Some people organize their books alphabetically by author. Others, chronologically. Some break it down by bookstore category and then add a secondary characteristic for further organization. Some organize their books by color, which is probably just the worst option of all. How on earth would you ever find anything?
Figuring this out was difficult enough when I only had my own books to deal with, but two tall Billy bookcases from Ikea held my academic (ish) books, while a third covered my just-for-fun fiction and my non-academic non-fiction. Then I moved in with my husband and his books last year, and we started from scratch (and added a couple of other bookshelves to the mix).
The first thing we did was pull out all of our mythology, fantasy, science fiction books, deciding to put them on a tall bookshelf in the living room. This was one of the best decisions we made, as these books pertain to pretty much every possible sub-section I can think of, and it was nice to be able to keep them together rather than splitting them up across different topics. Then, we pulled out anything that didn’t pertain directly to our academic or creative interests. British history and literature, random literature, coffee table books, that sort of thing, went off to another tall bookshelf with reckless abandon. Next went the husband’s more technical binders and manuals, off to his shelving unit of electronic things, and we were left with what looked like a manageable pile that would fit into the two remaining tall book cases.
To make things as difficult as possible, I prefer to organize my books into surveys, starting chronologically and then expanding out into sections as the disciplines which emerge through history take hold and develop outward, organizing loosely by topic.
We started with a shelf for Ancient writings. My Greek language texts started the shelf off, followed by Ancient Dramas, surveys, and then into the major philosophical figures up until about Plotinus, when I jump back in time to cover religious texts that overlap that period. The Biblical and Quranic texts follow my Latin language books, and from there grows into Late Antique philosophy and then into Medieval Theology and Scholasticism. After that comes pretty much anything with a vaguely Abrahamically religious bent. There is some Chesterton and CS Lewis in there too, though half the time I want to transplant them to the fantasy bookcase where their fiction works live. I waffle back and forth on this one.
When I reach the Renaissance I start to realize that there’s no way to do this both chronologically and topically. I want to take Copernicus and start a section on physics and the development of science, but I also want to take Descartes and Berkeley and run through the early moderns before I get too deep into the philosophy of science. And then where do you put Hobbes?
My best solution is to start with the early moderns, and then blend into the historical and popular physics books as much as possible, and then follow with my husband’s heavy physics and math textbooks on the bottom shelf of the first bookcase since they’ll adeptly weigh the whole thing down.
But there’s almost no logic after this point. To start the next large bookcase, I double back to the philosophy and run through to the present in a late 19th, 20th, and early 21st century (loosely topical) free-for-all. There’s sort of political section, a second science section, linguistics, phenomenology, post-colonialism, and a few other things. Then I throw my ethics textbooks on the bottom shelf and called it a day.
A more sensible person would break it into philosophy and theology, science and technology, and social political, and then just power through chronologically or alphabetically, but then, what fun would that be? I like to look at my shelves and see conversations, projects, and syllabi materialize before my eyes.
How do you organize your books? What’s your system?