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January 3, 2018 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Is it reprehensible to shelve your books fore-edges out? Or defensible?

The royal library at El Escorial was fore-edge out, after gilding the edges and writing a title or description over the gilding. I can't find an online picture, but here are two references. When I first heard of this, I was told that it was a practical innovation because the gilding is most resistant to sun and dust; apparently the gilding was the innovation because spine-in and laid flat was the older shelving style.

Whichever side you put the title on, which way do you orient it? You'll have to decide if you have custom wrappers made, to get a coherent visual effect other than the page-edges.
posted by clew (175 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is it reprehensible to shelve your books fore-edges out?

YES WHY IS THIS EVEN A THING

i hate the future
posted by poffin boffin at 12:30 PM on January 3 [103 favorites]


Okay, setting aside the "finding the title on the book" angle and focusing strictly on the aesthetic -

Book spines also give the designer a huge palatte of colors to play with. Instead of turning the books around, why not group them by color? All the reds on one shelf, greens on another, etc. Or one room gets all the red books. Or all the pastels. Make a freakin' mosaic, even. That way you can actually see the book titles and get the decor angle.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:32 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


On the one hand this feels like looking at a pustular wound, but I guess there are times when aesthetics should be dominant over practicality. If nothing is done to present the titles and/or author I'm not okay with it though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:33 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


A sure sign of books that don't ever get read.
posted by bz at 12:33 PM on January 3 [34 favorites]


Why is "style your shelves" even a phrase?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:33 PM on January 3 [26 favorites]


EC, I've seen that done, but I actually prefer this spine in because at least the books can be sorted.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:34 PM on January 3


This is completely outragefilter and I am outraged.

Also bookshelves full of a variety of books are some of the most attractive things you can have in a room. Bookshelves, some plants, natural wood and pleasant fabric and you're pretty much all set. Also a cat.
posted by Frowner at 12:34 PM on January 3 [51 favorites]


honestly i fucking love posts on inconsequential things that fill me with immediate fury so thank you
posted by poffin boffin at 12:34 PM on January 3 [127 favorites]


I'm with bz here. It's a sign that the books are never read.

Might as well just have piles of abused printer paper rammed together on your shelves for the aesthetic.

Spines out! I want to find what I'm looking for.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 12:35 PM on January 3 [12 favorites]


one thing to file into my "how to quickly sort people into buckets" file. this entry goes on the "asshole" bucket.
posted by Dr. Twist at 12:35 PM on January 3 [23 favorites]


Rather too deviant for me. Sorting by general subject, and then by size works for me. Emacs, BTW
posted by mdoar at 12:37 PM on January 3 [10 favorites]


On the one hand, in our home, we decided since it was so small that displaying our horde of books that we never read yet can't toss out was a waste of space. I have a small bookshelf in the hall which is one shelf stuff, one shelf kids books, and the bottom shelf is totally neglected weird books that I should probably toss out (in a Little Free Library). We have one shelf in the living room which is cooking books because we use cooking books though there are a number there which we never use and a handful which are just pretty to look at. We are desperate to work bookshelves back into our life and if I had had shelves and had no place to store the books that we do not read, maybe I would do this? Like, I just don't need to look at the spine of Fight Club forever...?

But, no, I would never. It's just horridly dumb. Give the books away, store them away or put them on display. This....this....is turning your home into an Anthropologie window display which I know is totally a thing but stop it.
posted by amanda at 12:37 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


WHAT THE SHIT???
posted by Artw at 12:38 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


The one with the books in the fireplace is a bit on the nose.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:38 PM on January 3 [32 favorites]


Is this satire, or a hoax, or for real, or a satirical hoax that determined idiots have made into reality? I don't know which is likely, I don't even know which to hope for.
posted by sfenders at 12:39 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


You'll have to decide if you have custom wrappers made

Hard pass. Dust covers drive me bananas to begin with so I just discard them. I can't imagine paying for extra ones.

I do, however, shelve my jacketless books spine-out so I'm not a total monster.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:39 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Is it reprehensible to shelve your books fore-edges out?

You tell me.
posted by Fizz at 12:39 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


If I had an absolute hate on for metafilter and wanted to troll the hell out of us I couldn't have come up with something this good.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:40 PM on January 3 [63 favorites]


I.. But... Guh... Wha... *eye begins twitching*

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?! HOW DO YOU FIND THE BOOK YOU WANT?!

Look, I'm a bit high-strung on this, but it's only because I basically grew up in a library for the first several years of my life. (Mom was a Librarian Assistant.) You shelve your books, spines out, and sorted alphabetically by author—specifically the LAST NAME OF THE AUTHOR.

Because otherwise YOU WILL NEVER FIND ANYTHING.
posted by SansPoint at 12:40 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]


I side-step* the whole issue by leaving my books strewn everywhere instead of putting them back on shelves.

*often literally necessary
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:41 PM on January 3 [22 favorites]


Fizz: Uh, look, I don't wanna tell you how to live your life, but you might wanna flip a couple of those shelves that are bowing so they bow back the other way... unless you're just holding out until a shipment of Billy Bookcases arrives from IKEA.
posted by SansPoint at 12:41 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


its just a statement of intent

step 1 get retro fireplace
step 2 place books spines in for neutral beige palette to match couch
step 3 burn books with fulvous flame to match daffodils
step 4 Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said....
posted by lalochezia at 12:42 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


No, and stop it.

People.

posted by Space Kitty at 12:44 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?! HOW DO YOU FIND THE BOOK YOU WANT?!

You've heard the saying, I know X like the back of my hand? People who REALLY know their books recognize them spine in!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:44 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


one time i was alone in an elevator with my mom for 25 floors without either one of us realizing it so no i will not recognize my books
posted by poffin boffin at 12:45 PM on January 3 [39 favorites]


You've heard the saying, I know X like the back of my hand? People who REALLY know their books recognize them spine in!

I linked my shelves up above and I know they look like a nightmare. But here's the thing, it's my nightmare. It's an organized chaos. If you ask me where Memories of Ice: Book 3 of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson is located.

I can tell you it's on the bottom right shelf, two layers in, it'll be a paperback sitting next to an abandoned Terry Goodkind novel a bad date once gave to me (didn't have the heart to throw it away or tell her that I hate Terry Goodkind).
posted by Fizz at 12:46 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


Ugh the Billy bookcases are the worst...get the HEMNES...real wood shelves.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:47 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


1. Obviously these books are all arranged correctly, spine-out, in the secret rooms behind of these bookshelves. That's the only reasonable situation for such an arrangement.

2. Separate from the impracticality of keeping books this way, and the outrage against books themselves, this is shitty design. It's a dumb & literal (not literary) understanding of "neutral"--like, "neutral" doesn't just mean tan & off-white. A varied bookshelf, with a range of different-colored book spines on it, will in fact read as "neutral." (Look at a Chuck Close mosaic close up, etc.)
posted by miles per flower at 12:50 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]


If this becomes widespread, how will we be able to judge each other for owning a copy of Infinite Jest?
posted by Crane Shot at 12:50 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]


why dont these people make sure they only buy books which are beige? problem solved.
posted by rubber duck at 12:52 PM on January 3 [12 favorites]


If this becomes a thing, maybe publishers should start stamping the titles on the page sides.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:53 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


So Jon Waters amended his famous quote about books and fucking “If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em" recently with an addendum that made feel less guilty for not always following it. "I like the idea emotionally but if they’re cute enough — who’s looking at their books?"

