what’s on my bookshelves

Every few years, I like going through all of my books and reorganizing them. Not just because I’m an organization freak. Digging out books I haven’t seen in a while is like reuniting with old friends. All I have to do is hold a good book I read a long time ago to take me right back. I like trying to remember what was going on in my life when I first read them. I love lingering in their lasting impressions. It’s a sweet ride.

This most recent reorganization project was more about necessity. My books are double stacked, so you can’t even see all the books behind the ones you can. Sometimes I even forget which books I have. I’m beyond out of room. Which is always a problem when I’m about to receive a bunch of author copies. So I desperately had to find a way to create more space on my already packed bookcases. That was not easy. But I’m always up for an organization challenge.

Let me preface this by stating two important points.

1. My ideal bookshelving is all about the built-ins. I know exactly how I want them to look. Glossy white floor-to-ceiling bookcases with customized shelves, cabinets below, and drawers separating the cabinets from the shelves. Just to be fancy.

2. I have a pathetic grand total of two bookcases. About 100 more bookcases would be required to hold all of the books I want.

Here’s what my bookcases looked like before:

Bookshelves before

What you see is the result of giving away and donating TONS of books over the years while trying to hold onto my faves. Even after parting ways with so many books (always hard to do), my bookcases were totally crammed. Plus I had extra author copies of my books piled on top of the right bookcase. Extending that one to make it higher seemed like a good idea. When I went to the local woodworking chain, they told me that making a little extension cube to fit on top would be $350. Dude. I could buy a whole new bookcase for $350. It was an excellent opportunity to think outside the box. Online research commenced. I eventually found a cute double storage cube the same length and width as my bookshelf for about $25. I have some of my books in it already and there’s plenty more space for the new shipments I’ll be getting in.

But that was only the beginning. Because then I felt the need to reorganize all of the other shelves. When reorganizing, you basically want to keep what works and change what doesn’t. I like creating little nooks for photos and things to break up the monotony of just having rows and rows of books. I also enjoy grouping books by size and color within each genre. And stacking some of the books vertically helps to add pizzaz.

This is after:

Bookshelves after

Okay, I know the before and after pics look almost the same. But look closer! Most shelves now have more space. Which means I don’t have to move. Not yet, anyway.

Some highlights…


Above top shelf: Globe lamp. Massive dictionary I’ve had since high school in which I’d mark all the words I looked up (like Diane Court in Say Anything…). Big and small fox stuffed animals from The Little Prince.

Top shelf: Children’s books like Lafcadio, The Missing Piece, and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Picture books by Eric Carle and Leo Lionni. My original copies of The Outsiders (the same one I kept under my pillow in 7th grade), Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh, and Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume.

Second shelf: All teen novels. Copies of my books sit proudly with books by my fellow Viking authors S.E. Hinton, Laurie Halse Anderson, Sarah Dessen, and Blake Nelson. They are my literary idols and mentors. It makes me really happy to see our books with their Viking and Speak imprints all lined up. And it blows me away every time I see The Outsiders sitting next to When It Happens. Proof that creative visualization works like a charm.

Third shelf: Everything by Jodi Picoult, Tom Perrotta, Garrison Keillor, Jonathan Tropper, Jay McInerney, Rick Moody, and Russell Banks.

Fourth shelf: Pretty much all Stephen King. I have all of his books from his very first one until the early 90s. I think his writing was at its best in the 80s, when I became obsessed with his books. I learned how to write from reading, and Stephen King had an enormous impact on me. The spines of those books are practically shredded from reading them so many times.  I actually managed to create some extra space on this shelf. Bonus!

Bottom shelf: Physics and Earth Science textbooks.


Above top shelf:  New double storage cube for author copies of my books.

Top shelf: I love how all of my Anne Tyler books are stacked in a pretty rainbow on the left. They were like that before, but they totally deserved to be moved up. Anne is sharing space with Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Carver, Nicholson Baker, John Updike, and Kierkegaard, among many others.

Second shelf: A super sweet shelf for some super sweet books. On the left, we have my fave books by authors who have written me back. I used to write letters to authors whose books had a major influence on me. This was before email. Getting letters or postcards back from them was the ultimate. Of course I kept them all, which you can see sticking out from their books. The authors who wrote me back include Jodi Picoult, Nick Hornby, Thomas Beller, and Scott Spencer. Everything by Steve Martin and Alain de Botton is there. Also Tom Robbins, John Irving, Joyce Maynard, and Christopher Buckley.

Third shelf: Astronomy and physics books. These were originally on the top shelf. This Genius Shelf includes work by Einstein, Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, Isaac Asimov, and Carl Sagan.

Fourth shelf: My girls. Featuring Jennifer Weiner, Meg Cabot, Lisa Jewell, and Jane Green.

Bottom shelf: Mostly some college and grad school textbooks I wanted to keep.

So there you have it. My bookshelves are not a perfect system. Improvements can always be made. But these shelves aren’t about perfection. They’re about celebrating the words that have made me feel alive, that have inspired me and touched my soul and made me want to reach out to my own readers. They make me happy just being there. I hope you find happiness in your bookshelves, too.

10 thoughts on “what’s on my bookshelves

  1. I got too much enjoyment out of this post. My collection is on one shelf and in rows. Some books sit diagonal, horizontal, others are vertical. I have a set of books on my bedside, otherwise known as my “to read” stack.
    Like you, I like nostalgia through books, but mine are on index cards. I have a vast collection of bookmarks, but prefer index cards. I can write down pages that have really good quotes or make notes to myself about what I think is going to happen. It’s thrilling to open a book months after reading it and have one of these index cards drop out. Needless to say, I start a new index card and find myself rewriting the same favorite quotes down and sometimes a few more.

  2. the letters are amazing! i know i get a thrill out of you responding to comments on here so i can’t imagine what it feels like to have an actual letter! i would def be showing those off front and center too! and my bookshelf is all cattywompus(sp?) from the books sticking out in every direction. i’m just waiting for the day that it topples over in exhaustion from having to hold all that weight in.

  3. Wow, even when you don’t have ANY room to be organized, you are still organized! LOL. I never expected to like books going in all different directions, but you have made it look classy. I know this is difficult because I used to have to pile up books on my floor in the old apartment – I’d used up all the bookshelves. It was very un-classy. 😉
    I love that you collect children’s books too – I just started doing that this past Xmas, asking for some of my old favorites. Your classifications are very interesting and quirky, too! (Since I studied classification for a living in part, I like seeing how other folks do it and what works for them.)
    Did not know how much you dug Stephen King! I totally get what a good writer he is from the little I’ve read, but I don’t always do so well with scary books! Does he write other stuff too? (I think so…?)

    • As far as I know, Stephen King just writes horror. I had lots of nightmares about his stories and after watching It. But they were worth it!
      Classification systems fascinate me, too. My DVDs are lined up from most fave to least fave 🙂

  4. I cannot wait till your new book comes out! On the 23rd it will be my birthday and I plan on using the money to buy books. I’ll save some to buy So Much Closer. 🙂


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