Billy the Bookcase says hello

The BBC news magazine asks: what's the point of bookshelves, and what do they say about you?

Because my nickname in elementary school was "Librarian" (this was hurtful only if you knew our school librarian), I thought this would be a good jumping-off point to talk about books with our readers. Certainly, as grad students, we spend more than enough time around books - in libraries, archives, our homes and offices. We all know that the typical academic accumulates enough books to make the shelves sag with the weight of hardcovers two- to three-deep. Perhaps we even strive for this, thinking that books are the external symbol of success.

But I think it goes deeper than that. Attic contributors Jen and Ceri have shared their collections of books with us, and have even hinted at how their prized books are arranged in their homes. Clearly, although they collect vintage books that might be looked on with envy by some people, they have a deep connection to their collections, and see themselves reflected within the titles they have accumulated.

There is an attitude of reverence that comes with books, at least for me. Perhaps this is because in the Jewish faith, holy books are treated with reverence - if you accidentally drop a prayer book, you kiss it when you pick it up; Torah Scrolls that are too damaged for use are buried like human beings. If I don't know you and trust you, I will not lend you my books; I don't want them returned soiled and dog-eared, with the spines cracked. Then again, there is a joy in sharing books - another friend of mine buys multiple copies of the books he loves, and gives them away to friends. It is through him that I acquired my first volume of poetry by Pablo Neruda, and I have paid the debt forward by giving books by Edward Gorey to friends.

To me, and to many of my friends, books are among our most prized possessions. There were always bookshelves heaving with books in my homes as a child - we had a low cabinet with doors, the back of which was coming away from the frame because the quantity of books pushed it out. My father installed wall shelves in our first house, because we didn't have room for assembled bookshelves that sit on the floor. I miss my books when I am away from them, and have a LibraryThing account to help me keep track of what books I have when I am travelling and get tempted by museum bookstore sales. One of my good friends decorates with her books - hers are arranged by size, with colour-coordination as a secondary means of organization.

Since I am, like many museum people, ever-so-slightly OCD, and definitely curious, I want to know: how do you organise your book collections, prized and mundane?

My books are arranged by theme or topic, then by author or series if applicable, and interspersed with knick-knacks that I want displayed. Colour and size are not a huge deal for me, which probably leads to messier-looking shelves than many people would be happy with, but I like my shelves to be functional. I want to always be able to find my books on Dress-As-Art, for example, which are separate from my collection of vintage etiquette manuals, which in turn don't mix with my books of poetry. Here's a couple of photos (taken with my webcam, so apologies for the quality) to help you visualise.
Slightly vertiginous, sorry - the boxes up top house my vintage hat collection.My dress and art books are on a different shelving unit on the other side of the room


Amy said…
Funny you should mention Billy bookcases Julia; they were a topic of conversation at our PhD meet-and-greet yesterday afternoon!

I maintain you can tell a lot about someone if they value books. Personally I'm really quite possessive about mine and find it very difficult to rationalise my collection (even when, like presently, needs must).

Surprisingly for someone with diagnosed OCD I don't order them in any particular way. If they're actually on shelves (rather in piles around my room) I'm doing well! I would love to have organised colour and sized-coded shelves, but until I have my own home I think that will have to remain a pipe-dream.

That said, I do try to separate fiction from non-fiction and feel quite uncomfortably if one invades the other.
Jenny said…
So jealous! I have no bookcases at ALL at the moment :(
J said…
You see, even when I am away, I am with you all in spirit! :-)

Oh yes, fiction and non-fiction must be kept separate at all times!!

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