I finally invested in a new set of much-needed bookshelves. But now that I have some real real estate to showcase my library any way I choose, I'm faced with the daunting task of figuring out just how I choose to do so. I remembered a short essay I read in Anne Fadiman's excellent collection, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, called "Marrying Libraries," in which she described her own challenges when she and her husband, both writers and voracious readers, finally decided to consolidate their individual collections.
They finally agreed on the following method: sorting the books by topic (history, nature, psychology, travel, etc), with literature in a realm of its own, categorized by author nationality. This is where it gets sticky: given the breadth of literature a single country can produce over centuries of time, how do you further organize: by chronological order, or by alphabetical order or the author's name? Does it seem right to put Shakespeare next to Zadie Smith?
Or what about dividing by genres of literature, with essay collections, short story anthologies, memoirs, thrillers, and so on, dictating the flow?
Another option, which seems to be especially trendy amongst my design friends these days is to organize books by color and size so that the bookshelf takes on a rainbow like spectrum. There's some definite visual appeal to this, especially when I think of all the great art and design books with fantastically-hued spines that my friends own, yet my own collection of canvas-backed hardcovers missing their jackets and presented in shades safely chosen by editors at Random House—not Taschen—aren't half as colorful.
So what to do? How do you keep your own book collection organized?