Curating the Bookshelf

In most aspects of my life, I have outgrown the idea of quantity over quality. I focus on how nice my things are and less on how many of them there are. The only place that hasn’t been touched with my new grown-up way of looking at life is my bookshelf. It’s just too crowded.


This picture was taken AFTER my recent organization. At least now most of the books face the same direction and have their spines sticking out so you know what you are grabbing. But if you are grabbing, I hope you want three books because they’re all coming out together. I’ve got everything lodged in there so tight that the covers are fusing together. I have journals and photo books and scrapbooks on there too. There are few homes for keepsakes in my small apartment and so the books must share with old journals and DVDs.

But the movies and mementos aren’t really the issue so much as the books I have never read, the books I don’t read, or the books I don’t like. Somehow they all still have spots on the shelves even though they embarrass me, despise me, and mock me. Books are hard for me to get rid of because they have so much more value to me than just the paper and ink. They hold entire lifetimes and stories. Even though they may not be for me, or I haven’t found the will to read them yet (Ulysses…), they’re still books. It’s not like I’m keeping an entire bookshelf of Cosmopolitan magazines. Even if they’re horrible, I still find books so valuable I’m afraid to get rid of them. And I don’t have the money to replace them with better, classier tomes.

And even if I did have the money, the idea of curating my bookshelf terrifies me. There is so much pressure to select the right books, my favorite books, the books that say good things about me. Now, I just have books that I have borrowed (stolen), received, or purchased for $1 on a whim. My collection is organic and varied. Just now when I look over, I see: Shopaholic to the Stars (free, haven’t read) next to Fun Home (read and loved) next to The God of Small Things (stole, started, never finished). This weird play on my reading habits and lifestyle occurs all over the bookshelf and their arrangement tells a story unintentionally. For example, The Elements of Style is snuggled against Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72. Funny things like that.

Oh and some notecards too…
It gets even weirder than this…

I’ve written two versions of this blog post. The first one, I came to realize that I really MUST curate my bookshelf. The conclusion was that I am a hot mess and a hoarder and most of these things have to go. When I went to revise it, I wound up writing an entirely NEW post (this one) and came to realize that I really MUST keep them all. Maybe I can kick the DVDs out and call it a tie.

Tell me what you think… do you curate your bookshelves? Do you have weird books cozied up against one another? Tell me your pairs and bookshelf style. I clearly need some help reckoning with the centerpiece of my living room.

PS – I think I’ll resurrect my Instagram account for a fun game of Keep or Toss.


2 thoughts on “Curating the Bookshelf

  1. asturtz

    My bookshelf has overflowed into cheap, plastic Target crates. I have books lying on their sides, stacked up to the top (it is a much better use of space! and it looks cool, I think). I have German language next to the embarrassment of Twilight, and a book with a hollowed out inside for treasure.

    Don’t get rid of your books. They’re more a part of you than your cell phone.


  2. Pat

    I also buy books on a whim all the time but have categorized them by categories; educational, scientific, fiction, self help and it’s definitely helped keep them organized!


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