Shelving Systems

I've always been fascinated by how people shelve their books, and I am an admitted judger of others' home libraries. In New York, I had such limited space that I could only keep one bookcase of books (I made a lot of trips to The Strand to sell off old titles), which were all alphabetized by author. In our first house in Maryland, I had a few Billy bookcases and a few ladder bookcases generally broken out into fiction and non-fiction, with classics and Irish lit (we both had minors/concentrations in Irish Studies... we have a LOT of Irish lit books) pulled out.

In our new house, we have a 12-foot wall in the dining room that was just crying out for bookshelves, so my amazing, incredible, bearded husband set out to build me industrial-style shelves with stained boards and black pipes. (A later post will follow on the actual building of the shelves, but right now he's actively avoiding all shelf-related speak... it was a bit of a frustrating process, complete with exploded spray paint can in the garage).

The best part: I can finally unpack my books after they've been in storage for 18+ months. Which brings me to my question: how do you organize your shelves? I've heard of people who keep TBR shelves separate from their main books (Leah, I'm looking at you); I don't do this, though I do keep unpublished ARCs on a separate "to-do" shelf in my office. I know some people mix classics and fiction together, alpha by author; I also don't do this (sorry, but those Coralie Bickford Smith Penguins really look best when shelved all in a row, folks). Nonfiction is interesting in its opportunity for in-depth categorization: do you create a "history" shelf, or a "World War II history shelf"? Of course, it all depends on what you own.

Here's where I netted out:

I settled on a basic fiction/classics/nonfiction system (the case on the left is all fiction, with Irish lit and Irish history sharing the bottom shelf; the case on the right is half classics and half non-fiction).

Irish Lit and Irish History

Fiction is alpha by author, with a few exceptions where spacing didn't allow for that to work well (I'm looking particularly at that horizontal stack of Robert Jordan tomes). Mass markets, though, are pulled out and stacked on the ends of the shelves because I hate the way mass markets sit when shelved vertically.

The classics are broken into series (see again: Coralie Bickford Smith editions, and those black-spine Penguins), and those not in series are alpha by author across one shelf. Antiquities (The Odyssey, The Illiad, The Aeneid, and--because where else do you shelf them?--Harrius Potter et Philisophi Lapis and my Latin-English dictionary) are pulled out into their own stack, and authors whose works we own major collections of (Shakespeare, Hemingway and Fitzgerald) are shelved independently based on shelf space.
Antiquities + Books in Latin
(because where else do you shelve them?)

Classics Collections

Poetry has its own (small) stack, though Irish poets are--you guessed it--with the Irish lit.

History, essays and memoirs are grouped together and honestly not even alphabetized by author. Science books, albeit a small collection of them, are pulled out into their own section. Sailing books, self-help-esque (The Happiness Project, The Art of Happiness) are similarly separated. The Beard has his own mini-stack of trivia books on the main shelves (all his Star Wars books--of which there are many--are in his office downstairs).

Upstairs on my dresser I keep a small stack of "books I'd like to read next," and for pure decorating purposes, I have a ladder bookshelf of brightly colored books in the master bedroom. Up in my office (I work from home) are a few shelves of business books (everything from financial management to non-profit foundation law to Bill Clinton's Giving) and a separate bookcase of upcoming ARCs and books on deadlines. I clear out that latter shelf every month based on pub date.

The moral of this, of course, is not just that everyone shelves their books differently--of course based on their preferences and collections--but that no one will be able to find a book in this house except for me and maybe The Beard (maybe). Well that... and the fact that I have a LOT of books to read.

I've seen some people shelve their books by color, by genre, and by any number of other categorizations... so, tell me:

How do you shelve your books?

TBR Tag: What's on My Pile?

Andi at Estella's Revenge tagged me in this TBR Tag post last week (oh wait, shoot, that was two weeks ago....), and I was so behind on work and reading and other things that I'm only just getting around to responding... so, here we go!

1) How do you keep track of your TBR pile? 

Poorly. I've written before about how I eschew the traditional "TBR List", opting instead for an amorphous collection of post-its, notebook entries, Goodreads tags, and storing titles in my brain (that last one's not always ideal, but hey, it makes for fun bookstore browsing). I tend to grab e-books from my "TBR" when they are on sale, and others as they catch my mood.

I do keep a separate shelf in my office (I work at home) of books with upcoming deadlines and/or pub dates, just as a visual reminder, but that's as close to one set "pile" in my house of just TBR books.

