Books books books

my language learning bookcase - home to language courses, dictionaries, grammars, phrasebooks, etc

If, like me, you have a large collection of books, trying to put them in some sort of order is can become quite a time-consuming task. In fact, just trying to fit them all on your shelves can be a real challenge.

Every so often I go through my books and try to decide which ones to sell or give away. Then I usually put them on one side and promptly fail to do anything about them. Although when I left Taiwan, I did actually manage to sell most of the books I had there, but also sent about a hundred or so home.

Until recently I was buying and reading two or more books a week. I still read two books a week on average, but I usually borrow them from my local library rather than buying them. Thus my shelves and bookcases have been largely spared any further overcrowding.

I arrange my books by genre and author, more or less, and to some extent by size and language. I don’t bother putting them in alphabetical order, though do put some of them in chronological order, especially trilogies and other series.

Brighton library used to arrange fiction books alphabetically by genre, but recently they stopped grouping them by genre. This makes it easier to find books, if you know the name of the author, and sometimes you come across interesting-looking books from genres you might not normally read.

How do you arrange your books?

This entry was posted in General.

22 Responses to Books books books

  1. Polly says:

    Does “pile” count as a valid organizational method?
    Seriously, I’ve been running out of room recently. I tried to group all the language books in one section and all the non-language books into another. I’m usually grateful to have the book on hand when I suddenly get the urge to re-read something or read up on a languge or subject that I haven’t looked at in a while. However, for much reference material, the internet is a great repository.
    I don’t know if there are any more encyclopedia sets still being sold nowadays, but I remember they were standard in every house when I was younger. But, now the idea of a set of encyclopedias from A-Z seems rather odd to let take up valuable shelf space. I can get updat-to-date information on any subject straight off the net. I only buy books to avoid eye-strain and because they’re portable.

  2. Trevor says:

    I don’t have too many books, but I have too many books to have with me. I’m at a dorm in college and most of my books I packed up in boxes and left in my closet at home. I’ve been missing a few of them, but most of them I don’t miss because I didn’t go back to them very often. I found that a lot of the books I had, I didn’t really use much. However, there are some that I packed away that I wish I had, so this is actually a good method of deciding which books are important! Just pack some away and try to live without them, and the ones you can live without, get rid of them! Unless you have the extra space for them, of course.

  3. Alain Vaillancourt says:

    I arrange them physically by the Dewey Decimal System. This is easy, because nearly all public libraries in Canada use this system, so it’s just a matter of looking in their online catalogues to find the Dewey number for any book, when that number isn’t already printed inside the book when the publisher participates in a “cataloguing in publication data entry”.

    I also arrange them virtually in a database, by Library of Congress call number. This is also easy because nearly all university and college libraries in Canada use this system so it’s just a matter of looking in their online catalogues to find the LC code for any book, when that info isn’t already printed inside the book when the publisher participates in a “cataloguing in publication data entry”.

  4. jdotjdot89 says:

    I have to tell you, I’m personally astonished that within your own home you use the Dewey Decimal System. That seems a little over-the-top, to tell you the truth. The DDS is an extremely flawed, Christian-leaning system to begin with, as well as confusing.

    In my house, I pretty much just have them on a bookshelf, any book going where it fits. I have a good enough memory that I can pretty much remember where I’ve put them all.

    I suppose some people have collections to large to do that with, though.

  5. Jared says:

    Arrange? What’s that mean? But seriously, when I go through an organizational fit, I put the nonfiction books on the bottom shelf and the fiction on top. Within these categories, I arrange them by height. I have a few fiction books that are too tall for the fiction shelf, so I put them on the bottom. I’m outgrowing my one small bookcase, thought. More and more my books are being shoved in on top of existing books regardless of whether they’re nonfiction or not, or they’re being left prostrate on the floor around the bookcase as if in adoration. My copy of the Silmarillion is leaning up against the bookcase, and I always feel guilty when I look at it, like I’m looking at an orphan I cast out into the cruel world. The other books left lying around are hidden by my other junk, so I don’t feel the same way about them, but my Silmarillion is large and difficult to ignore. It doesn’t help that its cover is a bright, red, fiery depiction of the burning of the Teleri ships at Losgar (? I’m not sure I’m remembering the name correctly), so it really stands out.

  6. Paul says:

    I’m afraid that I have a DDC-inspired system at home, too. But then I am a librarian by profession, and also a little obsessive.

  7. SamD says:

    My “system” is a combination of things. In some cases, there are pragmatic decisions based on what fits on the shelf. Books that I am currently reading go to upper shelves, while books on languges are kept separate from other books. Language books about the same language are grouped together in alphabetical order of language.

  8. Polly says:

    jdotjdot90 – “Christian-leaning system”? Would this then be called “religious organization” 😀

  9. Alain Vaillancourt says:

    Strange that nobody has yet made a comment on how their arrangement of books is a form of organisation of knowledge and custom and thus a form of language. Maybe you actually have to apply symbols of this language to thousands of books, or visit other home collections or countries where other book coding dialects are used to notice this.

  10. Oh man, I have definitely been having a problem with too many books lately. There are so many that they live in 2 different rooms–3, if you count my closet!

    I organize by genre, for the most part. I’ve always liked it that way in bookstores, and I like the same thing at home, so that just in case I forget an author or title, I have a more limited selection to go through to find what I want. The sections I have are…in my room:

    –Kids’ fantasy (yes, I still have a few of my kids’ books out!)
    –Kids’ fiction
    –Adult fiction
    –Miscellaneous oversized, including textbooks
    –General non-fiction

    In the other room:

    –Star Trek books (I’m not buying any more of the new ones, but yes, I’m a dork)
    –General sci-fi/fantasy
    –More textbooks

    In the closet:

    –Magazines, including Spanish Reader’s Digest

    I HATE having my books in three separate rooms, but there just isn’t any way around it right now. 🙁

  11. Aside from the books that are permanently jostling for space on my bedside table, my library (!!!) contains books arranged (almost) by subject. Among which chiefly:

    – Languages (including dictionaries) & Scripts
    – Tolkien (by and about)
    – Religions
    – Mathematics (& some Physics & Chemistry)
    – Travel and Geography
    – History (of the city of São Paulo and others)
    – Art
    – oversized volumes

    Then there are, of course, my extensive collections of Scientific American and National Geographic (both discontinued by now), plus the ongoing collections of Tolkien-related magazines such as Amon Hen, Mallorn, Vinyar Tengwar etc., and maps, and CD-ROMs, and diskettes (yes, plenty of those still!)…

    A more graphic image is available here:

  12. jdotjdot89 says:

    Polly – I said Christian-leaning because of the way Dewey set up the system, though the system itself isn’t inherently prejudiced, obviously. I don’t remember which section, but there’s an entire set of numbers for religion–and within that set of numbers, something like 90% of it is dedicated to the different areas and parts of specifically Christianity, while the other 10% is left for ALL OF THE OTHER RELIGIONS IN THE WORLD.

    Hence the bias.

  13. Nikki says:

    My bookcase/cabinet has 8 sections, so I have my books split roughly into manga; sci-fi and fantasy; Terry Pratchett; geisha and other real life inspired novels; languages; maps and other random non-fiction books; textbooks and a bunch of New Scientist magazines.

    The language shelf is ordered by language, the manga shelf is ordered by title, the magazines are ordered by issue number, the rest are by author then title when there’s no logical order to the books.

    I’ve run out of space though, so “a pile” is becoming my new organisation method. 😉

  14. Sabrina says:

    Please explain to me how the Dewey Decimal System is ‘Christian-leaning!’

  15. Syberpuppy says:

    Oh, gosh! I have WAY too many books! I try hard to arrange the non-language books in aesethetically pleasing ways on my much-too-numerous bookshelves. The language books themselves always seem to congregate on various tables throughout the house. I look at them too often to have them properly organized.

    My language PAPERS, however, are very organized. I keep them near my computer, placed alphabetically in many folders, in a tinier bookcase that sits on my table.

  16. Ben L. says:

    See for yourself, Sabrina, at: Dewey Decimal’s religion section seems to be based around the idea that Christianity is the “True Religion”. For that it is deserving of scorn.

    As for my volumes, although I only have four or five hundred books, I still need some level of organization to find anything readily. I sortfrom top to bottom by politics, fiction and fiction-related (and to admit my own bias, this is where I put my books on religion), practical volumes, language, and large tomes. Magazines are mostly political, so they go on top just above the political books.

  17. renato says:

    Well, I have a lot of book, I arranged them in 5 big shelves, by subject, as encyclopedias, novel, military (in spite of not being an armyman), political, journalistic (which is my profession), children, others and finaly and most important languages (they are around 100). Only language books are arranged alphabeticaly from Amharic until Yorubà. Today all books are around 1,500 books. Of course I accept donations of language books in any language, so if you are thinking in through away your lang.books, send them me first, I’ll be very very happy, and they will be well used.

  18. ISPKN says:

    you don’t have zulu?

  19. renato says:

    No, I never saw myself studing isizulu, but I have some material a got at omniglot web page, wikipedia,, language-on-the-web(lonwen) and other sites.

  20. Maybe offtopic , but what the Udûn –
    Renato, you’re Brasilian like me, aren’t you?! At least I think it shows from your style of writing in English. Takes one to know one… 🙂

  21. renato says:

    Yes I’m Brazilian, from Rio de Janeiro, but I have been living in the city of Santa Maria in Rio Grande do Sul since 1988, but Ronald Kyrmse is not a tipical Brazilian name. Really, I never heard about Udûn. What is it? I forgot to coment that I also have religion, cooks, and art books, in languages I”ve material in albanian, and Afrikaans too.

  22. Renato:
    At the risk of turning this into a private conversation, I have to say that my name is originally German, although I was born in Brasil of Brasilian parents. Now comes the linguistic part, which may be of interest to others (although not about books any more): The surname _Kyrmse_ derives from _Kirmse_, the Saxon form of what is called _Kirmes_ in standard German – to wit, the village festivity (where I believe one of my forebears made a spectacle of himself by eating and drinking too much, thus earning the epithet!). And Udûn is Sindarin (Grey Elvish) for “hell”, so I was trying to say “what the hell” in a way Tolkien enthusiasts might understand. If you’re not one, I apologise. Enough of this one-on-one talk! Do contact me at if you feel like more chitchat. To all others, sorry!

%d bloggers like this: