A Bookshelf of Organized Chaos


Recently, the photograph that runs along my sidebar was a topic of conversation with a friend.  It isn’t something I pulled off the internet, but rather a photograph I took of my personal bookshelf.   The shelf is one of the more noticeable features of my home as it covers the an entire wall in my dining room.  It reaches all the way to the ceiling and it is rammed with hundreds of books.  With such a large collection, it would make sense to have  a sophisticated system of organization – like alphabetizing or Dewey Decimal – to make it easy to find any book.  I’ve mentioned my highly organized nature, so naturally there is a system in place, but no one really knows how it works except for me!   Nothing is alphabetized or numbered and genre based categories are not utilized. Everything is neatly shelved, but aside from that it looks like a haphazard stack to the untrained eye.  Despite my unorthodox ways, I know where each and every book is located.  Below is a larger scale photograph of my shelf and a list of the categories I use to keep everything in working order.

Writers I Admire
Location: Second Shelf

I carved out a special section to store the books of authors who I hold in high regard as a reader and as an aspiring writer.  The likes of David Foster Wallace, Ivan Klíma, John Irving, Michael Chabon, Paul Auster, Dennis Potter, Guy de Maupassant, Vladimir Nabokov, and Paulo Coehlo populate this area of the wall along with a few other new recruits.  I keep these writers grouped together because they inspire me to continue experimenting with my own style of writing.  I don’t want to emulate them, but rather write with the same spirit of courage, creativity, honesty, boldness, and heart.

Books I’ve Read
Location: Second Shelf (far right, part of which is not visible in the picture), Third Shelf (1/4 way in from the left and extends to the far right which is not visible), Fourth Shelf (From the left edge up to The Da Vanci Code).

If you have visited the “My Bookshelf” tab, you’ll probably spot several of those titles stacked on my shelves.  I keep most books I’ve read if I enjoyed them, (some are double stacked behind what is visible).  Whatever I don’t keep is sold to Half-Price Books where I usually have the cash in my hands for an entire five minutes before buying something “new.”

The books are grouped in such a strange pattern on different shelves in order to link different categories without creating too much disruption.  I tend to read YA at a fast pace, which means just about every book in that section has been read.  That creates a nice meeting point to start stacking all other books I’ve read.  The other meeting point connects to Authors I Admire as the vast majority of those books have also been read.

These books are shelved in the order in which they were read.  Books on the right are the most recently read, which makes it easier to distinguish them from the next category . . .

Books I Haven’t Read
Location: Third Shelf (far right, starting after Martin Amis and continuing to a point that is not visible in the photograph), Fourth Shelf (starting after The Da Vinci Code and extending beyond the scope of photograph).

The largest category by far, but I would rather have too much to read than not enough.  The books are stacked on different shelves for a purely logistical reason – size.  The hardcovers are too big to fit on the third shelf and the collection as a whole is too big to fit all on one shelf.

Almost Finished Reading
Location: Third Shelf (in the middle, right after Water For Elephants and stopping at The Collected Short Stories of Anton Chekov)

These are books that for whatever reason I never got to the last page.  Perhaps another book caught my attention or I just didn’t get into the story.  I can usually remember where I left off and almost always return to them at one time or another.  I figured the perfect place for them was right in between read and unread, like a buffer zone of sorts.

Young Adult

Location: Third Shelf (left Side) and Fourth Shelf (left Side)

Ever since I read Twilight, (yeah, I’m one of those people), I found myself drawn into the YA genre.  There are a number of series of which I’ve become a devoted follower.  What I love about YA is the storytelling aspect.  The writing may not be fine literature, but the stories are usually very original and always a good bit of fun.  After reading something heavy or difficult, I love jumping into a realm where I don’t have to analyze every single word.

The series I’ve collected include, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Twilight series, (which has actually turned into anything by Stephanie Meyer), Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series, Lauren Kate’s Fallen Series, Percy Jackson, and Claudia Gray’s Evernight series.

I tend to mix read with unread, but only because I go through them so quickly.  At the moment, there’s only a few I haven’t read, which means it’s time to start stockpiling again!

Size again plays a role in why YA occupies two shelves instead of one.  Harry Potter and parts of the Twilight collection are too tall to fit the third shelf, while the rest of YA is too short to properly fill up the fourth shelf, (sometimes aesthetics have to be considered).

Click for more . . .

