Monday, 12 October 2009

Colour Coordinated Bookshelves - I did it... I love it!

Bookshelves and Brick Dust

I suppose it started here.  

This was my living room a month ago. See either side of the sooty mouth of Hell? Empty bookshelves. I had taken the books down and tucked them away from the nasty man with the big hammer. And here lies the tale of how I put the books back. But first, a little more about that building work.

The hole became a tunnel to the ‘others side’ (well dining room, actually) so the brick dust had a whole new place to huff and puff into. The tunnel became this...

Ah… lovely straight lines, smooth surfaces and a proper passage that my children ran through a thousand times. But no mopping or painting or putting-back yet for my twitching fingers. Plaster and cement had to dry.
Then there was this, the whole point of the exercise: a double-sided wood burning stove that is designed (because our home is mostly on one level) to provide our heating in winter. Rude gestures at the gas company and a very dainty carbon footprint should be the reward of all the work, and so far the stove has made both rooms supremely cosy. But what about the books?

The books. I may have 500. In my living room: fiction. Upstairs, non-fiction. In my children’s bedrooms, children’s books. In my bedroom, knackered books, the ones the ghosts hover around. A set of Greek mythology my grandfather bound himself back in the 60s. The Warfare of Science with Theology by Andrew Dickson White. The Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa, in the Year 1805 by Mungo Park. A Welsh bible, Y Beibl, that was my great-grandmothers.

But back to the empty shelves in the living room. Having suffered a ball and chain of a cold for the duration of the building work, I found that I couldn't be arsed to put these particular books back. At least, not as they were. I had a new stove, a new dimension in my front parlour. I craved a new look from my books, too.

Then I remembered a blog post by Miss Read on the very subject of how to organise your bookshelves, which I had read and commented on. I went back to the blog, and found myself saying:

"I order my books by look, which can lead to some kind of order, the poetry tends to be small, art books big, Penguin Classics make an orange block over there, and as long as you don’t switch from paperback to hardback by the same author, their stuff tends to go together too…"

“Penguin Classics make an orange block over there”. Hmm, there was a thought that tickled. Maybe I had to take that logic further. Could I put them back just by spine colour? Sod the author, genre, size even. The Dulux paint chart approach to ordering books. 

And that thought was quite a starting pistol. Without pausing for Lemsip, I stopped reading spines and started seeing colours. Aiming for contrast, I stacked greens over purples and reds, and blues over yellows and oranges. Blacks created a solid foundation on the bottom shelves, whites the top. So much easier than working out where you are in the alphabet. So much kinder than forcing books into clich├ęd genres. Grabbing and slotting by shade felt wonderfully liberating.

Books I had forgotten about took on new significance because of their fabulous spines of indigo, jade or acid lemon. Books I loved were tutted at for not trying hard enough with their faded white.

Patterns emerged. Science fiction dominated the blues, horror the blacks, fantasy the greens, chick-lit the pinks. Like a row of sunbeams, the Penguin classics welcomed Irvine Welsh’s orange and black Trainspotting into their ranks.

I loved the surprises. Alan Moore's From Hell, a new edition of Jane Eyre and Robert Sabuda’s pop-up treatment of Wizard of Oz formed a bohemian gathering in sultry purples and magentas. Titus Groan and Gormenghast parted company with Titus Alone. Clad in black, Dickens and Austen skulked among the thrillers and horrors. India Knight's My Life on a Plate crash landed on Brian W Aldiss’s Helliconia Spring, the planet where seasons last 1000 years. John Wyndham's Seeds of Time, its red spine bleached by sunlight to a delicate pink, embraced an anthology of love poems.

And then there was the whites. Two shelves of them. I left these till last when I was reaching the point of obsession with nuances of shade, so they were sifted further from pristine to yellowed, which indicated the age of the actual edition. A good way to see how long you have owned something.

So that's how it looks (with some editing of the chimney breast for effect). But can I find anything with my new system? Actually I can. When I think of a book I own I can see the spine in my head, clearly, so it works just dandy for me.

My beloved books are back and they look decorative and dramatic. I can’t ask for more. But there is more: I think the books are enjoying themselves too.


  1. Not much to say other than 'what an excellent post - well worth the wait'.

    As someone who still hasn't sorted his books out nine months after moving house, you've given me something to strive for.

  2. This was a fabulous post. I spent a lovely 30 minutes yesterday moving books around my two bookcases in a vague author / genre / how much I like them system. To anyone else it probably looks like utter chaos!

  3. Oh they look lovely! Maybe I should rearrange ours. Again. When I was a child, I spent ages doing this (I had hundreds of science fiction and fantasy books). Some I'd arrange in fiddly displays balanced upright so that they'd look like solid blocks of different pictures (though some of the naughtier NEL Heinlein covers I'd have to conceal from prudish parents) from the door but like little groups of henges or obelisks from my bed. Haven't thought about that in ages!

  4. Thanks so much for the comments.

    I look forward to a blog from Chris about how he got his books up on shelves (poor little things).

    Kelly, you need to re-arrange them, don't you?, to recall just what you've got.

    Dadwhowritesm thanks for the glimpse of your childhood version of this. It's great that books can be arranged into art as well as literature. I guess I am just a child at heart.

  5. Love your double sided fire - can you let me know the brand & make please - its just what I'm after!! Thank you!!

  6. Hello Anon. The stove is a Hunter Herald 14 Double Sided Multi Fuel Stove. Hope that helps :)


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