Organizing (and Playing) With Books

list I’ll admit it: I like to play with my books. I have far too many books. And as with most of us, that means I have storage problems. Over the years I have tried dozens of different methods to organize them – keeping them in bins by author, by genre, by subgenre – and yet for all the brilliance of the plans, for all the hours I put into said plans, I have yet to find a permanent solution. Right now, my books are loosely stored by type in plastic bins in my basement. Mary Balogh books have received their own bin but the rest are stored pretty willy nilly . The only thing I make sure of is that the bins are well sealed. I don’t want mold or damp or some similar book damaging pestilence to get at them.

I should mention that I would love to have all my books on shelves throughout my home. However, my house is small and the books are many. It just isn’t feasible at this point. And the bins are working. Since I very rarely re-read anymore and since my friends are reading the same things I am, I don’t need to delve into old books very often. A part of me wonders why I am keeping them but I know that a dark part of my soul is storing them against a future book apocalypse. What if they suddenly stop publishing things I like? At least several hundred of my favorites are stored carefully in my basement, waiting for those dark days.

And of course whenever I tire of rereads, there is always my to be read pile.

I did organize that. The fact was that the four small shelves I had dedicated to it were simply overflowing. It was organize or risk having books perish. To begin, I had guesstimated my TBR at being about sixty books. I was off by roughly a hundred. While I know many folks do a complicated spread sheet approach to cataloging their bounty, I went extremely old school with mine. The reason is simple: I don’t plan to keep most of these books. I plan to read and release, so to speak, by taking them to the UBS once finished. Only a handful will make DIK status. So I took a binder, some alphabetized dividers and some loose leaf paper and went to town writing down everything I had. I organized the shelves alphabetically by title and did the same with the written record. I’ve taken a certain amount of joy in crossing off books as I read them, though I will admit to having had to the list as well.

One of the things that surprised me was how much I simply enjoyed playing with my books. Pulling them out and being surprised to find a title that I wasn’t expecting. The satisfaction gained from having some idea of how many there were and what they were. Writing them down and then crossing them off. It gave me a sense of accomplishment. With the holidays approaching I know I will not have time to organize my bins but getting the shelves done has inspired me. I want to do them and I plan to finally do a really thorough job of – numbering, labeling, and recording everything.

So, here’s my questions to you – do you like to play with your books? Take them out, dust them off, make lists of them? And how do you store your TBR books?

– Maggie Boyd

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25 Responses to “Organizing (and Playing) With Books”

  1. Ell says:

    Oh yes. I play with my books. I keep lists, and sometimes even update them. (Not as often as I should though) A couple of summers ago, I learned how to make book cases, and now have them everywhere. Is there a space open under a light switch, 1 foot wide, and 4 feet high? I make a book case that will fit there….and there, and there, and there. Yes, my house does look a little like a library run amok.

    On the other hand my TBR pile is just a pyramid in the corner of the bedroom, and I have from time to time made the mistake of buying books I already have because the damn thing is so disorganized. I think I will spend a little time (a lot?) following your lead, and writing them down. Excellent idea, Maggie!

  2. Merrian says:

    I just sorted through my TBR/no place left on the shelves pile and it is organised. I was intrigued by the number of DNFs I discovered – bookmarks showing the point they were abandoned. No real wallbangers just nothing in them that bound me to go on the journey. They are all going out. I used to keep everything but no they have to earn a place either as re-read worthy or having something to say to me through that particular story.

  3. Diana N. says:

    I LOVE playing with my books! There is nothing better than getting out a bin (usually a colored one so I can better remember its contents) and pulling out all the books, putting them in piles of ten [easier counting] and just looking at them. But while I am keeping certain authors against a book shortage, I am also keeping certain authors because of the memories associated with them. I still have the first romance I read–Jude Deveruax’s The Raider–and every time I pick it up, I feel that thrill of excitement shooting down my spine as I did the first time I saw it! [OMG, as I write that, I realize that I'm a book addict!]

    As for my TBR books: as I work in a library, I have a VERY large collection of lists and books to read. I’ve tried lists, but there are so many of them that I lose the lists. I have taken to getting the books I want to read and laying them down, spine out, and stacking them waist high. I then put something decorative on the top and call it a “shelf”. No one seems to notice the number of books in favor of the beauty of the overall piece.