But oh wow, somebody would have to be hotter than the surface of the sun for me to let my guard down on this one because not only do I find it super-annoying, it really seems like a possible serial killer red flag.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:53 PM on January 3 [14 favorites]


I AM SO ANGRY RIGHT NOW
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:53 PM on January 3 [13 favorites]


How 2017. Now everyone is putting their books through an industrial shredder and filling their cabinets with the resulting confetti for a whimsical look that goes with anything.
posted by Pyry at 12:54 PM on January 3 [8 favorites]


Previously, I merely hated going into homes where there were no books, except maybe one or two terrible airport novels, or "inspirational books by Christian humorists" or something equally distasteful.

But this is somehow worse. You HAVE books. You have decided "Yes, I want books in my house!" But you're making it impossible to READ the books.

If I stay someplace with books stored this way, you can bet I will be up all night flipping and alphabetizing those suckers.
posted by emjaybee at 12:54 PM on January 3 [11 favorites]


Why not just store them spine side up? Then it will be "neutral" from a seated position but you can still the find the one you want. (yes, I know it's terrible for the spines, but still)
posted by Hutch at 12:54 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


If this becomes widespread, how will we be able to judge each other for owning a copy of Infinite Jest?

Nobody who owns a copy of Infinite Jest would ever shelve it where people couldn't immediately recognize it because then what was the point of reading a 10,000 page book about tennis?
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:55 PM on January 3 [13 favorites]


Much more work than my current book-filing method of cramming them into any space I can find because my shelves are full. Even though they are shelved spine-out, I can only find half my books anyways because a lot of them are shelved two deep.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:55 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


WHY on the fuck would you troll us like this? LOL.

DAMNIT.

DAMN.

IT.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:56 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


everyone's mad about this because they know for 95% of the books on their shelf it wouldn't matter if they shelved them spines-out or not because those books haven't been touched since the last time they moved
posted by griphus at 12:56 PM on January 3 [52 favorites]


I suppose you can generate an entire theory of book ownership out of this. Books as elements of a design aesthetic? Books to be read at random? Books primarily intended for use value? For obvious reasons, if I tried the "fore-edge out" approach, I would never find anything (for the record: the books are categorized and alphabetized, otherwise...yeah, I'd still never find anything).
posted by thomas j wise at 12:57 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I hate you griphus okay you're right but still I hate you.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:58 PM on January 3 [17 favorites]


LOL my most-read books are as identifiable from one side as the other due to their elaborate and recognizable patterns oincluding condiment stains, ashes, and saltwater intrusion. Ain't much beige though.
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:58 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Previously, I merely hated going into homes where there were no books, except maybe one or two terrible airport novels, or "inspirational books by Christian humorists" or something equally distasteful.

Also the dismal little rack with 5 or 10 of of what I used to call "CDs for people who don't much like music": Hooked On Classics, maybe the Cats soundtrack, Thriller, The Eagles Greatest Hits, and so on
posted by thelonius at 12:59 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


This is what actually started the war in the "Butter Battle Book."
posted by drezdn at 12:59 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


That cuts close to the bone, griphus. I gotta pack up most of my books in the next few weeks for renos. I'm seriously thinking of a major cull.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:00 PM on January 3


griphus: Well, you're not wrong... but I stand by my righteous indignation. I'll read them EVENTUALLY. And I'll want to know which one I'm taking off the shelf when I finally get to it.
posted by SansPoint at 1:01 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I linked my shelves up above and I know they look like a nightmare.

Fizz, I'm not gonna judge the quantity or variety, but this is how to make cheap bookshelves usable. Real wood not required!
posted by asperity at 1:01 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


a major cull

prepare yourself for the reality that used books are worth almost nothing, in cash
posted by thelonius at 1:01 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I mean why not just rip out the entire shelf and replace it with a nice neutral piece of plywood nailed to the wall
posted by oulipian at 1:02 PM on January 3 [23 favorites]


Why is "style your shelves" even a phrase?

You see, you have to have shelves, but they have to be styled. Otherwise, what's the point of having shelves?
Apparently.
posted by NoMich at 1:02 PM on January 3


I really wish I had found a good picture of the library at El Escorial, because it was a working scholar's library* that didn't depend at all on binding variation. Nor did libraries when one bought the text block and had it bound in the house binding. (I could forgo a house style if I could get a standard size and therefore pack my shelves more densely.)

I mean, really, like Fizz, I know where my books are even when I'm not looking, or when they've been in a Working On This pile long enough to be covered with papers, or the ones from before the moves in the watertight bags in the shipping container in the woods I may have a problem. Now tempted to turn them all spines-in and host a meetup.

*and still is, I think
posted by clew at 1:06 PM on January 3


I'm a librarian, and over the past decade and a half have had my collection of nonfiction and hardback fiction organized in three different ways. (Paperback fiction's always been by author.)

1) A lovely haphazard system which was a friend of mine helping me unpack, who shelved books according to what she thought the subject was based on the title, assuming I'd go through and re-organize them when I finished unpacking. Which made for interesting juxtapositions, like a book on Egyptian mummies next to the psychology book The Mummy at the Dining Room Table. That led to so many serendipitous (re) discoveries while browsing that I kept it for several years, until...

2) I organized them by color. Everyone I tell this to draws back in horror and says "I could never do that! I could never find a book again!" Well, if you've got a good visual memory like me, it's not a problem, because I have a rough idea of what the color of the book is, plus as you're searching for the exact book you constantly remind yourself of what other book covers are as you scan the shelves. Also, it turns out that publishers tend to stay within a small set of colors for each subject--most of my art books were over in the white section, and hardback science fiction and fantasy was almost always very dark blues and blacks.

Then I got married and we bought a house and combined our libraries. My husband said he didn't care how I organized the books as long as he could always find a book, and he didn't think he could find a book by color. so...

3) I picked the Dewey Decimal system. I work in an academic library, where I'm used to LoC, but Dewey is easier for small wide-ranging collections, plus in 75% of the books we had, the Dewey number was already in the front matter so I didn't have to assign it. (Although I did recatalog a few books that I disagreed with!) We've got markers in the shelves with the subjects and subject codes written on it so anyone not familiar with Dewey (i.e. my husband) can easily find things.

Anyway, this is all to say that although I wouldn't take the dust covers off or turn books back-to-front because my current interior decoration style is based on the casual haphazard appearance of an old private library, I am rolling my eyes at everyone who has the vapors at the sheer thought of somebody else doing things in a way that works for them.
posted by telophase at 1:08 PM on January 3 [11 favorites]


prepare yourself for the reality that used books are worth almost nothing

Oh, I'm well aware. I just donate books I don't want, and even then I feel guilty about that. We used volunteer to run the annual used book fair as a fundraiser at our kids' school. I finally put an end to it last year as I was tired of taking van loads of books that no-one on earth wanted to be pulped at the end of it, all to raise a couple hundred bucks. We raise more money now just by straight-up asking for donations.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:08 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


everyone's mad about this because they know for 95% of the books on their shelf it wouldn't matter if they shelved them spines-out or not because those books haven't been touched since the last time they moved

Bookshelves for me are a kind memory palace. Obviously, the more you read the less you can afford time to re-read, but there's still referencing and thinking. It's a mnemotechnic.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:09 PM on January 3 [18 favorites]


Alternate solution: convert all your books to electronic format. Then put the front of the tablet against the wall and paint the back beige.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:09 PM on January 3 [10 favorites]


One should keep books because look, the internet is bullshit and big corporations are bullshit and libraries are dying and you never know. Like, I have actually not been able to find certain books in electronic format - everyone is all "o la la you can just read it on your tablet", but not Against The Grain: The British Far Left Since 1956, or certain of the John Bellairs books, or My Country Right or Left, or all my small press graphic novels, or the science fiction published by the Women's Press in the eighties. Keep your books because you may have to be a one-person library in the dark future.
posted by Frowner at 1:11 PM on January 3 [25 favorites]


This isn't really new, so I wouldn't blame the youths of 2018 too hard.

People used to decorate with those Readers Digest condensed books, and Pinterest is lousy with color gradient bookshelves and OMG ha hahaha this is so much worse than what I was looking for that I forgot what I was looking for.

IIRC, you can even buy stacks of color-coordinated books that are glued together.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:11 PM on January 3 [15 favorites]


On the one hand, I loathe owning books. The town stores my books for me in a lovely building with a fish tank, and I shouldn't have opinions on how people store their clutter.

On the other hand, this is abusive to all my sensibilities.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:12 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]


prepare yourself for the reality that used books are worth almost nothing, in cash

Unless you have several boxes of classic 1980s and early 90s science fiction and fantasy that you've taken good care of, in which case the several boxes of "I liked this book when I read it but I'm never going to read it again and I'm sick of moving it from place to place to place" bring in $350.

I was pretty surprised at that, really. Those boxes I sold a decade ago and yup, I've never wanted to read those particular books again. (The numerous boxes of books that I have reread are still with me, though!)
posted by telophase at 1:13 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I am a reader and a book lover (even if I own significantly fewer books after moving cross-country a couple years ago and getting an e-reader, but spouse is doing his best to make up for that by buying...the entirety of abebooks, as far as I can tell) but I just don't care how people store their books in their own homes. Sorry.
posted by quaking fajita at 1:14 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


An episode of Black Mirror that’s just this. No plot, no drama, it just follows one person as they visit a few friends and all their bookshelves are like this. And then they go to the library and guess what
posted by oulipian at 1:15 PM on January 3 [31 favorites]


Ever wonder what was the best use of that copy of 'Excel 97 for Dummies' you've been hanging onto is? Apparently you can turn the spine around and make your house simultaneously stylish and your bookshelf completely offensive.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:15 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


The thing about the "this is a sign that the books are never read" is that...

... books on a bookshelf are never read. How many times do you go back to anything that's not a reference? How often do you look at the average book on your bookshelf? Once a year? Once every ten years? I'm merciless about culling my book collection but even so, after I've read a book there's maybe a 1 in 4 chance that I'll open it again, ever. We leave them on the shelf to remind ourselves of them. Maybe to lend them out.

So I have trouble getting too worked up over this, because in most households shelving and retaining books is kind of a presentation thing anyway. I access specific cookie trays more often than specific books, and I'm content to keep them in a pile on a shelf in a dark cabinet. Let's not pretend that keeping books spine-out on our shelves isn't just as much a "style" as the other way around.
posted by phooky at 1:15 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


i shelve by genre, non-alphabetized, only in series reading order, with deep shelves that mean i can stack a few horizontally in front of the vertical ones if i run out of shelf room while a series is still going.

deep shelves also mean that you can hide embarrassing books behind less ridiculous ones but i never actually allow people into my home so i don't need to hide anything from anyone.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:17 PM on January 3 [15 favorites]


How many times do you go back to anything that's not a reference?

Frequently, as a matter of fact.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:17 PM on January 3 [23 favorites]


my bookshelf is the friends I've made along the way
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:17 PM on January 3 [16 favorites]




who the hell even ARE you people who don't read books a second time? i have read the entirety of the temeraire series and the aubrey-maturin series three times in the past year alone.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:20 PM on January 3 [24 favorites]


How many times do you go back to anything that's not a reference?

Whether or not we're willing to read someone a verse from Hyperbole and a Half is pretty much how we know if they are a close friend or not.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:20 PM on January 3 [13 favorites]


I feel sad for these people.

Obviously the can't afford basements, attics, closets, or even cardboard boxes.
They're desperate to get these books out of their lives and into storage.

Since why the hell would you put your books that way?!?!?!???
posted by BlueHorse at 1:24 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I've been unsuccessfully trying to cull my books for years and I just couldn't find the right dividing line between what to get rid of and what to keep, and then this New Year's I picked up each one of my books, in turn, and asked myself: If a friend wanted to borrow this, would I ask for it back, or would I tell them they could keep it?

Turned out when I framed it like that, I knew exactly how I felt about each one, and managed to cull nearly a third - some going to actual friends, others going to used bookstores and Goodwill. Donating books is just like loaning them to friends you haven't met yet!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:24 PM on January 3 [25 favorites]


deep shelves also mean that you can hide embarrassing books behind less ridiculous ones

wait a second this is just two layers of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson books
posted by griphus at 1:24 PM on January 3 [13 favorites]


the aubrey-maturin series three times in the past year alone.

And it's not like I can get through an O'Brien naval novel without having to enjoy something in The Astley Book of Knots, or check a recipe in Beeton's.
posted by clew at 1:25 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


no those were free from a 10k ebook torrent
posted by poffin boffin at 1:26 PM on January 3


that horror ernielundquist found is even worse than I expected. I hope the books are stunt mockups and I fear the whole thing was meant as a display of spirituality.
posted by clew at 1:27 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


pretentious_illiterate: once I figured out "I loved this when I read it, but I'm never going to reread it" was an actual category for me, that made culling so much easier!

Mine's a working library, not an archive. Thanks to 15 years of purchasing and culling ("weeding" in librarian vernacular), my bookshelves are (1) old friends that I've reread over the years, and/or which mean something to me, (2) books that I can't get digitally, and (3) books that I need to flip through, leave open on a table while using, or which are otherwise cumbersome to use electronically.

The rest of the books I own are digital, and before someone argues that I don't actually own them: they periodically get pulled into a program that de-DRMs them, then backed up in several different places. Once file formats start changing, I'll need to convert them, but given the amount of tech knowledge in my household and circle of friends, I'm pretty confident that won't be a problem.
posted by telophase at 1:27 PM on January 3 [9 favorites]


Atom Eyes: my bookshelf is the friends I've made along the way

Same with the shelves of CDs I've ripped to MP3.
posted by SansPoint at 1:28 PM on January 3


I mean, shelve your books any way you like, but fore-edge out I don’t know how you expect to find the motherfuckers.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:38 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I warmed up to culling when I ran out of room in my tiny house for more shelves. No old books out meant no room for new books to come in, which was not an option. Now, before I consider buying a book I always look at the library or ebooks first, especially for stuff I only want to read once anyways. Still lots of culling to do though, as new books keep trickling in despite that.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:39 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


> that horror ernielundquist found is even worse than I expected. I hope the books are stunt mockups and I fear the whole thing was meant as a display of spirituality.

I assumed those were trophy books, killed on safari.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:40 PM on January 3 [20 favorites]


How many times do you go back to anything that's not a reference?

How many times do you literally travel back in time to re-live parts of your life? That the number is likely quite close to 0 doesn’t mean we should all get rid of our memories. Like in 2001 when Dave is deactivating all of HAL’s cognition modules one by one.

Which is not unlike what this poppycock idea is doing.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:41 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Let's not pretend that keeping books spine-out on our shelves isn't just as much a "style" as the other way around.

Shelving the books backwards-like struck me as wrong at first, but you know, now that I think about it, my own habits probably strike some people as equally strange. For instance, I wear all my shirts inside-out so everyone can read the label more easily. The pockets and buttons are slightly less convenient that way, but how often do you use those anyway? I always park my car diagonally whenever I can find two adjacent spaces, it's part of my aesthetic. And to show my rebellious spirit, I like to put the tires on backwards as well, directional treads pointing the wrong way. In the end they're all unusual but perfectly valid stylistic preferences.
posted by sfenders at 1:42 PM on January 3 [13 favorites]


The reason to have a collection of books is that I have a set of interests, developed over time, and at any given point I'm probably reading something which has bearing upon other books in the collection and I might want to consult them. Maybe I'm re-reading Bleak House and want to cross-check something in another novel or in one of my books about poor laws in the 19th century. Maybe I'm re-reading (because I do re-read a lot) Berlin: City of Stones and want to break out the Weimar Sourcebook. The point is that the books are precisely a collection, not just a random selection of discarded amusements.
posted by Frowner at 1:42 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


OMG ha hahaha this is so much worse than what I was looking for that I forgot what I was looking for.

You warned me it was awful, and I, a fool, clicked anyway.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:43 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I have a nice way to give yourself the aesthetics of the beige nightmare while still being able to see your books. It's a solution we've all seen. It's called a cover. Get a printer, get the appropriate colored paper, print out book covers. Cover and tape carefully so that you don't tape the cover to the book. Bonus- it helps protect the book.

This is being quirky for the sake of being quirky, but it is slipping into bullshit territory.

My fiancée and I set up an open bookshelf in the middle of the living room. It helps differentiate her office space from the couch. And the books go both ways. Because looking at only the leaves of books while working or relaxing is a way to madness too horrific for even H.P Lovecraft.
posted by Hactar at 1:44 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


To quote my boss once, after an afternoon of arguing on one of our library's internal lists about a particular minutiae of cataloging that made not one whit of difference to our patrons:
Nobody ever died from a lack of bibliographic control.
posted by telophase at 1:46 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Well, I'm glad to see the machine-gunners opened up on this idea the moment it tried to take the beach. I was afraid two years of political posts had drained y'all of the collective will to fight back against the smaller indignities.
posted by Mayor West at 1:46 PM on January 3 [31 favorites]


That's a door, right? You make it eye-bleachingly horrible so nobody looks at it and discovers the torture room you have hidden behind it YOU MONSTER
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:47 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: This is being quirky for the sake of being quirky, but it is slipping into bullshit territory.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:50 PM on January 3 [8 favorites]


A nice article about arranging bookshelves so they actually hold books, and not look like a jumbled mess. (My own shelves tend to "overstuffed jumbled mess" more than anything else.)

I despise the growing trend of treating books as decoration-blocks with no purpose other than to either blend into a color set, or (twitch) wrap them in matching-colored paper so they're a blank spacer with the mental tag "THIS IS A BOOK."

I suppose it's to be expected when over a quarter of Americans have not read a single book in the past year, and most people who do read, have read about four of them - but books remain a symbol of education and intelligence. So they have "bookshelves" and the put books-as-ornaments on them because they associate books-on-shelves with wealth and upper-class interests, even though they have zero interest in the actual purpose of books.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:52 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


robocop is bleeding: Actually the torture room is in plain sight; people don't notice it because all of their attention is locked on the fore-edge out bookshelf. I mean they notice eventually, but by then it's far too late for them.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:53 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]


Shelving your books spine in is like saying "I could care less" when what you mean is "I couldn't care less."
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:54 PM on January 3 [17 favorites]


I'm going to go out on a limb and pose that this "calming effect"/"gilded pages are stronger" aesthetic is just a sad bit of reverse-engineering from some real-world decorator seeing TV shows and movies doing this, and thinking, "Well, there must be a good reason they did that."

Do you know why TV shows and movies do this? Because Legal told them to. They didn't clear the book titles and everybody is hyper-paranoid about clearances these days. My boyfriend gets paid to (among other things) flip books backwards in bookshelves, and this is the reason.
posted by queensissy at 1:54 PM on January 3 [14 favorites]


clew, this is amazing, thank you. I have been feeling ridiculous for a whole month and suddenly feel totally fine about myself! If there was such a thing as Book Protective Services I would be phoning them now.
posted by perrouno at 1:56 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Lauren keeps the look neutral by stacking books back to front.

What makes a person turn neutral? Lust for beige? Comfort? Or were they just born with a heart full of neutrality?
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:57 PM on January 3 [23 favorites]


queensissy, El Escorial was not bowing to Legal. Plausible as an hypothesis of post-TV trends, though.
posted by clew at 1:58 PM on January 3


I remember being shocked at The Strand's selling books by the foot for interior decorators. This spine-in thing is just weird though....
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 2:04 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


time to take a Pirin tablet and get back to Nancy Drew and the Case of the Burning Candle
posted by griphus at 2:05 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Holy fuck if those spines-in shelves don't look like a mass of paperwork that you've been meaning to get to but you've been dreading it and now it's spilled over from your cramped study into your living space. Calming my ass.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:06 PM on January 3 [19 favorites]


I mean, shelve your books any way you like

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NOOOOOO

SHELVE THEM THE RIGHT WAY AND NOT LIKE A HITLER
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 2:14 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


El Escorial was not bowing to Legal.

It seems worth a mention for people who didn't follow the links, which make it plain, that they were putting the books on the shelf that way round so that the titles or other information with which the edge of their pages were gilded, a common practice pre-18th century, could be seen and read.
posted by sfenders at 2:17 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


AND NOT LIKE A HITLER

Welp, I guess that ends this thread....
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:18 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I tear the covers off of my books so that more will fit on each shelf. Am I in the right place?
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:19 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]


I can understand some people placing books in their home to impress visitors with their erudition and taste. And not ever reading them. But spine in? This only says "I'm an idiot."

I have 3500 spine out books and I don't care if you're impressed or not.
posted by njohnson23 at 2:21 PM on January 3


who the hell even ARE you people who don't read books a second time? i have read the entirety of the temeraire series and the aubrey-maturin series three times in the past year alone.

I was just thinking, "It's been awhile since I've read Aubrey-Maturin. I should re-read them." And then I was on Amazon and saw that I had bought the entire series for my kindle when I did my last re-read...seven months ago.

What I'm saying, poffin boffin, is Marry Me.
posted by Orlop at 2:27 PM on January 3 [10 favorites]


not even donald trump shelves his books like this - how else would he be able to read his name on them?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:29 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


One of the weirder culture shocks to get over while I was living in france was that I didn’t really know how to wander down library shelves anymore. With the title directions flipped I kept getting tripped up and trying to walk backwards with my head flopping off my head. American libraries and bookstores were a welcome relief when I returned to the US.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:30 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


We’ve all seen it: bookshelves filled with backwards books all in the name of calming down a room’s color scheme.

Have we all seen it? I haven't seen it. Or hadn't. Until this damned post. This is something only rich people would do.

If you don't want books, don't have books. I won't be your friend, but you won't care.

If you do want books but they offend your eye, try this: disguise the whole bookcase. Sliding doors. A groovy beaded curtain. Roll-down shades. Fancy stage curtains that open when you hang on a big gold cord.
posted by pracowity at 2:34 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


A nice article about arranging bookshelves so they actually hold books, and not look like a jumbled mess.

Hm. The steps all sounds reasonable enough (and kinda fun), but they left off step 0 from the after picture: paint the wood shelves white. I think that's what actually makes it look better.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 2:34 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I might do this with a bookshelf or two when certain family members come over. It's something you can pass off as a design choice when in fact you just don't want to have another screaming argument over religion/politics.

I got a religious DVD, book and workbook for Christmas along with the extraction of a promise to at least do "some of the assignments". No, they haven't watched the DVD or read the book, why do you ask?
posted by domo at 2:37 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


When I was a kid my dad had a friend who had the WHOLE CONTINUING RUN of yellow-spined DAW science fiction novels, in numbered order. Oh, I died of envy. This was, in hindsight, the last flower of a text culture, before SF&F got flooded by video, and it seemed fine to enthusiasts to have no visual variation in the book spines. The more serious a press was, the more sober its bindings, even; shelves on end of dark-blue dull cloth from Oxford (and, checking poetry and math and history shelves, also from Harper and Row and Everyman and Blaisdell and Macmillan etc.) Definitely people who read and reread all the time didn't need variation in the bindings.
posted by clew at 2:40 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


My sixteen-year-old, who is a deep thinker, recently did some re-arranging in his room and weeded a few grocery bags of books from his younger years. And then he wanted to talk to me about the nature and purpose of ownership, how he used to feel like he had to have everything in his room because his room represented who he was, but now he feels like he can let go of some things, but at the same time he's doing some thinking about his desire to acquire new things, trying to sort out what's reasonable for a person who has always had all his basic needs met and has no reason to expect that will change. Is it frivolous to want to upgrade his ancient and degrading monitor when he's aware of how many people lack ready access to computers and the internet? When he knows that, were he to just let his computer die eventually, he actually could adapt to life without it, that some things--like his writing--would get harder but would still be possible?

We talked about some of the different choices people we know have made about this kind of thing. For instance, I roomed in grad school with a guy who refused to own more than would fit in his hatchback in one load, plus his canoe strapped on top. He moved into our house with no furniture and slept on the floor in a bedroom, eventually scavenging a desk and chair to work at. When he moved, he prioritized, and left behind anything he couldn't fit in the car behind for others. My kid and I talked about whether it's possible to have too little stuff, to make your life and the lives of others too hard (like friends I've had in the past who refused to own a car for principled reasons, but then depended on friends to take them to doctor appointments and other things they couldn't get to on mass transit). And also whether it's possible to own too much.

When my partner and I first moved in together, we each had thousands of books. Eventually we lived in an enormous house with a living room wall that was something like 24 or 26 feet long, and the entire thing was floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. But then we decided to live in a much smaller house, and, having moved into the much smaller house, we kept deciding to have kids, and so there was this steady outflow of books we no longer had room for. I told my 16yo that of all the thousands of books I've gotten rid of, I've only regretted and re-bought a handful, and I've only gotten rid of one that was irreplaceable and that I wish I still had for sentimental reasons, which is the cheap mass market paperback edition of Leaves of Grass that was my first copy of Whitman when I was fourteen or so, and which was yellowed, brittle, rust-stained because I used paperclips to mark my favorite poems, and very very beat up.

At the same time, I do miss some of what having books around provides. I have a terrible memory for names, and this includes authors and titles. So when I want to try to remember a book I read, I am at a loss without bookshelves to browse and a physical memory of having shelves it in a certain place. For years, I kept track of all my reading via a script my partner wrote that downloaded the list of books I'd checked out from the library, but this was very little help since it was primarily a database of titles and authors.

I also miss the way books reflect your values and who you are. Who you've been and what you love. It is like a picture of you and I don't have that anymore. One of my friends says she feels like her bookshelves are like a journal, and it's true--the sight of a book can evoke the stage of your life when you read it, where you were, how you felt, much like a photograph or a journal entry can.

I also am not especially judgmental about all the unread books people have, which reflect interests and aspirations.

I do take Frowner's point about keeping hold of books that aren't replaceable. I occasionally regret all the lesbian books from the 80s and early 90s that I got rid of--and I had zillions of them. But it is not everyone's calling to be an archivist, and it certainly isn't mine. One of my ex-lovers and her partner deliberately kept their lesbian books for that purpose, and the Lesbian Herstory Archives exists for a reason. I am much more naturally a get-ridder-of than an acquirer and keeper, and don't feel compelled to counter that impulse when I know others are doing that work.

Still, having said all that about the value of having books around, I'm about to piggy-back on my kid's book cull by going through some of my books for donation. We always need more room than we have available in our little house.
posted by Orlop at 2:47 PM on January 3 [25 favorites]


> "Bookshelves for me are a kind memory palace. Obviously, the more you read the less you can afford time to re-read, but there's still referencing and thinking. It's a mnemotechnic."

This. I actually thought a lot about this quite recently, because I finally, for various reasons, got a kindle. I was quite resistant to the idea, and I still think it has cons as well as pros (although there are, certainly, pros or I wouldn't have done it.) But it got me thinking a lot about why I like having books around.

I do re-read sometimes, and keep some books around for that reason. But I actually don't reread all that much these days, because there are so many new-to-me books to revel in. So that wasn't really enough to justify all the bookshelves.

However, a more important reason I like to have books around is that they are my memories, externalized and categorized. I don't remember certain things very well that others seem to (events, food, my exact age), but a book -- looking at a book, I remember not just what it was about, but how I felt when I read it, what it made me think about, sometimes the point in my life when I was reading it. I think it's because they're important to me.

So shelving a book spine-in would be like erasing my memories. It would be like erasing my good memories, in fact, because I already don't keep around the books I didn't like.

Why would I want to do that?
posted by kyrademon at 3:01 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


I do not like touching books when they're in that orientation. The pages are all soft and grab at my fingers. ughhh. Gives me the willies.
posted by Stonkle at 3:10 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I think it’s fine to keep your books shelved spine-in, in fact, that’s how I shelve my books. Once you’ve cracked the code and made your way through the labyrinth, you should be exactly at the book you need.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:15 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I would like to imagine that a spines-hidden bookcase is hinged to swing outwards like a secret door, revealing a small library. You could pull the door shut after you enter and be entirely surrounded by floor to ceiling bookshelves, spines out.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:15 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


Ugh the Billy bookcases are the worst...get the HEMNES...real wood shelves.

I thought that until the anchor shelf in the middle of one of ours popped off its bolts and four shelves of books collapsed. The pegs of several shelves gouged out the holes in the risers in the process, and it’s now trash. I’m afraid our other HEMNES bookcases are going to suffer the same fate.
posted by fedward at 3:19 PM on January 3


Back when I was a school librarian, I got my students to stop jamming the books to the backs of the shelves (spines even with the shelf edge is the one true way) by calling their attention to the fact that the smaller students wouldn't be able to see what's on the higher shelves if they were shoved too far back.

In conclusion, won't someone please think of the children?
posted by asperity at 3:19 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


but then so much shelf is wasted! right now on my bookshelves, in front of the books i am trying not to read again this week, i have:

- a photo of me and my granddad when i was like 4
- 3 candles in tins being stored there, never lit there
- a hammer
- a level
- a box of nails
- MOAR BOOKS
- a portable little bluetooth speaker
- assorted holiday cards
- a 5,000 year old looted jordanian terracotta pot that may or may not have inadvertently funded ISIS
- assorted pencils
posted by poffin boffin at 3:49 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


*clicks on ernielundquist's link*

I...GAH...SAVAGES! VANDALS! OSTROGOTHS!


*smashes lamp*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:12 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


You make it eye-bleachingly horrible so nobody looks at it and discovers the torture room you have hidden behind it YOU MONSTER


No, that is the torture room.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:30 PM on January 3


How many times do you go back to anything that's not a reference?

Much more frequently than I do to my reference books, actually. Six of the books I read this year were rereads of books I own (and more were rereads of books I want to own but haven't bought yet). Not counting books I open again to reread short stories, or passages I loved. On the other hand, I also have a legitimately terrible memory. Usually when I reread a book I can't even remember the most prominent plot points (which makes for an enjoyable reread, but hard to recommend books a year or two after reading them...). I would imagine people with better memories don't feel the need to or don't enjoy rereading as much. But as someone who has trouble remembering the beginning of 2017, I do it a lot.

Oh, also, my partner has very similar tastes in books as me, but doesn't read quite as much as I do. So my bookshelves are basically an ever-growing to-read list for them, and if I want them to read anything, I sure as hell better not be hiding all the books spines in.
posted by brook horse at 4:34 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I constantly reread books. When I tell most people this, they look at me like I've admitted to collecting and sorting my house dust by grain size. Then I ask them how many times they have listened to their favorite song. hmph.

While downsizing from a 4 bedroom house to a live/work loft I culled my books from 2000+ down to (gulp) around 200. I've read them so many times I can almost recite them from memory. I could probably tell them apart by feel in the dark.

Turning them spine-in would feel like asking my friends to stand facing the wall while we hang out at my house.
posted by ananci at 4:51 PM on January 3 [15 favorites]


> A lovely haphazard system which was a friend of mine helping me unpack, who shelved books according to what she thought the subject was based on the title, assuming I'd go through and re-organize them when I finished unpacking. Which made for interesting juxtapositions, like a book on Egyptian mummies next to the psychology book The Mummy at the Dining Room Table.

I, on the other hand, very intentionally shelved Lorrie Moore's Birds of America in with the bird guides. Just because.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:52 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


this is the most sacrilegious thing I have ever witnessed with my own two eyes
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:53 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I peel the labels off all canned goods to give my pantry shelves a neat, uniform look.
posted by klarck at 5:00 PM on January 3 [38 favorites]


Some fore-edges are very worthwhile. But I don't know if it's good to have them on display all the time.

Shelve 'em how you want 'em. For me, it's spines out, modified Dewey, with folios and miniatures shelved in their respective size groupings because ultimately they sits how they fits.
posted by datawrangler at 5:16 PM on January 3


And it's not like I can get through an O'Brien naval novel without having to enjoy something in The Astley Book of Knots, or check a recipe in Beeton's.

That almost sounds like...a complaint?
posted by datawrangler at 5:19 PM on January 3


What makes a person turn neutral? Lust for beige? Comfort? Or were they just born with a heart full of neutrality?

i'm pretty sure they're from the Neutral planet
posted by numaner at 5:33 PM on January 3


Whichever side you put the title on, which way do you orient it?

This is a question that has intrigued me since I first noticed “backwards” books as a kid. To me (and, thankfully, nearly all English-language publishers), any book (or other such object, e.g. CD, DVD, etc.), if its spine text must be sideways, should, when lain flat with the front cover up, have the spine text the right way up. This is a simple, logical, practical rule. France remains unconvinced.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:43 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


My design inspiration is the writer Molly Young, who frequently posts the most delightful photos of her book storage. Color-coded, stacked, with an interesting object or two on top, surrounded by greenery and a lovely cat - that's the way to do it.
posted by acidic at 5:52 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Nice work on that post title.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:55 PM on January 3


I have a terrible memory for names, and this includes authors and titles. So when I want to try to remember a book I read, I am at a loss without bookshelves to browse and a physical memory of having shelves it in a certain place.

I found, in my brief “let’s arrange them by colour” phase — which, yes, makes the books look nice and neat, but also makes their owner look superficial and illiterate — that that system was actually pretty great for finding stuff without having to remember what it was called or who it was by. Mileage may vary for the less visually-oriented.

(I have since entered my “let’s not ever bother unpacking them, but keep lugging those boxes around anyway because reasons” phase.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:03 PM on January 3


Billy? Hemnes? Bah.

You want Kallax, son of Expedit, bolted to the wall for extra protection, for if the books were to escape...well, then.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:47 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Expedit is sorely missed. Kallax... suffices.
posted by Artw at 7:07 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


If you don't like the look of your books maybe don't buy them.
posted by mantecol at 7:13 PM on January 3


Color-coded, stacked, with an interesting object or two on top, surrounded by greenery and a lovely cat - that's the way to do it.

You can make any shelving method, no matter how silly, look appealing if you put a cat on it. A cat is the equivalent of a bowl of fruit for books.
posted by asperity at 7:23 PM on January 3 [9 favorites]


> Is it reprehensible to shelve your books fore-edges out?

You tell me.


If it helps, Fizz, we're not judging you about the stray books that are spine in.

But the conspicuous absence of a third full-height bookcase - right there in the middle between the other two? That's a bit reprehensible.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:58 PM on January 3


Then I ask them how many times they have listened to their favorite song. hmph.

I made a friend a couple of years ago who describes herself as an "extreme novelty-seeker." It would never occur to her to re-read a book, and when I posted something on Facebook about a new album I was listening to that had such a great song two or three songs in that I just kept listening to that one song over and over for something like an hour before I could move on, several of my friends described songs they'd also had that experience with, and this particular friend was pretty well mystified--to her, a new song will always be more interesting than one she's already heard. I find her fascinating.
posted by Orlop at 8:50 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I shelve potentially-embarassing books fore-edge out.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:57 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Sure, because that certainly won't stand out and make people even more curious about it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:04 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


The Card Cheat: "The one with the books in the fireplace is a bit on the nose."

I actually do keep books in a (disused) fireplace.

Spine out, of course.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:11 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Orlop, like your friend I almost never rewatch movies or reread books, and prefer new music to old favorites. I'm always looking for something new. I do make the occasional exception, and the Aubrey-Maturin series is one of the only things I've enjoyed rereading.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:23 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I always park my car diagonally whenever I can find two adjacent spaces, it's part of my aesthetic

Batmanuel?
posted by Sequence at 9:42 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


My husband builds bookshelves. Heavy, wooden, almost-ceiling-height bookshelves, because he loves me and my mad "must have a library card in any city where we have stayed more than a week" ways. Lots of books (and assorted bric a brac and photos) are housed in all the rooms except the bathrooms and kitchen.

When I read the Sue Grafton post, I immediately went into the bedroom and found her paperbacks, stacked in a couple of piles and ending with "T Is for Trespass."
I've culled many books at libraries, both professionally and as a volunteer. I know some are never going to be replaced. I know some are irreplaceable, or at least hard to recover without some effort and expense.
Finding my own copies means that I can enjoy Grafton's novels at my own pace again.

I often display paperbacks in the shelves two-deep, with the Terry Pratchetts and Phillipa Gregorys in their own corners. But I can get my hands on anything that I want in a few minutes. And I donate to the library book sale periodically. But I still have my own collection of much-loved favorites.
The only books that are not placed spine-out are odd-sized, and even then I prefer to find a location where they can be displayed on their sides (the top of the shelves or stacked onto the tops of other books).

This whole "books as art objects" thing is an old decorator's trick, but it still bothers me. A home with no visible books or magazines bothers me more, but that's usually because I am looking for something to read.
posted by TrishaU at 9:46 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


And to show my rebellious spirit, I like to put the tires on backwards as well, directional treads pointing the wrong way.

#stancenation got your back bro
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:48 PM on January 3


> oulipian:
"An episode of Black Mirror that’s just this. No plot, no drama, it just follows one person as they visit a few friends and all their bookshelves are like this. And then they go to the library and guess what"

But, it turns out all the book covers are dust jackets for crystal archives holding the stored intelligences of all their enemies and the spines are the main sensory input for said intelligences, but being stored spine in keeps them in a never ending horror of sensory deprivation?
posted by Samizdata at 12:57 AM on January 4


I shelve potentially embarrassing books fore-edge out.

Our shelves are packed two books deep. The embarrassing ones go in the back.
posted by pracowity at 1:35 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Ever wonder what was the best use of that copy of 'Excel 97 for Dummies' you've been hanging onto is?

I’ve been meaning to hollow out a secret compartment in some deeply obsolete tech book like that, store a flask in it, and then display it prominently. That way if anyone asks me about it, I can tell them “I think you’ll find the contents are as relevant today as ever. Perhaps moreso!”
posted by aubilenon at 1:56 AM on January 4 [13 favorites]


(Has to be spine-out for that to work, obvs.)
posted by aubilenon at 2:32 AM on January 4


Arrrgh. Interstellar!
posted by chavenet at 3:50 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Okay guys check my insta page because I totally am onboard with Spines-in...particularly, male-identified spines. I turned all my male and male-identified authors spine in and organized the remaining woman-identified authors by color. I LOVE IT.

It's going to make reading only woman-identified-authors for 2018 a breeze.

So you can turn JUST SOME in and keep JUST SOME OUT and make a statement!! <3
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:38 AM on January 4 [8 favorites]


I'm with bz here. It's a sign that the books are never read.

Patently not true. I read MOST of those male authors I turned spine-inwards. And I wasn't ready to get rid of them completely... so this is a nice... break from having to look at big fat Norman Mailer-spine and angry Henry Miller-spine and hulking David Foster Wallace spine and million-dog-earred Thomas Pynchon spine.

Now I enjoy looking at Atwood spine and Laurence Spine and O'Connor and McCullers and Gay and Wolf and Klein and all the ladies in the house.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:41 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Okay guys check my insta page because I totally am onboard with Spines-in...particularly, male-identified spines. I turned all my male and male-identified authors spine in and organized the remaining woman-identified authors by color. I LOVE IT.

Spines-in as an organizing technique is brilliant! Want a visual of how many books by [writers of color, or women writers, or queer writers, or women writers of color, etc] you have? Turn everything else spine-in! Want to keep track of how many books you've read in a year? Turn them spine-in when done, or set up the books you'd like to read spine-in and turn them spine-out when finished. I might try this as a motivating technique - I have a huge stack of Important Novels from last year that I've been putting off reading because I've been stressed and more engaged with re-reads, but having a visual prompt seems like it would help.

I mean, I'm just visualizing if I turned the spines in on all my books by white writers, most of the spines would be turned in. And while there are some areas of interest where white writers will probably generally be the majority just because they are collections of books written in an unequal past (19th century UK novelists, early GLBTQ anglophone scholarship) it really does highlight a thing.
posted by Frowner at 6:03 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]


If you really loved your books on your bookshelves, you would know where they no matter which way they faced. :)
Shelving books face in seems odd, but I love the rebellion against the materialism of books. My books are important to me. Reading books is important to me. Which books I actually own doesn't define me.

If this is reprehensible then the whole ombré bookshelf trend was clownish and demeaning to books.
posted by mumblelard at 6:07 AM on January 4


Alright, Metafilter, this is where I have to confess that I have a room full of books shelved like this.

(Only because the shelves pass through to the adjacent room though.)
posted by joeyh at 6:15 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]


While I, like any sane person, store my books spine-out on shelves (well, except for those in my bed-side heap), my wife stores most of her books and a lot of the kids' books in many baskets randomly placed on the floor around the house.

I would prefer spine-in on a shelf to the basket method any day.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:13 AM on January 4


Sure, if you never read your books.

Although our fiction is shelved alphabetically by author, so maybe I'd have a fighting chance of finding fiction even spine-in.

But our non-fiction is shelved according to subject. Some of the subjects I don't understand (because they're mostly comprised of my partner's books) and some of the subjects I understand (because they're mostly comprised of my books) but can't explain. So if our non-fiction were shelved spine-in I'd never find anything ever.

(And yes, I have seriously considered just bowing to the Library of Congress on nonfiction shelving.)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:22 AM on January 4


I'll just leave this link here

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/chained-libraries-of-the-world

I actually used to teach publishing history and fore-edges out was, for quite a long time, the right way to store books, so much so that that part of books is called the face in many languages derived from latin, because that's the way they used to face. Not that I store them that way now, just fun to know.
posted by omegar at 7:49 AM on January 4 [6 favorites]


Scrolling through all this outrage, I'm finding all the book passion really sweet.

