July 2009 Newsletter

Tip of the Month: Organizing the book collection

Keep like with like — that’s a basic organizing principle. Let’s look at the many ways to put that principle into practice when it comes to organizing your books.

1. Organize by Category
This seems to be the most popular approach — with people using their own sets of categories. There’s fiction vs. nonfiction, and then whatever subcategories make sense. Fiction could be subdivided by genre (mysteries, science fiction, etc.) and nonfiction categories could include biography, history, self-help, travel, cookbooks, etc.

Some people alphabetize within fiction; others do not. There are some problems with alphabetical storage, as one person who uses this approach points out: “Naturally, as I have a lot of books, this means never buying anything more by Aravind Adiga. The implications for reshelving are too tedious. I plan to read a lot more Zola though in future.”

Some choose to use established classification systems: the Dewey Decimal Classification or the Library of Congress Classification.

2. Organize by Color
The color approach has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years. It seems to be something you either love or hate.

3. Organize by Illustrator
My friend Jim collects illustrated books, and they are, quite logically, organized by illustrator.

4. Organize by Read vs. To Be Read
You might separate the books you’ve read — and decided are worth keeping — from the books you’ve bought but haven’t yet read. In his book The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, Steve Leveen recommends this approach, suggesting you create a Library of Candidates for reading. This, in turn, could get organized by category; one that Leveen has is called For When I Go There — “books to read in particular places.”

5. Don’t Organize Them (but use cataloging software)
You could put your books in the shelves randomly — and use one of the many cataloging programs available to locate a specific book.

First Organizing Quote of the Month

I take on too many responsibilities. I’m bad at saying no, and good at overwhelming myself and then not getting anything done. …

So here’s what I’ve learned: quit. Anything you possibly can, quit. We do so many things that don’t add any value to our lives or anyone else’s, and those things get in the way of that which is actually worthwhile. My favorite example is reading a book — if it’s bad, we still tend to finish it just because we’ve already invested time in it. Why not cut our losses, stop reading, and spend that time reading a better book? Being a quitter is not a bad thing — it’s a smart thing. Remove the things from your life that have no value, regardless of how much time you’ve invested, and put your time and energy into things that actually matter.

— from David Pierce’s Five Rules for Life

Second Organizing Quote of the Month

One might purchase a book with the intention of reading it later, but at a certain point the timeline of future reading stretches out so far as to make it clear that some of these books will never be read and one becomes an Imelda Marcos of books.

— Amber, on Prettier than Napoleon

Book Organizing: More Reading

My blog has a whole section on book organizing — covering everything from finding new homes for your books, to clever bookends and beautiful bookcases, to accounts from those who’ve successfully pruned their book collections.