22am
by Jayne Walllace

Fun Topic.
I only have about 30LF of books, so that makes it easy. They are just grouped by a few categories:
Art, Architecture, Gardening, Etiquette, Rare Books, History.

November 8, 2012 @ 10:29am
by Janet Fanning

and where do you shelf a digital book, with the title of your favorite story on the device or by where it is easy to grab and use from a chair in this mesmerizing room of characters?

November 8, 2012 @ 12:51pm
by C. Smith

If it helps, in elementary libraries we shelve biographies by the person who is the subject of the book!. So now you have a reason to shelve them the way you want!!

November 8, 2012 @ 11:23pm
by Julia Haggar, Librarian

In most public libraries, biographies are shelved by subject so all books about the same person are together. People who read biographies seem to be browsers so this works very well for them The only exceptions are movie/tv stars and sports figures who are usually shelved in the 700s; this is an ongoing debate among librarians.

November 9, 2012 @ 7:14am
by Janet

We do ours by size!

November 9, 2012 @ 2:10pm
by N.

I've never really had a shelving problem — I arrange them in the order of how frequently I read the books for quick access. Then, of course, there are the piles on and near my bed, on tables, near the computer, etc.

But I've never thought of how the authors would feel placed next to each other. Thank you for this new nightmare.

November 14, 2012 @ 9:42pm
by Di Cranwell

You could always use the example of the award winning Shearer's Quarters on Bruny Island in Tasmania. They have arranged their books by colour, the warm reds and oranges closest to the wood burning fire and the cooler blues and greens towards the wide window.

November 15, 2012 @ 12:27pm
by Sylvia in Alaska

Several years ago I watched an interview of a biographer/historian which took place in his home office.
One wall of his office was totally bookshelves. On the shelves in the upper right area of the wall were the New England books; the lower right area was Southeast . The Midwest was the center strip down the center of the wall with the northern Midwest at the top; the upper left was the Pacific Northwest, and the lower left was the Southwest.
His shelving was done keeping the U.S. map in mind. This was 'thinking outside of the envelope' and I get a warm, fuzzy feeling everytime I think of that wall!

November 15, 2012 @ 3:27pm
Show previous 69 comments
by Library Jeff

As a library employee I feel compeled to point out that (at least in terms of Dewey) Bio by subject is correct.

November 20, 2012 @ 8:28am
by Laurence Penney

I first understood that shelving could be subversive when the first second-hand bookseller I got to know explained that it gave him a certain subversive thrill to shelve politics next to true crime.

Love the story about US map shelving, Sylvia! By colour, just a bit too twee for me.

And then, what do the books think? How would they shelve themselves?

December 1, 2012 @ 3:25am
by Richard Pennycuick

The buyer (and shelver) of classical music CDs has a similar problem. You can decide whether you shelve your Beethoven symphonies before his piano concertos or the other way around if you want to adhere to strict alphabetical order. But where do you shelve a CD with music by Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams on which the latter's music takes up more playing time than either of the others? Or a CD with string quartets by Mendelssohn and Schumann, each of which is about the same length? Hardly likely to lead to divorce!

December 8, 2012 @ 11:14am
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