Wednesday, December 02, 2009

My Own Private Library

In December, 2007 and again in April, 2009 I did some guest blogging at ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace Blog. While ForeWord Magazine is going strong, they have discontinued doing that guest blogging. So, I am going to rerun those posts here at Tea Cozy. Any edits to remove confusion about things like dates is in brackets.

My Own Private Library

I recently moved.

If you're a book lover and owner, you understand my pain.

Compiling your own private library isn't easy. There are the naysayers: Why do you want a book you've already read? Why not use the library? Why clutter your house? Do you know how much money you'd save if you didn't spend it on books?

So why have all these books? And frankly: I've lost count of the number. To me, it comes down to two questions. Why do I want to buy this particular book? And then, why do I want to keep this book? Because there are some books I buy and pass along; one read is enough. What makes a book a "keeper"?

For me, I keep the books that are like family. I'm emotionally connected to the book or to the author; sometimes, even to the person I was when I first read the book. So I have newer series like Harry Potter, that brought me to librarianship and back to reading fantasy, and the Keeping Days series by Norma Johnston, my favorite coming of age story ever.

Especially now that I am a librarian, I realize the folly of viewing the library as a warehouse of books that will always have the title I need to read. Library books go missing and get stolen; fall apart; or get weeded if they are no longer in fashion. If there is a person or place or story I know I'll want to revisit, either to be challenged or comforted, I need to own it. So my collection of books includes everything from poetry to children's literature, from Irish history to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Right now, those books are in boxes, waiting to discover their new home. I did begin unpacking, but only succeeded in creating piles of books as I fretted about what to do with them. A new house, bookshelves in different areas, and I'm paralyzed, trying to decide where to put them and how to organize them.

The only easy bookshelf is the one in the kitchen: all cookbooks, from medieval cooking to holiday cookies, along with back issues of cooking magazines.

But beyond that, I'm stumped. I like the photos of like colors together, all the blue books, the white books, the red books. But that would mean breaking up authors, and all the Ellen Emerson White (and Zack Emerson) books must stay together.

I also like to group books; not just all books by Sylvia Plath, but also all books about her, including works of fiction, not to mention books by and about Ted Hughes.

Hardcovers and paperbacks cannot be on the same shelf. And oversized books have their own area. See how complicated it gets?

Believe it or not, I've never shelved by Dewey. Maybe that is the answer?

So, what about you? I'd love to hear other peoples criteria for what makes a book a "keeper" and how you keep those books organized.

Originally posted in December 2007 at ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace Blog.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


teacherninja said...

I like Nick Hornby's method of organizing books by Trivial Pursuit categories. Arts&Entertainment, Literature, History, Sports, etc.

I think I keep as many as fit on my shelves, then start weeding for a trip to the used bookstore, where I trade a couple of boxes and walk out with a bag of...more books.

Wendy said...

I didn't know you were a Keeping Days lover! Did you notice, when you were reading the Betsy-Tacy books this year, how derivative the Keeping Days is of that series? (I do love it too, though; especially 1,2,5, & 6.)

As I've blogged, I'm trying to reduce the number of books I own and keep it just to those really good friends or to books I'm not likely to find in libraries (considering my penchant for vintage YA, that's a lot of books).

I like grouping books, too, for fun; but in general I'm not a person who cares a whit about organizing books. It drives some people crazy. The only thing that bothers me about a way that people organize books is when they do it alphabetically and end up with a horribly inaesthetic mixture of paperbacks and hardcovers of different sizes in a row. (Says the woman who's had all her books in miscellaneous stacks on the floor for six months.)

Rebecca said...

I organize by colour and it completely works for me. I can actually tell you the spine colour of a book in my collection when given the title (my library is small - only 250) with terrifying accuracy.

What's a keeper for me? Definitely a book I want to read again, or one that had a strong impact on me when I read it. Some books were gifts and have been inscribed, or books that belonged to my grandmother and remind me of her. Of course there are always the reference or coffee table books, like cookbooks, atlases, and photography collections. When you get down to it, I just really like being surrounded by books.

As for organizing your own collection, if you like the idea of organizing by colour then go for it, even if it's not your entire collection. My series books are divided up by colour but I almost kept them separate. Do whatever works for you. :)

Bethany Wiggins said...

If a book is outstanding, I buy it AFTER I've read it (borrowed from library). A few I own... The Hero and the Crown, Robert Jordan, Tad Williams' Dragonbone Chair series, and.... all the Nancy Drew books. I got them as a kid and heve cherished them ever since. Now my daughter owns them.

Faith said...

I used to organize my books in rough alphabetical order by author, but now they're either shoved on the shelf randomly or in piles on my floor. I tend to have books that I either bought on a whim or that I really love and want to be able to reread at a moments notice or lend out to people

Susan Taylor Brown said...

I missed this post but wanted to say that I feel your pain. We're up to about 8,000 books here at home and need to do some weeding because we're out of room. I have an idea on making a nook just for my husband's cookbook collection but that's a way down the road.

I group by category, I guess, but I'm not rabid about it. All the poetry books go together as well as how to write poetry and biographies of poets, that sort of thing.

Except that my YA and MG fiction is alphabetical because it's the only way I can find things.