Bookshelving 101

Andi commented on an NY Times article (about another article) on bookshelf etiquette. It was a rather tongue in cheek but the author's #1 rule caused some hubbub:

It is unacceptable to display any book in a public space of your home if you have not read it.

Srly!? What book snobbery! Imagine all the unread books relegated to closet shelves and pushed under beds. Poor books.

After some thought on the subject, I decided that the rule doesn't apply to us crazy book bloggers and friends of book bloggers. Like Jennifer Schuessler, more than 60% of my books are unread. I'm a book hoarder. I too collect books to read at some other point in time. Maybe not tomorrow but at some later date, possibly even a few years from now. I liked how Jennifer put it:

"an insurance policy against the day when electronic readers have taken over, all the world’s bookstores have gone out of business, and I have to barricade my door against virus-infested zombies who want to drink my blood and ravage my (unread) copy of “Daniel Deronda.” "

You just never know. But honestly I can't pass a "Sale" sign at the book store, or the library. $1 for War and Peace is a good deal when you consider the size of the thing.

I think the author of the original article was referring to those people who use books as ornamentation. They never actually plan on reading those books. They're there for show. Maybe he's afraid of being lumped into that category. I wouldn't be ashamed to say, "Haven't read it yet" about any of my books, because I am going to read them all. And yes I have read War & Peace but you won't find it on my bookshelves because it takes up valuable bookshelf space. It's just too honking big! It went directly to the used bookstore.

I've had my own book shelf war at home though. We bought a lovely bookcase for an empty corner of our living room. I thought, "Yay! More books." Hubby (the non-reader) thought, "Good, a place for all those darn knick knacks she has." I started piling the books upon it and was stopped by the hubby. He was probably afraid of the crazed look in my eye. He made up his own public space bookshelf rules:
-No paperbacks
-Only the 'pretty' books (sorry jacketless, tattered copy of Roots)
-A few of his engineering books had to make it onto the shelf. I guess to show that he has read at some point.

Well, it is his house too. I've been pretty good at keeping this bookshelf looking respectable. My private stash is something else. It's 3 rows deep. If a book can fit in a space, it will be filled. There is no rhyme or reason to how they are arranged. The shelves sag. Paperbacks and hardcovers live in harmony, read and unread alike.

So. How are your books displayed?


  1. Speaking of books for show, you should've seen my face the first time I heard people sometimes buy books by the pound to display in their homes. The tragedy!!!

    Mine are displayed in my office exclusively now because we have a small house. I have no problem with the mixing of faves and unreads.

  2. Um, they are displayed by being everywhere! My bookshelves are full, I have little stacks here there and everywhere! And yes, chances are, unless it's a keep forever till I die book--I haven't read it, yet!

  3. I completely agree that the rule does not apply to book-obsessed bloggers who fully intend to read each and every volume on her shelves. And in the five thigh-high stacks next to her bed. Not that I'm speaking of anyone in particular...

  4. Heh...Mine are displayed alphabetically by author and I have a set of bookshelves for books that have been read and a seperate TBR bookshelf that is currently overflowing with books squeezed in vertically, horizontally, stacked, columned and fit every which way :p The TBR bookshelf is really messy because I keep that one in my's just for me. But the 3 "display shelves" are the books that I've read (just since Katrina because I lost all pre Katrina books) and those look nice. Don't know what I'm going to do when those fill up which is soon!

  5. I have my TBR bookshelf and my Already Read bookshelf. That way when I want a book to read I just go to one spot.

    I don't know why people would even want to display books if they're not readers. That would be like me displaying porcelain dolls or sports memorabelia. If I'm not into it, why would I display it?

  6. Book etiquette...I read the rules, tear 'em up, write my own new rules...all before breakfast!

    In Dorm Sweet Dorm, I have two shelves: One for that which has been read and that which has is TBR. Over at my office, read and unread books cohabit, since the shelving system there is alpha/dewey.

