The Changing of the Shelves

I decided over the weekend that it was time to reorganize my bookshelves. I get this wild hair every once in a while, and when I do, gods help the soul who comes between and my mission.

The previous look: Covid creative

It’d been a relatively long time since my last obsessive switch-up. During the initial Covid-19 quarantine, both my husband and I were out of work. I threw myself into home improvement projects to stay out of my head. It helped break up the disheartening rat race of job searching and made the isolation more tolerable.

I converted our “guest” bedroom into an office for myself, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in ages. (“Guest” in that there was a bed. Mostly it was stuffed with junk.) I finally had a Room of One’s Own, a dedicated library, and place to ruminate and write. It was crucial to me that it be anesthetically pleasing. I painted, painstakingly arranged my antiques, hanged pictures and art with care. For the first time ever, I decided I would organize my books by color. I wanted a HGTV look. My bookish friends would be horrified, I knew. I could feel Librarians (shout out to the bestest EVER Librarians of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County!) cringe, but it was 2020 and my soul needed as much beauty as I could wrap myself in.

It was actually more difficult than you would think. But it kept me busy for the better part of a day, and I was quite pleased with the finished result.

Sorry this picture is blurry. I have a crap camera on my phone and the light was bad in the room. You can get the gist. I didn’t include the lower shelves as I keep my oversized volumes there. There is another case with my vintage books–those are always beautiful.

Fast forward to Sunday.

As is my M.O., the compulsion came on suddenly and with force. The unique thing about this urge was that I had no clear vision for how I wanted them organized. I just knew I needed to do it. It was a need as visceral and palpable as breathing. So I plunged in, yanking them off scattering them around me in lose piles, and completely covering the floor. It was like a literary bomb went off in my room.

So this was actually midway through the process. Also, at some point, the ‘W’ from my WRITE jumped off the top of the case and whacked me in the head.

The process

I eventually settled on all fiction together, genres mixed, and alphabetized by author’s last name. (Roughly. It’s more like H’s are together and come before I’s. But the H’s may not be in order and the author’s books are helter-skelter.) Nonfiction is sorta-kinda-maybe grouped by category that makes sense to me. Some might be by author, some by category. Someone looking at my shelves probably couldn’t find the memoirs because they are sandwiched between Native American history and siege warfare. But I can, and that’s all that really matters.

Also important, was that I got more of the books on the cases. I’ve added quite a few in recent months but have run out of shelf space. As any proper bookworm knows, lack of real estate is no excuse for the cessation of book accumulation. So I also turned books sideways, stacking them and filling small spaces with small books. I managed to home more than I expected, the trade off being they now look like complete shit. A far cry from from where they started.


What I began to realize was that this time, the changing of the shelves really had nothing to do with the actual system. That need I felt was for the healing power that touching the books gave me.

You see, I’m more than just a reader. I’m a booklover, and there is a difference. I had to spend some quality time with my old friends, to feel their spines and compare the color of the pages. It was a joy to mindfully observe how some volumes were beat up and some were pristine. I’ll pick up a random title (White Oleander, for example) and flip the pages, hugging it to my chest. Even if I didn’t remember the exact plot of the book, I remembered the emotions I experienced while reading it, and I reveled in the skill it took for the author to invoke such feelings.

It became poignantly clear that I was fortifying my soul with a wall of words. Sure, not all of the books are award winners. Some are verifiable crap. I have Fabio mass market paperbacks and Toni Morrison (RIP) gems. But everyone of them I’ve kept for a specific reason–they’ve inspired me. They’ve made me laugh, cry, or learn something new.

Moving Forward

I’ve just jumped head-first into some unknown and uncharted creative waters. But at some point, all of these writers did, too. It was immensely inspirational and comforting.

Maybe next time I need to organize my shelves it will really be about organization. Maybe I will Dewey Decimal System my way into perfect bookcase harmony. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ll continue to listen to their call and get handsy with them when I need. I highly suggest you go do the same.

What about you? How do you organize your books? How are books, not necessarily reading itself, a balm for your soul? Tell me in the comments!

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