How Do You Organize Your Books?

John Waters famously said — if you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t sleep with them (though he used a word that you won’t often find in this newspaper or on public radio). I respectfully disagree. Rather than accumulate books, I prefer to take a “one in/one out” approach. If a title is wonderful, I give it to a friend. If it isn’t, I put it on the giveaway shelf at work. I have a small number of treasured books at my house, including an autographed copy of “Role Models,” by Waters, but I have no interest in building a personal library of works that I will rarely if ever revisit. — Ari Shapiro

Although my bookshelves are stuffed with books, I have not read all of them. Two things have contributed to this lack of turnover: first, I am beset by failing health and dimming eyesight; and second, I have an addictive personality and bought way too many books.

Curiously, this might allow me to be considered in both Waters and Shapiro camps: When you enter my rooms they are jam-packed with books and journals yet, when I finish a book it gets shipped off to an acquaintance or the nearest library sale table. An interesting twist to this is when I discover a book I want to read: first I find the book; then I order the digital version; then the paper and ink book goes off to the library. Not only does this usually have me paying twice for a book but I have discovered that libraries often do not add a new, unread book to their collection but rather lazily toss it in the 25 cent bin for some lucky reader to find it. I have bought $100 books and formally presented them to the library to fill a hole in their collection only to find the volume decorating a wire rounder at the front of the library with a prominent sign stating Five for a Dollar.

While I cool back down, consider these titles as suggested in the last month.

02-01-23 – Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter — Tom Franklin
02-02-23 – The Women I Think About at Night — Mia Kankimäki
02-03-23 – Lessons in Chemistry — Bonnie Garmus
02-04-23 – Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow — Gabrielle Zevin
02-05-23 – Honey & Spice — Bolu Babalola
92-06-23 – Crying in H Mart — Michelle Zauner
02-07-23 – Eighty-Sixed — David B. Feinberg
02-08-23 – Lucy by the Sea — Elizabeth Strout
02-09-23 – Bibliolepsy — Gina Apostol
02-10-23 – Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane — Paul Auster
02-11-23 – Bad Dolls — Rachel Harrison
02-12-23 – The Birdcatcher — Gayl Jones
02-13-23 – The Candy House — Jennifer Egan
02-14-23 – Ender’s Game — Orson Scott Card
02-15-23 – Avenue of Mysteries — John Irving
02-16-23 – Sam — Allegra Goodman
02-17-23 – Shrines of Gaiety — Kate Atkinson
02-18-23 – The Survivalists — Kashana Cauley
02-19-23 – The Shards — Bret Easton Ellis
02-20-23 – Dr. No — Percival Everett
02-21-23 – Parade Of Tears: Stories — Izumi Suzuki
02-22-23 – The Hopkins Manuscript — R. C. Sherriff
02-23-23 – Death Valley — Melissa Broder
02-24-23 – The Bandit Queens — Parini Shroff
02-25-23 – The Rabbit Factor — Antti Tuomainen
02-26-23 – How To Survive Everything — Ewan Morrison
02-27-23 – Culture: The Story of Us, From Cave Art to K-Pop — Martin Puchner
02-28-23 – The Diaries Of Franz Kafka — Ross Benjamin (tr.)

2 thoughts on “How Do You Organize Your Books?

  1. I tend to follow Shapiro’s approach. Other than a few signed books, I probably have less than 10 books on my shelves that I have already read, and I have 6 bookcases of fiction. If I finish a book and I have someone in mind, I’ll give it to them, otherwise it goes in the box to trade at Half Price Books. For the most part, my shelves are alphabetical by author, but I have a couple shelves for collections of smaller publishers (I have a Europa Editions section, a New Directions section, several others), as well as a shelf of collections (mostly the wonderful Library of America books).


    1. Sounds too organized for me (and I was once married to a librarian). I have built-in bookshelves, deep enough for two rows of books. I think my most important criterium for shelving is “will it fit?” Some shelves allow tall books; some are restricted to Penguin Classics. Like you, very few (other than reference type) books hang around after reading. Note that all those tight little novels you theoretically could slip into your back pocket for casual reading around town unfortunately had such small type I ended up donating hundreds of them in perfect new condition to the local library when I moved last time.

      I know, Ten for a Dollar!


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