I think it’s common for lovers of books to also be lovers of bookshelves. Sometimes somewhat obsessed. At least I am. Rearranging my bookshelf is easily one of my favourite hobbies. Or only hobbies. Occasionally I enjoy it even more than reading which is a whole separate issue. It’s satisfying to see your personal library staring back at you. You’ve put a lot of time and money in to it. You appreciate the privilege it is to even be able to buy your own books, sometimes going without phone credit or bread because you preferred the book but always knowing there’ll be more money coming. Been there. So it’s important to respect them. Especially for the people who don’t have them. Books are knowledge. They hold facts and dreams and ideas and truths. It’s your responsibility to treat them kindly. So yeah, if people want to spend hours making sure they’re ordered correctly or nicely then that’s cool with me.
But like most things, there are different ways of doing it. So many different ways to order things with varying functions. Being an avid watcher of Booktube I often come across bookshelf tours. Whilst they usually last over thirty minutes I think they are really worthwhile. I’ve found several books I’d never heard of through bookshelf tours. Milk and Honey, The Vegetarian and Yes Please to name a few. I have a lot of time for them. But what I always notice is how different people choose to place their books.
And I’ve come to a conclusion: people are obsessed with their shelves looking like a rainbow. Like, I get it, it looks cute but it’s so impractical. For one you have to remember the colour of the spine of every edition of every book you own. Not the front cover, the spine. Also, most of my spines are black or white – whilst I think that’s cool, I think it would look like a super sad shelf. Maybe it works better for YA-heavy shelves with their eye catching blue and yellows but my shelf has evolved from that scene somewhat.
Another order than will always be popular is alphabetical and whilst I respect the vibe I think it’s tired and a little lazy. I did that for many years myself. It makes sense; well it makes sense by author surname – I’ve seen title and author first name, just no. But ultimately it just got a bit stale for me and somehow having Neil Gaiman next to Elizabeth Gaskell was just weird. It’s efficient and time-saving but I just think we can do better.
And there’s other orders too: genre and form, as well as completely chaotic – ordered simply for aesthetic. Whilst I agree with aesthetics in some sense (it creates a nice hygge) it just clutters my brain a little. Organised chaos has never worked for me, in any aspect of my life. As for genres I also get it, but it’s just not how my brain compartmentalises things. I like a lot of genres but I find a lot of books are more than one thing. Just Kids is a memoir but it’s also coming of age, a book of love and friendship, a comment on society, a love letter to art. Yeah, you could say it’s mainly a memoir but I don’t pigeon-hole that way. Similarly, Harry Potter is kids literature, sure, but also fantasy, it’s basically a modern classic these days and it’s a series. Where would it go? Should you just give it it’s entirely own shelf? Maybe.
So I get all these orders but for now I respectfully decline.
The one that makes sense in my mind and one I’m surprised you don’t see more is publication date. I’ve been doing it for a few years now and I find it really interesting. It’s cool to see things next to each other which you wouldn’t normally put together. For example, when I saw The Communist Manifesto and Jane Eyre were published the year after each other I was baffled. Even though I knew the year each was published I hadn’t connected it in my head. They’re opposites in my mind but not in the strange sense that books can be in an alphabetical order. Their authors are meshed together by chance, simply by the name they were given or chose. But here you have magic, the same moment in history explored from completely separate eyes. And I think that’s what I find fascinating about this method – you can see the ideas of a generation at any given moment, the schools of thought that were around and what their goals were. For example, Howl and Giovanni’s Room are next to each other on my shelf and that neatness makes me smile. To know people were breaking down barriers and exploring sexuality at a time when Narnia was reaching its conclusion (the other side of Howl). It’s peculiar but it humbles me.
But then there’s other pairings like John Cooper Clarke wedged between Beloved and The Color Purple. They seem bizarre next to each other at first glance but then are they? Ten years in an open neck shirt is about societal norms, challenging the establishment and living authentically. It’s surreal and it’s punk. Seems weird to fit with Walker and Morrison but it does. They’re trying to smash the establishment by shining an incredibly unflattering light on the shambles that is the human race. And whilst these authors thoughts are different I think their end goals are similar – a better world. I hate when people say that’s idealistic. It’s easily realistic too if everyone got off their entitled arses and chose to change the world (excuse me, that’s just me getting hopped up over the general election next week). But it’s true, be the change and all that. It gets me excited to read what’s in the pages of my books and thousands more.
And imagine, if I threw a rainbow on my shelves all I’d know is that red goes next to orange.
stones around the sun – Lewis Watson