    • maggie b. says:

      Diana N.: I LOVE playing with my books! There is nothing better than getting out a bin (usually a colored one so I can better remember its contents) and pulling out all the books, putting them in piles of ten [easier counting] and just looking at them. But while I am keeping certain authors against a book shortage, I am also keeping certain authors because of the memories associated with them. I still have the first romance I read–Jude Deveruax’s The Raider–and every time I pick it up, I feel that thrill of excitement shooting down my spine as I did the first time I saw it! [OMG, as I write that, I realize that I'm a book addict!]As for my TBR books: as I work in a library, I have a VERY large collection of lists and books to read. I’ve tried lists, but there are so many of them that I lose the lists. I have taken to getting the books I want to read and laying them down, spine out, and stacking them waist high. I then put something decorative on the top and call it a “shelf”. No one seems to notice the number of books in favor of the beauty of the overall piece.

      I lost my first TBR list when my computer crahsed. There was much angst and bitterness. Then I joined goodreads. I use the “to read” shelf as my TBR List. It’s been wonderful so far!

  4. Clothdragon says:

    I haven’t done it yet, but I think Goodreads would be great for organizing. You could add “shelves” (that’s what they call them) like “Bin A” and there you wouldn’t have to input much of the information yourself. Use and ISBN number and they’ll do the rest for you.

    I’m lucky enough to be able to fit in bookshelves in multiple rooms (Only the living room (where the shelves hold dvds) and one the tiny bathroom don’t have bookshelves — and one has books piled on the toilet tank and the other on an end-table — okay, every end table. I might have a book problem.) and they’ve gone through multiple types of organization. I’m not entirely happy with where they are now, but I haven’t decided on a new one to try.

  5. lauren says:

    Yes I play too…Now that my kids are grown and starting their own families I have inherited 2 rooms…one is a computer and library so to speak…the entire closet 6′ high and 5′ wide is stacked floor to ceiling with books…those that I have read and those to be read. Eventually when cost permits I will build a shelving unit in the closet for better storage and viability but for now they sit on their backs stacked. I am a neat freak and so everything has a place and everything in its place…all the time!

  6. Barb in Maryland says:

    Yes, I do play with my books–what book-a-holic doesn’t? I am constantly shuffling and re-arranging my keepers. I am A LOT more brutal about getting rid of books than I used to be, so my keepers currently fit in several book cases. And I now have a ‘carved in stone’ rule–for a book to go into the case, a book has to come out. No hoarding! No more bins or boxes!
    My TBR is very small–because a large TBR would make me very antsy. I find that if I don’t read a book within a few weeks after I get it, it never gets read. That’s why I love library books–you have a built in ‘must read by’ date.
    I use Goodreads–mainly as a reminder of what I have read. I don’t really do reviews, just notes that will help me remember the book.

  7. dick says:

    I’d rather have a way to make the stories inside the books adhere to one synapse or another. Why can’t the memory operate in the same way it does for, say, the SSN?

  8. willaful says:

    I’ve always loved playing with my books, but sadly, the TBR got so big that it stopped being fun. It’s so much work to reorganize and when I find surprises, I’m angry at myself for not having read them instead of pleased. I wanted that book so much, why have I read a bunch of crap instead of it?!

    Ebooks are a great answer to the “book apocalypse.” My personal apocalypse is my eyes, which are getting worse and worse. I never thought I’d ever be able to get rid of my Georgette Heyers, but when I actually looked at how dirty and worn they were and how unpleasant to read, replacing them with nice clean ebooks seemed miraculous. (Except a few whose covers I was so attached to I couldn’t let them go.)

    One of the worst things about ebooks? They’re hard to play with! Calibre makes it a bit easier.

  9. farmwifetwo says:

    Love goodreads. It was frustrating at first and now I don’t know why I put off using it.

    Most of my books are on shelves. A few are in bins under the shelves. I learned to cull finally and now have huge credit at the UBS.

    The TBR pile is on top of the change table in the spare room. Keep planning on getting rid of it but the books are on the top, sleeping bags are stuffed on the shelves. Makes a good “catch all”.

  10. wendy says:

    Does anyone remember the CueCat? At least I think that’s what it was called. It was a laser reader shaped like a crouching cat that you could use to scan the bar codes on your books. I had a great time scanning my many books and making lists, but lost it all when my hard drive crashed. I’ve still got the CueCat, but have never again wanted to spend that much time inventorying my collections. Now I’m just doing well when they’re all in alphabetical order and on the shelves.

    We’re packing to move and I had 51 boxes of books that were just mine, not including my TBR pile which has yet to be packed. By the time we’re done with my husband’s and my children’s books we’ll probably be moving 100 boxes or more of books.