  7. Oh dear. I would have no books on my shelves if I didn't display the ones I didn't read. I'm pretty good about giving books I've already read away unless I absolutely can't part with it. I wouldn't look like a booky at all.

  8. I don't have enough shelf space so books are piled on the floor next to the shelves. I think about 70% of my books are unread and that doesn't stop me from hoarding more :)

  9. I started out trying to put the "pretty" books on the living room shelves, but ugly ones are slowly taking over.

    On the shelf in my room, it's the mish mash of TBR's and challenge books, and new books waiting a turn and it's just a mess.

    Downstairs on my big shelves, I try to organize a little with classics in one section, kids books in another, text books in another, and so on. But it slowly gets all messed up too! Funny how that happens.

  10. People who use books for ornaments don't deserve to have books.

    That being said...I keep the books I've read on the groaning, sagging wooden bookcases in my livingroom (and bedroom and kitchen) while the books I haven't yet read reside on cheaper wire racks and piled in huge toppling piles in my closets. So, I guess I have a system....who knew?

  11. I'm not a book hoarder; I prefer the library to buying them, though I will buy the ones I really love.

    I put the "nice" books upstairs in the living room (the collectors editions, the older ones I don't want the kids to play with and all the poetry). The bedrooms each have at least one bookshelf, all of which are nearly at capacity. And our downstairs shelf is practically overflowing with well-loved books.

    Speaking of overflowing, I'm looking for a new bookshelf (a really nice one) and I love the picture of the bookshelf. Where did you find it?

  12. I totally buy books that I will read, one day in the future. I would say probably about 60% of my books are unread and I have them all over my place - two bookshelves in the family room, one in the bedroom and two new ones soon to be in the guest bedroom / office. We plan to renovate our kitchen, living and dining area by putting on an addition and I've already found a little nook for more bookshelves! Yep, I've got a problem!

  13. Amy- I have little stacks everywhere too.

    Carrie K- *looks around* Not me!

    Other Chris- Wow. You're organized.

    Trish- Yeah, I don't get it either.

    Bybee- You rebel!

    Aka_nik- I get rid of the ones I've read to make room for new ones.

    Iliana- It's a compulsion.

    Suey- It's a mystery. I organized mine after Christmas and it looks wild again.

    Kookie- I agree.

    Melissa- Even though I have piles of books, I still use the library. The pic came from Design Sponge. They might have the link:

    Stephanie- I'm always on the look out for new nooks in my house.

  14. I can't pass a Sale sign in a bookstore either. I am a MAJOR book hoarder and I have not read at least 90% of my books. If I couldn't show them to the "public" I have no idea where I would put them.

    I have books everywhere. Since my ex husband moved out his side of the king size bed has become a bookshelf. So has my desk, the TV stand, the stairs. I am always looking for new places to stash a bookshelf.

    I admit I have a problem and I am okay with it. :)

  15. Mine are chaos right now. I have a few specialized shelves that are in order but most of them are just random collections of books, read and unread happily sitting together.

  16. My jaw dropped when I was in an antique store once, and wanted to buy an old medical book for my husband, to be told that they only sell books by the yard. Imagine, buying books for display only!

    I'm really curious where that bookshelf pic is from?? I'm on the look-out for new shelving, and that is exactly what I'm looking for!

  17. Megan- They tend to take over.

    Puss- Yeah, mine are pretty disorganized right now.

    Nyssaneala- Gorgeous isn't it? It's from Pottery Barn and, hold on to your hat, $5000.

  18. $5,000?!!! And, being from Pottery Barn, the land of expensive, cheap products, it's probably made of particle board. :(

    I'm holding out for finding something at Ikea, I haven't looked there yet. But our current bookshelves are very cheap, and very difficult to babyproof.

  19. I have many books I haven't read yet too. Unfortunately, there's no more space on my bookshelf, need to get a new one or maybe clear some books, though I'm not keen on getting rid of them!

    Well, I think that any book is worthy of display, whether it's been read or not, torn or new, etc. =) If you're shy about torn books, then just hide them in your room or anywhere else where nobody will see them! Haha!


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