2) Is your TBR mostly print or ebook?

I was tempted to say print, but I've accumulated so many unread e-books on super-sales lately that I'd say that's no longer the case (which was part of my motivation for starting the Clean Your Reader challenge this year!).

3) How do you determine which book from your TBR pile to read next?

I'm with Andi on this one: mood! Sometimes I'll limit my options for my next read based on upcoming pub dates (or in some cases, specifically to backlist titles), but I read mostly based on what I feel like reading next. Which is probably why I am traditionally so bad at completing reading challenges.

4) A book that's been on your TBR list the longest?

Because I have such a wonderfully faulty TBR list, I can honestly say I have no idea.

5) A book you recently added to your TBR?

Just one? Ha. Ok, The Fatal Flame, by Lyndsay Faye--third book in her Timothy Wilde trilogy--because it came in the mail last night and I'm super excited to read it.

6) A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover.

Birds of a Lesser Paradise, though also because so many people rave about Bergman's work.

7) A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading.

If I didn't plan on reading it, it wouldn't be on my TBR pile, now would it?

8) An unpublished book on your TBR that you're excited for.

See above: The Fatal Flame. Also, Hausfrau and Little Life and SO MANY OTHERS.

9) A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you.

Miss Marvel.

10) A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you.

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed.

11) A book on your TBR that you're dying to read.

Um... all of them? Ok, I guess When Women Were Birds, because it looks lovely and wonderful but I keep setting it aside until I have the brainspace to give it the attention I believe it deserves.

12) How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?

Ha! This is embarrassing: 1,065. And counting.

I'm not tagging anyone specifically, but I'd love to hear about your TBR piles... how do you keep track? What are you most excited to read next?

Week in Reading: February 24, 2014

I'm coming off a winter weekend (we got eight inches of snow on Saturday followed by 48-degree weather and lots of melting on Sunday followed by 18-degree highs on Monday with lots of icing) that didn't include a lot of reading, though I did finish Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China for a book club meeting tonight. I missed a lot of the internet (specifically Twitter, it seems) drama because I had family visiting, so was offline most of the weekend. Based on the little bit I saw floating around today, I'm pretty grateful to have been offline for all of this noise and enjoying the snow and the fireplace instead... a trend I plan to continue this week.

In Print:

I'm about fifty pages into The Illuminations, by Andrew O'Hagan today, and plan to finish that this week, and have started to look out to April (!) review copies that just flowed in. Up first: Orhan's Inheritance, by Aline Ohanesian (Algonquin Books, April 7th). I'm also slowly working my way through Michael Paterniti's essays in Love and Other Ways of Dying; I've been reading an essay here and there, and have found I really love Paterniti's use of language to bring both the mundane and the incredible to life.

On My Headphones:

And, because technology is thwarting me (I'm looking at you, OneClick Digital app), I currently can't continue to listen to Geek Love for the Estella Society readalong. In the meantime, I've started James McBride's Song Yet Sung on audio--and I'm loving it so far. I've also started to dabble in The Nerdette podcast, per Shannon's recommendation. If you pick just one episode to listen to, let it be the Margaret Atwood one.

What are you reading this week?

Adventures in Time & Space (My Bookish Problems)

My top ten book-related problems, in no particular order:
  1. Time: I will never have enough time to read all of these books.
  2. Time: I will never finish my stack of to-be-released books before they all publish.
  3. Time: I will never read all the books on my shelf.
  4. Time: I will never get to all of the classics on my list.
  5. Time: I will never stop acquiring books and expanding the TBR list, which means I will never not have a TBR list.
  6. Time: I will never read all of the backlist of my favorite authors.
  7. Time: I will never discover all of the new authors I wish I had time to discover.
  8. Time: I will never read all of the impossibly long novels I want to read.
  9. Time: I will never have read 100% of the must-read lists of the world.
  10. Space: I will also never have enough space to store all these books.
I love each and every one of these facts with so much of my readerly heart, because combined, they mean I will never stop learning, exploring, and expanding--and I will never know how it feels not to have something to read next.

What are the bookish problems in your reading lives? 

Writing Elsewhere: 13 Books on Love

With Valentine's Day right around the corner (oh wait, is that tomorrow? That's tomorrow. Huh.), I compiled a list of 13 books on love for Martha Stewart Weddings. My picks:

books on love, romance books, romantic books, martha stewart weddings

After I finished it, of course, I realized I should have included Wedding Cake for Breakfast: Essays on the Unforgettable First Year of Marriage (given its venue, after all...).