  11. Carrie says:

    I’ve had to learn to be ruthless about making sure I keep relatively few print books. Over the years raising 5 children in a medium-size house with no garage or basement, and homeschooling, has put a big strain on storage. Having prioritized my bookshelf space for curriculum and reading materials for the kids, my husband and I have kept very few books for ourselves over the years. We use the library a lot, and even though we buy plenty of books each year, we tend to sell, give away, or donate most of them.

    I use goodreads to keep track of my books, read and to-read, and whether the library has a copy. Counting only romance books and related genres, I have about 250 print books on shelves, about half of which are books I’ve read and chosen to keep, at least for now. Just recently I went through the “read” books on my shelves and sold about 40 at a used book store. (And promptly bought 20+ more.) I simply can’t keep any more books than I already have in my house.

    My kindle makes it easier to keep lots of books I’d rather not get rid of. If I find a book I know I’ll want to reread, I try to get it on kindle. While still preferring print books, I’m getting resigned to a future of more ebooks and fewer print books for me, especially for books I want to keep and re-read.

  12. Victoria S says:

    About a year or so ago, I did an absolutely ruthless purge. If it wasn’t a DIK out it went. Since then I have been pretty much able to adhere to that. I buy books of authors I love , and if they do not make the cut…out they go.
    I love having my Kindle, it helps so much with space. A Kindle book that’s not a DIK goes into archives. My main problem with the Kindle is I have to FORCE myself NOT to buy a paper copy of a book I’ve loved (I am really still a paper book gal at heart). I have just finished Joanna Bourne’s “Black Hawk”, and it s taking every ounce of self-control I possess NOT to go to Amazon and order them in paperback just so I can look at them, and hold the beloved series in my hot little hands :-). I’m hoping that getting my Kindle Fire, and having color covers will alleviate some of these urges.
    I don’t ever have a large TBR read pile. I think 6 is my max ever, and that’s a lot for me. I buy it…I read it, mostly. My books are organized by author, with my faves getting extra shelf space to grow. I have just converted my bedroom closet into an 18 shelf bookcase. I love looking at all those books everyday, and the others are in the living room ( 4 Ikea 6-shelf bookcases). I am an avid re-reader, so bins don’t work for me; I never know when I’ll want to start re-reading a book, or even the whole series (I’ve lost count of the number of times JD Robb, or Mary Balogh for example have been re-read). I kinda like the way I’ve got my books shelved now, but know that sometime in the future, I’ll be going through them doing another re-organization and purge to make way for my new faves. After all that’s part of the fun of owning books

  13. Merrian says:

    Actually these days I think the only reason to own a genre book in paper is for the covers. Some of which are splendid e.g. Judith James’ “Broken Wing”. If we could get covers (due to geo restrictions sometimes ebooks arrive in Oz without their covers) and with colour ebook readers even that rationale goes.

    • Tee says:

      Merrian: Actually these days I think the only reason to own a genre book in paper is for the covers.

      There are some people who probably can’t afford to buy all the books they read, or maybe just don’t want to. In my case, I don’t keep books, so using the library services works great for me. That way, I have extra money to spend on other things I enjoy, too. I don’t own an ereader, but don’t rule it out necessarily in the future. But for now, the library works great, my TBR pile is down low (agree with Barb in Maryland when she says the library provides expiration dates and helps keep the number down for me) and I don’t have to contend with shelves and shelves of books to keep and take up space that could be used for something else (I don’t have a gigantic house). For the majority of any books I do end up buying, they’re given to the library’s used bookstore for reselling. The Friends do a brisk business and help the library purchase more new books and other people are helped by being able to purchase used books at a good price.

  14. Carrie says:

    When many talk of a TBR pile, they literally mean a “pile” or physical group of books, paper or digital, that they have on hand. When I talk about my to-read books, i specifically say “list” because that’s what it mainly is, a list of books I might want to read. There are over 350 books on my TBR list on goodreads, I seriously doubt I’ll read them all, but I put them there because I’m thinking about them, someone has recommended them, or for some reason I want to remember the book. For me, the list is a holding place so I can decide at leisure if I want to read the book. Some of the books on the list are out-of-print and I look for them at used book stores. the to-read list on goodreads is an organizational tool for me, letting me know if the library has a copy, if the books out of print or if I actually own a copy. I don’t let the number of books on the list stress me because I know I’ll eventually read them, or I’ll delete them when I realize I’m not really as interested as I thought I was.

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