Organizing Books

When I was a little girl, I used to love libraries so much that I would make little pretend pockets for the inside of my Scholastic books and “check them out” to my friends. I always found comfort in the Dewey decimal system — so much so, that when I made a massive playlist (on cassette and in order of release date starting with the 1950s) for a New Year’s Eve/Millennium party that I hosted, I created my own numerical system of organizing the songs so that I could keep track of decade and artist as my friends sent in requests. That sort of regimentation reminds me of the Meg Ryan character in when Harry Met Sally who keeps her videotape collection listed on notecards and alphabetized above her bed. I could never keep my own books, let alone a few DVDs that I have, that organized. My books travel too much: from room to room, from floor to floor, from home to office to car.

Over the 19 years that I’ve lived in this house, however, I have worked out a small system of keeping track of my ever growing number of books. I have three rooms of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves — the living room, the den, and the guest room. The living room houses my Irish literature, German language, and travel books. The den is a catch-all for my poetry, general fiction, and literary anthologies. And, until I married my husband, the guestroom was full of nonfiction, but now, Patrick’s art and cookbooks have taken over.

When the time came to declutter the house, at the very least, books found their way back to the rooms they belonged in, if not necessarily onto a shelf. That way, if I was looking for something in particular, I at least knew I was warm if I was in the right room. I almost always remember the color of a book’s cover, so I can say to myself, “I’m looking for a green spine” or red one or a pink one or whatever. The only time I was completely lost for location was when I tried to organize my books by color. That is, I tried to “Roy G. Biv” all of my books in a twisted rainbow fantasy that I had seen on HGTV. Even though all of the green spines were together on two or three shelves, I still could never find the books I was looking for. I was hypnotized by the color blocks. I’ve heard that other people who have tried to arrange their books in a rainbow-like fashion have also found it disorienting and disappointing.

Would any readers like to share their thoughts on book organization?