Books I Love and Can’t Throw Away
Location:  Fourth Shelf

These are not visible in the photograph, but there is small section of books that have been with me for many, many years.  They are so battered, they should probably be repaced, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  For example, my copy of Jane Eyre looks like its been used for target practice, but there are far too many memories of reading at night with a flashlight and jamming it into my school backpack, ( I won’t be admitting how long ago that was, either!).

Old, Beautiful Books
Location: Top Shelf

Over the years, I’ve been on a mission to rescue books on the verge of death in antique stores and garage sales.  In particular, I gravitate towards old history textbooks and poetry.  Among my favorite finds is a geography textbook from 1889 and an early 19th century leather-bound edition of Shakespeare’s complete works.  They sit on the top shelf where my cat can’t bother them and to take their place above the rest as true classics.

Location: (Bottom shelf, far left, not visible)

Most reference books have moved upstairs, but I keep a few stray historical reference books, dictionaries, and How To books handy.  Travel journals, maps, and guidebooks also share the bottom shelf as I’m always on my way somewhere, planning a trip, or simply dreaming of my next adventure.

They Won’t Fit Anywhere Else
Location:  All shelves, horizontally stacked on top of other books

There is never enough room even though my shelves span an entire wall.  Books get stacked behind other books, while the newest additions find themselves sitting on top of older residents until I get around to rearranging everything to make it all fit.  Horizontal books are placed as close as possible to the appropriate categories where they will eventually be filed.  It’s not the best cog in my otherwise well-oiled machine of chaotic organization, but it beats giving up a new book.

Almost every bibliophile I know has a unique system of organizing books.  Some use boxes or piles on the floor, but one thing they all share in common is an unbreakable connection and genuine love for books.  They are treasures with incalculable value, so it makes sense to “hide” them in a maze of organization that defies common logic.

c.b. 2011


22 thoughts on “A Bookshelf of Organized Chaos

  1. I’m so jealous of your bookshelf. It’s to the ceiling but how long? I have a modest sized bookcase, but it’s cluttered and books are stacked everywhere. If I got rid of my bed, I could put shelves all along the walls. I get the dumb idea that people are going to look at my bookshelf and be impressed because I have this or that book on the shelf. ;-p


    • It’s 8 feet long and 8 feet high. 🙂 A while back I had a smattering of book cases all over the house, but they created way too much clutter. Building shelves right into the wall made so much more sense. And now I get to have an entire part of the house filled what I love … books!


  2. Makes perfect sense to me. Especially the double stacked. My husband didn’t realize for the longest time that I had two rows of books. He’s been after me ever since he discovered my secret…how many books do you need? Lots and Lots and Lots…


  3. Great topic to share! I’ll admit I’m a book collector too. Do you have a stack of books next to your bed? Suppose to be the true test of a bibliophile. I ‘m glad to hear you can find what you are looking for. You have an interesting file system. You’ve left me curious about the authors who inspire you to write.


    • There is indeed a stack beside my bed on the nightstand. 😉 My current reading book, a poetry book of some kind, and a few that I haven’t returned to the main shelf because I’m still pondering them. Oh and never mind the stack of craft books.

      The writers who inspire me tend to push the boundaries of mainstream fiction and that’s why I love them. I’ll be writing about a few of them in the coming weeks as this post has reawakened my love of their works. 🙂


  4. I am a bibliophile, and the first thing I noticed when I came onto this blog was the beautiful picture in the sidebar. I approve heartily of Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” which is visible on the bottom, right hand side.

    I love your system for organizing your books. Although what do you do when you run out of shelf-space?


    • Ah, yes “The Historian.” That’s a relatively new addition. I’ve heard great things about that book I can’t wait to read it.

      Right now, the dining room table and the floor are handling the overflow. 😉 I’m working on getting some more shelves built into another wall.

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂


  5. I love it!
    I once organized my bookshelf alphabetically, but that just didn’t work well. So now it’s more organic. Favorite books closer to the middle, classics on the top shelf, reference books and books read less often on the bottom. Someday I hope to be able to have a whole room to act as a library/writing space.


  6. Oh my, someone else who likes YA books! Have you read the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials series? The first book is The Golden Compass. My other favorite is Garth Nix’s three books in the Abhorsen sseries: Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. They are in my “love and can’t get rid of” bookcase.


    • I love the title of your bookshelf! 🙂

      I haven’t read any of Pullman’s work, but he is on my list. Currently, I’m really into Cassandra Clare’s two series, The Infernal Devices and The Mortal Instruments.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and I hope to see you around again! 🙂


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