February 25, 2011



I'm a bibliophile in a very sensual way. I love the smell of books, old and new. I love bookstores. I love seeing dense shelves waiting for me, alive but dormant. HOWEVER. After my last move I sucked it up and got an ereader.

My kindle will never fully replicate the reading experience. I have to admit though that the thought of the thousand or so books I have on there weighing practically nothing? It's a trade I'm glad I made and I'll be even happier about it the next time I move.

That said, the biographies and letters should go with the books if you have the room. If you don't have the space, stashing them elsewhere is a necessary sacrifice.


Are you willing to double stack in either direction? Either have a row of short books in front with taller books peeking out from behind them, or erect a second shelf within each segment, to split the space in two, top and bottom? Neither is a pretty solution, but they can be effective. You can also try what libraries do -- pull the books that you'll consult infrequently, make a list of what they are and where you've put them, and stick them in any awkward storage space you have -- very high cabinets or under the bed, etc.

Kara Krauze

Good suggestions by Sarvi. Though I hate the idea of hiding books behind books, I've gradually given over to it on some shelves. Unfortunately, since in certain cases it's been a necessary shift rather than a desired one, the encroachment is not always aesthetically pleasing, more like archeological layers of what was read, re-read, perused, or acquired most recently. But it can be done in deliberate and useful ways too. (Perhaps Alexandre Dumas might retreat to the back?)

As to the other matter, personally, I am a strong believer that the biographies should go with the letters and other non-fiction. You could make the argument that letters should accompany the novels (all the author's words); once that has been done, perhaps the biography might slide in too...but since they are distinct genres, I think they fair better apart. It's interesting to peruse biographies, letters, even autobiographies/memoirs, and essays as a separate category.
Good luck! And it must be nice to have the riches of all those words going back onto shelves too, weighty though the encasements are.

Paul Lamb

I've had a notion that I should shelve my books in their Dewey Decimal order or Library of Congress order. (I worked in my high school library, so I have an affinity for this kind of thing.)

It's a simple matter to look up virtually every book at the Library of Congress website to see what its shelving number is and then shelve it that way on my stacks. Simple. Sensible. Orderly. Universal.

I may even do that some day.


Double stacking and un-completing the completeness, if not of the Dumas then perhaps others you are less attached to. (In the photo above -- I have everything and anything on P. Fitzgerald (fortunately there's not that much) -- but I recently purged my Philip Roth of one that I never liked and one that I never got around to reading, but there's always the library & re-acquisition if that one ends up being "worth owning"). Also, with my record/CD collection I eventually developed the strategy that every time I buy one I must get rid of one. I have a similar, less strict policy for my books, rotating what I pick up with what I donate to library book sales, etc.


One word sums up what works for me: purge. I always used to keep all my books, now I pare back regularly. Forces me to think about why I keep books at all, then certain books in particular. The hardest question for me is whether keeping so many books visible at home, especially those I'm unlikely to re-read or refer to, is anything more than ego and pride on display.
The purging process is also helped by the fact that there are a couple of places I can donate books where I know they will be read and enjoyed.


like Sarvi, I tend to double-stack as a last resort, but it works well for the big stuff. If you take the classic-lit (typically tall and wide) and show it off in front, then put older fiction you won't return to or smaller paper-bound classic lit behind, you can pretty it up and still make it functional.

For instance, in the header on my blog, War & Peace, TKAMB, Sherlock, Dickens, Lady Chatterly, and Emma block older Stephen King novels that I love, but won't reread and the George R. R. Martin series and some thriller novels I've yet to read.

Also, the Harvard Classics are double-stacked and (except for the one on top) you can't tell).


I suspect my eccentric methods would make your fingers itch to reorganize (my study has a big shelf of "things I'm working on and Woolf"; we separate American from British from everything else). So, take this with a grain of salt from a bibliophile who prefers eccentric organization: I do like a separate biography section, too. It's just such a different kind of reading.


I carried out a savage cull about a year ago. On balance, even taking into account the number of times I have realised that I am missing a book I really need and love, I feel 'lighter' and strangely liberated. The shelves are rapidly filling again, however.
I, too, like a separate biography section.


I keep most handy the books I'm most likely to reread: Austen, Dickens, Gravity's Rainbow....

Brandy Winchester

"So I'm left wondering do I store my copy of Frederick Brown's Flaubert biography with the rest of my Flaubert, or do I separate the biographies as well".

Falubert stands proud among the rest of your collection in my opinion and for that reason I would keep Flaubert's biography with the rest of your Flaubert. I think the question at hand is whether or not his biography should be at the beginning or at the end of your Flaubert collection?

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