Tell me, what else did I miss? What are your favorite books on love?

Book Review: The Mime Order, by Samantha Shannon

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

samantha shannon, the mime order, the bone season, the bone season sequel
The Mime Order is the second novel in Samantha Shannon's Bone Season series, a planned run of seven books set in a dystopian future where half of the population has clairvoyant powers and is hunted by the government because of those powers. Shannon picks up where The Bone Season left off: Paige Mahoney is racing back to London after narrowly escaping Sheol I, where she had been held prisoner for months because of her unusual clairvoyant powers. In London, she must decide whether to rejoin her old crime syndicate or go it alone--with the full force of both the government and the criminal world set against her.

Shannon spends little time rehashing the events or explaining the world established in the previous novel, so those new to this world will likely want to start with the first book. Those eager to continue Paige's story will not be disappointed by Shannon's sophomore showing, which boasts all of the suspense, intrigue and mystery of the first volume as well as an addictive storyline that will leave readers clamoring for the next chapters in Paige's ever-intensifying life.

The series characters have matured, which means Paige and those around her are becoming more nuanced, and their motivations clearer, as the story unfolds. Similarly, and perhaps more excitingly, Shannon's prose has also matured, and this deft effort to build on the complex world she constructed in the first installment will solidify the series' rightful place among the best of fantasy, sci-fi and dystopian fiction.
(Read my review of the first volume in Shannon's Bone Season series, The Bone Season, here.)


Note: Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book to review.
The Mime Order | Samantha Shannon | Bloomsbury USA | January 2015 | Hardcover

On Sale Today: My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh

my sunshine away book, m.o. walshWalsh's debut novel, My Sunshine Away, opens on a quiet suburban community in Baton Rouge, where our young narrator is in helplessly in love with his neighbor in ways he can only begin to explain. But when that neighbor, Lindy, is raped on her way home from track practice one evening, everything changes: the neighborhood shifts, the narrator's understanding of the world evolves, and Lindy herself is transformed, unsurprisingly, from a carefree young girl to a troubled teen.

Though this horrible crime--and, to some extent, the mystery of who did it--is the core around with the story of My Sunshine Away is built, the novel is in no way a whodunit tale of mysteries investigated and solved. Instead, it is the kind of prismatic story whose subject and meaning changes depending on the angle chosen; at its surface, yes, it is the story of a crime, but as it twists and turns, it becomes the story of a young boy growing into adulthood; a story of memory and guilt and how the two interplay; a story of teen angst and grown-up horrors and an oft-misunderstood Southern town.

"I want to rely on my memory," our narrator tells us. "It's important that you understand this. What else, besides love, do we have?"

In the case of My Sunshine Away, the answer? Not much. Memory and love make up the entirety of this narrator's story, which often meanders into unexpected territory. Though these wanderings can slow down the pacing at times, they read as authentic rememberings: the way we recall details and information and sometimes use stories as a way to bolster ourselves up or distract ourselves from the truth.

"It is important for me, whenever I relive this first remind myself of other, better, memories. This is how I keep darkness from winning. This is how I stay healthy."

And as we are left wondering who, exactly, this story is being written for--and to what end--what becomes abundantly clear is the importance of memory in shaping not only who we are in a moment, but who we choose to become.


Thanks to the publisher for providing a digital copy of this title to review.
My Sunshine Away | M.O. Walsh | Putnam Books | February 2015 | Hardcover | 320 pages

This Week in Reading: February 9

I feel like I'm drowning in February review copies over here. Anyone else? Just me? What's with the shortest month of the year having so many amazing releases? I suppose it's a good problem to have, though it's making my brain a little spinny. On my stack this week:

I finished Our Kids (Simon & Schuster, March 10th) this weekend, a fascinating if not exactly uplifting book on class mobility--and immobility--in the United States today. It wasn't without its issues, but it was definitely an interesting read nonetheless. Full review to come in March. Continuing the non-fiction kick, I started and then set aside Galileo's Middle Finger (Penguin Press, March 10th) this weekend--it just wasn't giving me the stories of the intersection of science and social justice I'd expected from it--and turned to Terms of Service (HarperCollins, March 17th) instead.

Fiction-wise, I'm just getting into Geek Love on audio for the February readalong over at Estella Society; join us! I'm also eying The African Equation (Gallic, March 17th) and planning to start in on Frog Music for my book club's February discussion. Miraculously, this will be my first time reading Emma Donoghue. I'm also just wrapping up My Sunshine Away, which comes out from Putnam tomorrow. I'm torn between racing through to the end and trying to savor Walsh's story and language; stay tuned for more thoughts on this one later this week.