I am definitely a book-out gal, but can appreciate that someone would (a) know their books well enough to recognize them - or appreciate random selection and/or (b) DOES actually like the calming effect of the lighter tones of spine-in pages on their shelves.

For years, I enjoyed the riot of colour from having my DVDs out on shelves, but when I put the disks in space-saving binders I was astonished at how much more I enjoyed having the visual calm of the wall. Of course you can't do the same for books (unless one wants to get them all digitally), but for people who want access to their well-loved library but aren't a huge fan of a lot of visual stimulation, this strikes me as a possible compromise. (Or, as I've occasionally done, a curtain in front of a spine-out bookshelf.)
posted by dendritejungle at 8:14 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Purrsephone, who shelves herself regularly in the theosophy section, would like to point out that it is much harder for a cat to remove books from the shelf if they can't hook on to the spine to pull the book to the floor. Ergo, anyone who shelves books such that cats cannot scatter them at whim is doing bad things and should stop.

I too have thousands of books. I generally arrange by genre, then group authors, but not necessarily alphabetically, usually by book size, or collection size, because I hate having one author "breaking" on to a second shelf. After the storm, I donated a 20' x12' trailer filled with books to the library that took a direct hit, which considerably shrunk my collection, but also allowed me to pare it down to a collection I could afford to store until it was no longer raining inside the house.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:46 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]


books on a bookshelf are never read. How many times do you go back to anything that's not a reference?

Does no one else have bookshelves with a significant representation of books you haven't read yet but are totally going to get to any day now? If I've read something and know I'm not going to go back to ever, it gets culled. Shelves are for a combination of favorites and aspirations.
posted by naoko at 9:36 AM on January 4 [5 favorites]


My dream is to have enough space to shelve my books cover out, like they are in the "staff recommends" sections of your favorite bookstore.

Currently mine are spine out, by color, but that's getting old. Spine in, however, is not an aesthetic i'd endorse.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:22 AM on January 4


Does no one else have bookshelves with a significant representation of books you haven't read yet but are totally going to get to any day now?

I have 1.5 small Billy shelves of nonfiction that I am still working through but other than that I have read and enjoyed all my books and will continue doing so and no one can stop me
posted by poffin boffin at 10:40 AM on January 4


I've got lots of books I haven't read - I saw them at a good price, or I saw them and knew they were hard to find, or I saw them and knew that they related to my long-term interests and that I would want to read or consult them later. This is particularly true about used books - I have a variety of obscure memoirs and social histories that are basically never going to be reprinted but have not been superseded because they're memoir, interview, reproductions of archival material, etc, and I have a bunch of small press and small print run science fiction/fantasy novels by women. Maybe I'll never read some of them! But I don't know which ones, that's the key.

Books open up possibilities - when I've been running book groups, it's been enormously helpful to have small press and obscure books available, for instance. There's all kinds of vital context that is lost when all you read is the books that remain in print - those books existed against the background of all the others. And you do miss some rare gems - I found the majority of the Women's Press science fiction to be kind of a yawn, but I also read Lisa Tuttle's A Spaceship Made of Stone and Jane Candas Dorsey's Machine Sex and Other Stories, which are great. Much of Dispatches From The Frontiers of The Female Mind hasn't stayed with me, but the pervasiveness of 80's women's activism (especially Grenham Common) in the stories was fascinating.

I mean, it depends on what you want books for. Most of my disposable reading is internet reading, not books - the stuff that you read because it's interesting and distracting, but not especially world-altering or memorable. When I actually read a paper book, it's more than just a way of passing an hour or so; it's something from which I expect to gain some kind of knowledge, even if it's just "so these are the typical themes in British women's SF in 1985".
posted by Frowner at 10:54 AM on January 4 [4 favorites]


This is a good reason to shelve books spine-in. Otherwise... no.

I'm not a big re-reader myself, for time reasons more than anything else. So many good books that I haven't read, and so little time to read. Goodreads tells me that, of the 800 or so books I've read since 1999, I've re-read 25 of them.

That said, owning and displaying books is important to me because many of my friendships tend to revolve around the following types of phrases:
-- "Have you read this one?"
-- "If you enjoyed that, you'd enjoy this."
-- "Here, borrow this one."
-- "Hey, did I lend you my copy of ___?"

I love going to other people's houses and having discussions about the books on their shelves, and I love for other people to come to my house and start similar discussions. You never know when you may bond with someone over an obscure book.

So if I went into someone's house and they had a bookshelf of books shelved spine-in (for design reasons, rather than the "how many women authors do I have" reasoning some suggested above), I would get the heebie jeebies.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:08 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


amended John Waters advice: “If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books with the spines facing out, don't fuck 'em!”"
posted by thelonius at 11:21 AM on January 4


amended John Waters advice: “If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books with the spines facing out, don't fuck 'em!”"

Here's my version: "If you go home with someone, and you can't read the names of their books, it will be much harder for you to know which ones to ask to borrow and what kind of friendship is that?"
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:25 AM on January 4 [7 favorites]


When I went RVing and culled my books by about 80% down to 200, paperbacks only, I was aghast at myself. But I've been off the road for a few years now and still have no more than 300 pbs, all of which I re-read often and nearly all of which are not available digitally (which I don't want to do anyhow). Nearly all are stacked three-deep and in horizontal stacks, either sideways or end-on, with maybe one or two upright so I can see where a series is. I'm firmly in the spine-out cohort, and think throwing away dust-jackets is a sin. It used to be common to do so but now that makes books w/djs more valuable. I remember buying a bunch of early occult books (early 1900s) that had brown paper djs with oval cutouts on the spine for a small title to show—those were meant to discard once purchased and put in a bookcase. Of course, it makes no difference in the best-seller category as they print those in huge quantities and no used bookstore wants to buy them anyway.

TL:DNR Spines out. Keep dj unless...
posted by MovableBookLady at 1:27 PM on January 4


the photo of the backwards bookshelf gives me such an intense meret oppenheim feel in my stomach, I think I must really like it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:36 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


It's a triumph of style, in the worst sense of the word, over substance. I like books as containers of knowledge, stories, words, as memory joggers, as friends. Alpha by author in fiction, by subject in non-fiction.

I have a son who, though he was read to before he was born, doesn't read much for pleasure. But when I lost 1/3 of my books to a flood, after culling before I moved, he gave me books for Christmas, because he knew how much I missed them.
posted by theora55 at 4:39 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Want to keep track of how many books you've read in a year? Turn them spine-in when done

Gotta admit I like the idea of a library that doesn't show off the books I've read, but only the books I admit I haven't read yet.
posted by straight at 11:34 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


Spine-out is a new trend itself, relative to the birth of the codex. Petroski in The Book on the Bookshelf mentioned that pictures of old libraries showed the books shelved standing fore-edge out, shelved in piles, every way but standing spine-out.

Hey, shelving fore-edge-out lets you see which books have had their pages cut and which ones haven't.
posted by away for regrooving at 12:51 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Sitting with a wall of books behind me (spine out) still the issue is moot, just do a search on the kindle. (damn I wish there was an affordable public scanning system for the obscure books that I can't find online)
posted by sammyo at 6:51 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


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