How to Re-organize Your Bookshelf Using (Il)logical Categories

vintage classic books from author s.m. stevens bookshelf

Moving to a new home, as I recently did, means a fresh start at one’s bookshelf — a chance to wander through the collection, re-visit old friends, and maybe pluck out a few titles that have fallen out of favor and deserve a more loving home. It’s also a time to re-organize your books in a new and better way. 

Introvert Doodles offers this humorous but surprisingly accurate look at bookshelf organizational categories, which will be completely logical to the book-obsessed:

"book collection" comic by introvert doodles

Making Sense of Your Bookshelf

Do you recognize yourself in those descriptions? I have books in virtually every category!

Books I bought because the covers were pretty — Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so for me, this means my old editions of Don Quixote, Something of Myself, Little Women and Jane Eyre (see photo above). And, for kicks, I’ll occasionally pick up something quirky like this vintage edition of Modern Cake Decorating.

book cover modern cake decorating pictorial encyclopedia on bookshelf

Side note: Little Women and Little Men inhabit a special place in my heart because I am a distant relative of Louisa May Alcott. My mother’s maiden name is May, as is my middle name. Just don’t ask me to produce a family tree proving this claim, because I said “distant” for a reason. 🙂  

Books I have multiples of “just in case” — Shakespeare’s plays, in various collections.

paperback book cover of aesthetes and decadents of the 1908's from author s.m. stevens's collection

Books I’d look smart reading in public Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890’s. Am I right?

Books I’d be embarrassed to read in publicFifty Shades of anything. Obviously. So it’s a good thing it’s hidden in my Kindle.

Books that are falling apart but I’ll never discard — Lots in this category, including To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, my all-time favorite book; also Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo, and the Arthurian Saga trilogy by Mary Stewart, shown here with the equally magical Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I read those in high school, have re-read them several times, and will continue to re-read them until I die.

But Wait, There’s More

Books I finished, but wish I hadn’t — You know those books you can’t put down so you blast through them only to be sad when they end? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows epitomizes this category for me, because finishing it signaled not only the end of a book, but the entire series and magical twisty ride through the wizardry world.

shirley barber fairytale jigsaw book fairy puzzle

Pictures books, because you’re NEVER too old for picture books — Shirley Barber’s Fairytale Jigsaw Book. I said I bought this for my daughter, but she’s 23 now and whose bookshelf is it on?

Books I don’t “get” but hold onto in hopes I will someday be smarter V. by Thomas Pynchon. Read it for a college course. Re-read it a few years later but my accumulated wisdom did nothing to improve my understanding of it. (At least I’m in good company.)

Books I “borrowed” — I didn’t think I had any of these until my recent move, when I saw my sister-in-law’s maiden name written inside the cover of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. I wonder if she knows it’s missing…

Books I’ve started, but can’t make myself finish — These are rare, but The Bonfire of the Vanities comes to mind. I know it was a huge bestseller but about a quarter of the way in, I realized I didn’t care one bit about any of the characters. You won’t find these on my bookshelf, though, as they are immediately given away.

My Contributions to the List

In perusing my collection for this post, I noticed a few more categories rating a spot on my bookshelf. 

hot pink book covers diva

Books with hot pink covers — Granted this is a small collection, but I love these eye-catching covers. (And Diva is a very fun read!)

Books I was supposed to read in college but didn’t — Partly due to my obsessive need to finish projects and partly due to the hope that I might actually enjoy them, books including The White Peacock and Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence remain unread on my shelf. Nothing against Lawrence, I just haven’t had time yet, even though college was some years ago. I really will read these books someday; in fact, I am now reading W. Somerset Maughm’s Of Human Bondage, which falls in this category.

Books in the world’s tiniest non-fiction section — Other than literary analysis, my non-fiction section includes three book, one each on swimming, meditation and houseplants.

My Personal Dewey Decimal System

I like change, so my personal “Dewey Decimal” organizational system differs every time I re-load my bookshelf. My current system groups books first by type: novels, short story compilations, drama, poetry etc.. Within those sections, I sort titles by era, sneaking a peek at the publication year when needed.

bookcase with many books crammed on the shelves

Once, I just put books on the shelves randomly, except for grouping them by size. (No one wants to see a choice paperback overshadowed by a lesser topic presented in a large-format, overbearing hardcover!) 

I highly recommend this experiment. It’s like re-hanging the clothes in your closet in any order, to see what new outfits suggest themselves. But with books, it’s just fun to see classics from Britain’s Victorian period rubbing spines with, say, brutish Icelandic sagas.

And yes, I really do own some sagas, because I studied that genre once. Which might have you thinking those books belong in the category of Books I was supposed to read in college but didn’t. But surprise! I actually did read them. I hang onto them because, well, how many people can say they have Laxdæla Saga or Njáls Saga sitting on their shelf?

(To see more awesome comics from Introvert Doodles, click here, and check out the Introvert Doodle book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)