What's on your stack this week?

It's Monday! What are you reading? hosted by Book Journey

The Common Sense Takeaways from Getting Things Done

I had Getting Things Done, the be-all, end-all book on personal and business organization (or so I'm told, at any rate) on my shelf for three years before I picked it up. I'd joke every year about how the first thing I needed to do to get things done was read the damn book about getting things done, and then promptly... not read it.

But 2015 marks the year that I finally got that one pesky thing done, and I read the damn book.

And hooo boy, am I glad I did. The majority of Allen's approach to organization is founded on one of my very favorite things in the whole wide world: common sense. Having them all laid out in one place like he's done is strangely eye-opening. What he tells us is what we should already know, but tend to forget (or ignore):

  1. Our minds are not safes. They are also not safe. They forget things, like, all the time. They are actually designed to do this, so that we don't get overwhelmed by the thousands of stimuli we see on a daily basis. So why do we think that trying to remember everything we need to get done is the best way to make sure it gets done?
  2. Be it at work or at home, projects are large, multi-faceted, and complex by their very nature. "Clean the garage" is not a to-do-list-worthy item; "Buy shelving system for the garage" is. Breaking things down into actionable steps is what makes action happen.
  3. Whatever your organization system is, you have to trust it. If you have even a sliver of a doubt that you may have left something off your to-do list, or forgotten to note an important email, or, or, or... you've gone right back to relying on your brain to try to remember everything it will likely forget.

Getting Things Done is at its strongest when talking about the micro-level; Allen's approach to high-level thinking about life/career goals, plans, etc. is given enough time in the book to distract from the common-sense approach to getting things done, but not enough time to make it valuable. But it serves as an important reminder that the high-level stuff can't be completed thoroughly or to our satisfaction unless we give ourselves permission to stop worrying about the micro-level: the phone calls to be made, the emails to be replied to, the papers to be filed.

Allen advocates (surprising to no one) that readers revisit his book and its approach every few months, reminding themselves of the "rules" of the GTD system and, hopefully, discovering new ideas or concepts previously overlooked. I'll be holding off on my re-read until the updated edition of Getting Things Done is available later this year, on the assumption that it won't contain so many references to LotusNotes and Palm Pilots. In the meantime, I'll be over here working on my GTD system, setting up my filing cabinet, and generally trying to apply common sense to my otherwise uncommonly nonsensical lists of things to get done.

If you're in the GTD camp, I'd love to hear about your system, what software (if any) you use, and any tips you have for someone just about to pull all her inputs together to set this thing up.


Read as part of my 2015 TBR Challenge list, and as my self-help selection for the 2015 Read Harder Challenge.

Looking Ahead: February Releases

We're slowly getting settled in the new house, and despite the fact that I have no bookshelves yet, I've accumulated quite the stack of February books I'd like to read. As always, there's no way I'll get to them all (I read fast, but not that fast), but here's what's caught my eye this upcoming month:

Trigger Warning, by Neil Gaiman (February 3rd, William Morrow): Ok, I already read this one. And adored pretty much every page. Gaiman is, as usual, divinely strange and full of weird and awesome. If you like short stories, fiction that feels a little off-kilter, and/or Gaiman's past works, this one's for you. (Full review.)

Discontent and its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London, by Mohsin Hamid (February 24th, Riverhead): In case the inverted title weren't enough to sell me on this one, the promise of "intimate and sharply observed commentary on life, art, politics, and 'the war on terror'" certainly is.

Find Me, by Laura Van Den Berg (February 17th, FSG): Van Den Berg's debut novel draws on her skills and experience as a short story writer as she dives into a world wracked by a disease that takes peoples' memories and the impact this strange world has on one particular woman, Joy.

My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh (February 10th, Putnam): This one's already been getting a ton of coverage as a great new book club pick, which I'm hoping means there's lots to pick apart in this story of an unimaginable crime in a small Baton Rouge neighborhood.

She Weeps Each Time You're Born, by Quan Barry (February 10th, Pantheon): Shannon at River City Reading mentioned this one in a post of hers a while back, and I'm intrigued by the modern Vietnam history angle--a subject I know nothing about.

After Birth, by Elisa Albert (February 17th, HMH): Albert's debut novel is said to explore the ever-complicated themes of childbirth and new motherhood, which, twist my arm, sounds right up my alley.

What do you have on your radar for this month?

The Story About the Stories in Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning

Neil Gaiman has an imagination that I can't imagine, a sense of wonder and awe and amazement with the world and the worlds he can imagine that turns head, catches attentions, and creates super-readers of his work. It doesn't hurt that he has a way with words, either, or that sly sense of British humour that leaves us knowing there's a joke somewhere, but not entirely convinced we're sure of what the joke is, exactly. Just that it might be funny.

This is the writer that shines through in full force on the pages of Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, a collection of short stories from the much-adored author of American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Though most of the stories in the collection have appeared elsewhere, they have been published in such disparate places that the likelihood of any one reader having read them all is slim to none (the Sherlock-Holmes inspired story, "The Case of Death and Honey," for example, was written for the Sherlockian anthology A Study in Sherlock; "And Weep, Like Alexander" appeared in a collection inspired by Arthur C. Clarke, and boasts a character named Obediah Polkinghorn because of it; "Pearls: A Fairy Tale" was written as the caption to a photo of Amanda Palmer posing as herself dead, back before Gaiman and Palmer were married).

All of the stories in Trigger Warning are divinely strange. A young boy clamors for a bedtime story that's just a little bit scary, and the subtle creepiness of "Click--Clack the Rattlebag" that ensues will leave adults switching lights on in dark rooms before entering. Sleeping Beauty's well-known story is reimagined in the most clever way in both "Observing the Formalities" and "The Sleeper and the Spindle." "A Calendar of Tales" collects twelve stories inspired by strangers' tweets to Gaiman, while "Orange" is told entirely as answers to questions to which we are not privvy, the answers building a story of their own.

Perhaps the most fascinating piece in the collection, though, is Gaiman's introduction to his work, in which he explores the idea of "trigger warnings," and lays out for readers not only the story behind each piece in the collection (because, he writes, he likes it when authors do that himself), but why he has collected them together in one place. He writes,

"But so  much of what we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alerts beyond, perhaps: we need to find out what fiction is, what it means, to us, an experience that is going to be unlike anyone else's experience of the story.  
We build the stories in our heads. We take words, and we give them power, and we look out through other eyes, and we experience, what they see. I wonder, Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself: Should they be?"

The fictions in Trigger Warnings are not safe places, and Gaiman does not shy away from that. Instead, he invites readers to lean into it, experiencing the risk and, in return, the full reward of the most speculative of fiction, the strangest of stories, and the wonder of words.


Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-galley of this title for review.
Trigger Warning | Neil Gaiman | William Morrow | Hardcover | February 2015

A Clean Your Reader Wrap-Up

Guys! Sorry for getting this up so late (I'd intended to have it up by the end of January), but look, here I am, wrapping up the Clean Your Reader Challenge. As a reminder, participants who linked up at the beginning and end of the challenge will be entered to win a new e-reader case (or, if you're international or just prefer e-book credit, a comparable e-book gift cert to an online vendor of your choice).

Without further ado, my (semi)-successful story of cleaning out my reader this month:

Eve in Hollywood, by Amor Towles: I cross-listed this one with the Books Speak Volumes' Jazz Age January challenge, only to realize after starting it that it is technically set in the 1930s, not the 1920s. But I adored Rules of Civility, and Towles picked up the story of Eve from that novel and continued it all the way from New York to Hollywood. Each chapter of this novella is told from a slightly different perspective, but all center on Eve: Eve as she reinvents herself on a train ride across the country; Eve as she befriends an aging actor in a Hollywood hotel; Eve as she pushes a starlet to be bolder. This is nothing if not an interesting dive into storytelling techniques, and even those who haven't read Rules of Civility will find charm in Eve's story.

In the Woods, by Tana French: I read The Likeness a few years ago (and loved it), only to realize halfway through it that I was technically reading a sequel. So I went back this month to pick up the first volume in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, and hoooo boy. It's just as awesome as I wanted it to be.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt: My new book club chose this for their January selection, and I happened to own the e-book of it, so more two-birds-one-stone here. I can't quite find the words to say how much I loved this book, though it was not at all what I expected it to be. This story of a young girl and her uncle's battle with AIDS in 1980s New York was quiet in many ways, but no less emotional, powerful, or captivating for it.

How did everyone else's Clean Your Reader challenge go?

Link up to your wrap-up post below and I'll select a random entrant to win the e-reader cover: