Famous People’s Bookshelves
April 30, 2020 8:30 PM   Subscribe

In quarantine, people are inadvertently exposing their reading habits A highbrow listicle for the NY Times set. I found this enjoyable. YMMV.
posted by latkes (69 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Haha, I have everyone fooled! I haven't read any of the books on my bookshelves.
posted by jb at 8:47 PM on April 30, 2020 [21 favorites]

Varying levels of inadvertent there.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:48 PM on April 30, 2020 [21 favorites]

Seth Meyers had Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi behind him the other day and I was delighted, even if it was placed there purposefully.
posted by thebots at 9:06 PM on April 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

They had to put something there because the Thornbirds had all flown off.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:20 PM on April 30, 2020 [13 favorites]

Varying levels of inadvertent there.

Yeah, surely people are prepping for their interviews by clearing all the That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime volumes and trashy historical romance novels off their shelves and replacing them with, like, Baudrillard tomes.
posted by star gentle uterus at 9:35 PM on April 30, 2020 [15 favorites]

Author Patrick Rothfuss has started to do chat streams on Twitch, and right behind him are two bookcases filled with, not books, but cereal boxes, mostly Cheerios.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:43 PM on April 30, 2020 [41 favorites]

The main shelf behind me when I'm on webcam is all D&D books; mostly 5e, but some 1st (AD&D), plus the Order of the Stick comic collections. It wasn't an intentional placement, the books were there before I bought my webcam, but I am ok with it.
posted by fings at 9:45 PM on April 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Just wanted to mention John Waters.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 11:20 PM on April 30, 2020 [8 favorites]

Well, today I hastily moved a Lego-built Obi-wan Kenobi action figure out of the frame before I video-met with my boss so I guess what I'm saying is, uh,
posted by potrzebie at 11:45 PM on April 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

The bookshelves visible on my webcam don’t contain books; the most visible item is instead a set of Lord of the Rings PEZ dispensers.

I did consequently have to try to explain what a PEZ is to one colleague not from the US, without actually taking a PEZ out— the rule in our house is that you have to eat the PEZ if you take it out of the dispenser. And that candy is terrible.

(Books I am currently reading are by happenstance on the shelf behind the webcam, so they are hidden. )

I do wonder which bookshelves have been staged intentionally.
posted by nat at 12:28 AM on May 1, 2020

Advertent is an underused word.
posted by fairmettle at 1:03 AM on May 1, 2020 [8 favorites]

The shelves behind me when I'm on camera hold my husband's war gaming miniatures.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:31 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

*moves Donatello Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurine closer into frame*
posted by Fizz at 3:13 AM on May 1, 2020 [9 favorites]

I do wonder which bookshelves have been staged intentionally.

Here's some.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:24 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I never thought I'd envy Cate Blanchett, but **DAMN** do I want a copy of the OED.
posted by sotonohito at 3:59 AM on May 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'm less interested in the specific books than how they're filed/piled. Title, topic, author, artist, size, color, or?
posted by mattamatic at 4:07 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I like Lisa Nandy's one visible book: https://twitter.com/hannahrosewoods/status/1249272019918753793
posted by vincebowdren at 4:10 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been working with remote/distributed tech teams since 2013, so the Bookshelf as Background is A Very Well Trodden part of my professional life. A few stories:

2014 - I was working for a web dev agency that specialized in working with academic libraries to get their collections online. I had also just gotten into a long distance relationship with an English professor in Philly and was taking the train down there on Thursday nights so I could work from her place on Friday then spend the weekend there before going back to Boston on Monday. The first video meeting I go into on Friday, my colleagues immediately lock onto my girlfriend's bookshelves behind me and say, "ah, we see she's a loyal Oxford Press reader" from all of the book bindings forming a uniform wall of Oxford Beige. Man, only you lovely nerds would make that a thing.

2015 - in an apartment with no dedicated office, I am on a call with a vendor, sitting at our dining table with a bookcase of D&D 3.5 books behind me. Vendor just had an outage and I am doing a mini retro/root cause analysis interview with them, and it's fine. They own up to their fuckup. We come up with plans to do better monitoring and in the end, my account rep says, "since we have a little bit of time left, I have to ask ... I've got this eight year old who is into fantasy stuff. If I were to get them started in D&D what would you recommend?"

"Have you ... have you been spending half of this call waiting to ask that question? Because it feels like you have been waiting to ask this question."

Current job - my boss has a full screen bookshelf background. It's the kind of thing that looks like it's a custom built in thing for A Very Serious Office. I go to visit family in the Bay Area and he's in Berkeley so I figure, hey, let me drop by and it'd be fun to co work together, and he's all cool, here's my address. I am really curious to see his office and find it's essentially the equivalent of a garden shed that also hosts his music gear and workout weights and there's also a very tidy and very familiar bookshelf surrounded by all of this dude clutter.

Not that he was intentionally staging that bookshelf but I do find it interesting how Zoom/Hangouts motivates us to keep our bookcases tidy while the rest of our home office can descend into utter squalor.. I know that I am pretty guilty about this myself. Currently work in political tech and during the Iowa -> Super Tuesday crunch my office was a sea of dirty laundry and takeout containers surrounding a very tidy bookshelf and desk.
posted by bl1nk at 4:27 AM on May 1, 2020 [11 favorites]

There's a Portuguese Instagram account, estantesdocovid19 that collects talking heads on TV and elsewhere with their books behind them. ("estantes" is the Portuguese word for "shelves").
posted by chavenet at 4:54 AM on May 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

I moved the My Little Pony "Rarity the Unicorn" plushie (plushy?) off camera for my Zoom class meetings because some of my students don't deserve to know just how Quirky(TM) I am.
posted by allthinky at 5:43 AM on May 1, 2020 [8 favorites]

Taking a quick look at my bookshelf makes me think maybe it says a little too much about me.

My monthly support group has transitioned to a weekly Zoom meetup, and I've had to do something about the background in my office/studio. Last week I propped one of my paintings up as a background. The week before were my big Buzz Lightyear and Black Knight (from MP and the Holy Grail) toys. Sadly, no one recognized the Black Knight.

My biggest issue is that the iMac's cam is stupidly-wide widescreen, so there's an enormous amount of real estate around me to fill. I'd love to use some of my photos or digital art, but Zoom won't let me use its digital background feature because my iMac is too old.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:46 AM on May 1, 2020

You would be amazed (or not) how many meetings I’ve had in the last few weeks where someone has interrupted a Very Serious Discussion to ask “is that a kitty?”
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:08 AM on May 1, 2020 [13 favorites]

I just realized that I've never met *anyone* with an actual full size OED on their bookshelf. The compact edition in two volumes with a little drawer in the slipcase for a magnifying glass, yes, but the full shebang? It's got to be a signifier for something. Maybe "I can afford movers"?
posted by phooky at 6:14 AM on May 1, 2020 [8 favorites]

My partner belongs to a lowbrow book club. I don't mean that they focus on lowbrow lit, but that they don't necessarily read or talk about books. She says that some of her club-mates have their books arranged by color. Are we judging? Well, who doesn't?
posted by kozad at 6:19 AM on May 1, 2020

I have had colleagues and students falsely believe that I’m calling from my (blocked) university office as it is every bit as filled with My Little Pony artwork as my bedroom is.
posted by bouvin at 6:53 AM on May 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

I do wonder which bookshelves have been staged intentionally.

Some of the shelves surpass “staged,” and move clear into “curated.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:58 AM on May 1, 2020 [8 favorites]

I thought I was the winner when I got the proper office at home and my SO got the dining room table but our dining room actually looks really nice and airy when viewed from the webcam (yes, we've done online meetings together (apart)) and all our publicly facing books are there. Meanwhile, the bookshelves behind me are covered in her Dan Brown novels. I think there might even be Louise Bagshawe novels in there. You can damn straight bet that there would be a slow and ponderous rethink of the shelving if there was any chance of me being on telly.

Some unfortunate might even have spotted a pair of pants hanging to dry on the back of the door in an early Lockdown Teams call.
posted by biffa at 7:14 AM on May 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

She says that some of her club-mates have their books arranged by color.

This became a fad a few years ago, but it's one I'm deeply suspicious of. Without alphabetisation, how are you supposed to find a particular book when you need it? Going the shelve-by-colour route amounts to telling the world you don't think of books as something to read at all, but merely a subset of home decor.
posted by Paul Slade at 7:23 AM on May 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

What I want to know is who's created a mock-up of a hardcover Chuck Tingle novel and placed it strategically in the background
posted by Zonker at 7:24 AM on May 1, 2020 [14 favorites]

I don't know if I am concerned so much with the content of the shelves as I am with how the contents of the shelves are organised. I guess it says something about me that I'm getting kind of itchy looking at some of these disorganised shelves...
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:28 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Without alphabetisation, how are you supposed to find a particular book when you need it?

People who primarily read fiction for pleasure don't often need a particular book. Arranging by colour increases serendipity in finding something to read.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:06 AM on May 1, 2020 [8 favorites]

I would be curious if, 6 months from now, we see a palpable increase in font size on the spines of new books.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:07 AM on May 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

That article pleased me because Paul Rudd’s list reminded me of the existence of Rob Thomas’s books, which I was obsessed with in high school and then promptly forgot all about, especially Rats Saw God. I had not realized until that he’s Veronica Mars Rob Thomas.
posted by skycrashesdown at 8:10 AM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don't know if I am concerned so much with the content of the shelves as I am with how the contents of the shelves are organised.
posted by xedrik at 8:13 AM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I used to have my books alphabetical, before it was all the rage but after this bookstore. Great conversations starter with guests. Surprisingly, I could almost always find the book I was looking for. Turned out I know what the spines of my books look like.
posted by latkes at 8:31 AM on May 1, 2020

Books arranged alphabetically? By colour? I think I might have to sit down... Dewey decimal or you're wasting everybody's time.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:39 AM on May 1, 2020

You people don't arrange your books with tallest on the ends of the shelves and shortest books mid-shelf? Weirdos.
posted by haileris23 at 8:47 AM on May 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

Is anyone seeing examples of this awful shelving habit, or this one?
posted by doctornemo at 8:55 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have 13 Ikea bookcases (RIP, lost two to a leak in the basement.) The Upstairs Living Room ones have my soothingly bland books - my inherited 50-volume green Harvard Classics and red volumes of Journeys through Bookland, my English Lit Major Riverside Editions, my first edition of Little Women, my Penguin Classics comprising Austen, Bronte, Elliot, Hardy, etc., my pretentious hard bound E.M. Forster works and of course, Norton Anthologies. Way down towards the bottom is a shelf of mostly hardcover books that have won Bookers or whatever - example is Room.

Downstairs I have shelves loosely grouped by genre or whimsy. Two shelves of self-help and gnostic stuff, a bookcase of Canadian books including plays, American Lit with a healthy dose of Vonnegut etc., these are mostly arranged alphabetically by author but within their little groupings. Then there's some shelves of mutually owned martial shares - Umberto Eco, John Ralston Saul, Salinger is in there for esoterica marriage reasons. A couple shelves of books on writing, drawing, and creativity. Art books. A history section. Fantasy and SF, except the truly terrible ones I have hidden from my kids but can't quite throw out. Biographies that are disturbing or explicit are high up but my eldest son is over my height now so that's pointless.

I guess what I'm saying here is that my public books are nothing like my private books. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 9:05 AM on May 1, 2020

Tallest to shortest along each shelf to maximize the wedge space above it for sliding in just a few more.
posted by clew at 9:06 AM on May 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

This became a fad a few years ago, but it's one I'm deeply suspicious of. Without alphabetisation, how are you supposed to find a particular book when you need it? Going the shelve-by-colour route amounts to telling the world you don't think of books as something to read at all, but merely a subset of home decor.

I'm a librarian who's shelved by color at home before. I doubt you'd call me someone who doesn't think of books as something to read. I've never understood the vicarious horror and judgement on the way other people shelve their books.

Why did it work for me?

(a) I have a strong visual memory and often remember the cover of a book more than its title so if I was looking for a specific book, it never took me long to find it.
(b) Publishers quite often color-code their books, so they tend to clump in certain colors. I found many of my books on art over in white, and much of my hardback fiction over in black. (I didn't bother to color-shelve the paperbacks).
(c) As a librarian, I love serendipitous browsing and this allowed me to rediscover books I hadn't read in a while.

You'd probably also be horrified by the previous shelving arrangement I had, which was that a friend who helped me move unpacked the books while I was doing other things and arranged them by what she guess was the subject from their titles. Which meant that the psychology book The Mummy at the Dining Room Table was next to Bob Brier's Egyptology book Egyptian Mummies: Unraveling the Secrets of an Ancient Art. Now that was a setup devoted to serendipitous browsing. I loved it, and left it for years.

Now they're arranged by Dewey Decimal (nonfiction) and author surname (fiction) because I got married and my husband said he didn't care what I did as long as it wasn't by color and he could find books quickly. He's a very categorical person, his visual memory isn't as good as mine, and most books have the Dewey classification in the front matter, so I didn't have to catalog them. Although I did recatalog some of them on the fly when I found I disagreed with the Dewey classification.
posted by telophase at 9:09 AM on May 1, 2020 [19 favorites]

We’ve already argued about fore edge-out shelving but hey, if El Escorial isn’t a library to you, we could do it again.
posted by clew at 9:12 AM on May 1, 2020

One of Metafilters Own has an enormous house seemingly composed entirely of bookcases and banisters, and I very much want a short lecture on long novels that starts in front of one of the more staid bookcases and then just keeps going. With bonus cats.
posted by clew at 9:14 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I used to have my books alphabetical,

Oops, I meant by color
posted by latkes at 9:35 AM on May 1, 2020

My most Extreme Book Friend (works in publishing, has an MFA in fiction writing, reads like 100 books a year) shelves her books by color! She lives in a tiny apartment and her giant color-coded bookshelf is kind of the visual centerpiece of the living room. It looks great, and I'm quite sure she could pull a specific book from it in about half a second. Anyway, why can't our private book collections be things we read AND part of our home decor? I love looking at my own books! (Or I did, until we adopted a new dog who decided the bookshelves smelled pretty suspicious and needed to be peed on. Like, a lot.)

Also, I can't stop laughing about the fact that Prince Charles owns a biography of an 18th century painter/horse enthusiast named Stubbs.
posted by catoclock at 10:54 AM on May 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

This article was a great service. I remember that when I worked at a bookstore, there were regular roundups that went around saying "here are books that were mentioned today on public radio/in late night talk shows/etc." so that you could help out the customers who called or came in saying that they had heard about a book about [thing] but couldn't remember the title or author. I figure this article may similarly help booksellers and librarians when customers and patrons ask for a book they glimpsed in someone's background but get the title/author a bit wrong.
posted by brainwane at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have nine bookcases of various sizes in my home. I shelve by theme.
*Kitchen has cookbooks and books about food, plus a couple of cozy mystery series that focus on cooks, catering, etc.
*Living room/ dining area has a total of four cases. General fiction, books about books, classics, African American history, true crime, presidential bios, general American history, poli sci, animals, plus a couple of shelves devoted to specific authors.
*Bedroom bookcase has books on education, plus a bunch of “best essays” and “best magazine writing” collections.
*Hallway bookcase has some special American history books.
*Loft has a smaller “to be read” bookcase, plus a wall-sized bookcase that holds sports, social history, journalism, non-political bios, more general fiction, essay collections, humor, and a few more author specific shelves.

I usually know exactly where any particular book is. I love my books—and I ADORE looking at other people’s bookshelves!
posted by bookmammal at 11:36 AM on May 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think Stubbs was in my high school history textbook in the three pages covering tile drains, scientific animal breeding, seed drills, and population rise. Painting of a pretty horse facing an engraving of a goofily blocky massive cow.
posted by clew at 12:07 PM on May 1, 2020

I am generally fascinated by what people choose as their backgrounds for meetings, public or otherwise. The best place to be able to see well, taken notes on a second screen or whatever is at my desk. So behind me are all my reference books, including some I wouldn't necessarily want someone to judge me on, but there's no way in hell I'm changing my set up. My organization is best summarized as generally topical but mostly serendipitous. And we have so many bookshelves that are shared by family that I wouldn't think of organizing my whole house. Also, people who store things with the pages out can go to the devil, because being able to browse the titles is what people do when they're waiting for you when you're in the bathroom. Taking that away from me is a horrible thing to do.

Books are placed in places for convenience, and the only time I change that is when my little nieces come over and I don't want them looking at my collection of erotica.
posted by RedEmma at 1:21 PM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

"Random" sampling of my shelves:
NPR Guide to Classical Music (not really that good - just a discog of available music, not really for beginners).
Work as a Spiritual Practice (Look I really tried to appreciate work, really!)
Writing in Flow (Also - I really *tried* to write)
Foucalt Power Knowledge
The Dreaming Universe (I had a dumb new age hippie woo phase, too)
Some Partridge Family book from the 70s
I Ching
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy - ah good ol Palast
DaVinci Code (yes, the pacing worked and I read it all; stopped judging me)
A New Kind of Science by Wolfram (Also, Stop Judging Me!)
Hip Hop Family Tree Book 1

I am fat, I contain complexity or something.
posted by symbioid at 1:37 PM on May 1, 2020

She says that some of her club-mates have their books arranged by color.

Here's the 1961 Faber paperback edition of the Alexandria Quartet.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 1:57 PM on May 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

A New Kind of Science by Wolfram (Also, Stop Judging Me!)

I know lots of people with that book on their desks. As a monitor stand...
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:14 PM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

*Loft has a smaller “to be read” bookcase

Oooo, I need to do this
posted by latkes at 2:53 PM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Cardinal Fang, I just love how, on each cover, Durrell is lauded as the author of the other three books in the tetralogy. It is so pure.
posted by phooky at 6:16 PM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I wrote a blog post many years ago on finally finding Balthazar from the quartet in the edition that I’d first read them.
posted by dhruva at 6:28 PM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Without alphabetisation, how are you supposed to find a particular book when you need it?"

Mine are shelved in loose groups by what they make me THINK OF. Sometimes this is by topic (the 17 Bibles all reside together, with the commentaries and ancient-language dictionaries right nearby), but other times it's by loose intellectual associations or autobiographically by when I read them. Chernow's Washington doesn't properly go by Picketty's Capital in the 21st Century, I know, but I read them the same year and when I think of one I often think of the other, so on my shelves, they're buddies. I have a political science section based on what I read when I was a poli sci major in college, and then a political science section based on what I read as an awakening activist in my late 20s/early 30s. They can't be merged into one section because IT'S NOT THE SAME SET OF THOUGHTS, so they don't go together! I was much more accepting of a capitalist status quo in college! Sometimes I reread one, though, and it migrates to the adult poli sci section, because I have NEW thoughts, and it now fits with the more progressive activist books. Fiction can be a bit of a mess, I admit it; A Little Princess and The Secret Garden are shelved near Little House with "beloved childhood books I read 47 million times that turned out to be alarmingly colonialist" whereas Little Lord Fauntleroy is over with the "just deadass creepy" children's books. Middlemarch puts me in the mood for Pride and Prejudice puts me in the mood for Little Women, so they all sit together. But Sense and Sensibility, for some reason, puts me in the mood for The Forsyte Saga, so it's over there. Northanger Abbey lives near Jane Eyre.

I can lay my hand on whatever book I want, instantly, and it makes me happy to see my books arranged by how I think about them. But it drives my husband UP THE WALL and we had to agree when we got married not to merge libraries because he kept trying to alphabetize my books and -- almost worse -- front the shelves. Whereas the particular shape and size of a book is important to me in finding it! And I can't do that if he fronts the shelves! His are Dewey Decimal for the non fiction and alpha by author for the fiction. I don't like it, it seems very incoherent, like all these books just got thrown together and sorted impersonally, instead of being the story of an intellectual life. But that's why we didn't merge!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:20 PM on May 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

I've never been one to sort my books or vinyl or movies by anything beyond some vague sense of utility, if even that, where more commonly used works might end up nearer each other just by amount of use. I generally knew approximately where anything I wanted was just by spatial memory from where I last saw the work. Obviously enough, that bugged my friends to no end when they wanted to find something or even just browse my largish collections. Heck, back when having movies on VHS was a thing, I wouldn't even label the tapes, which might hold multiple movies on them.

Now, after many years of apartment dwelling, moving and travel, my "bookshelves" are an ever decreasing amount of sturdy cardboard boxes, currently around 15ish or so, down from around many, many more than that from my earlier days. Every time I move another couple "bookshelves" get dumped either being sold at used bookstores or sometimes just literally dumped.

The remaining books are arranged mostly by how well they fit into the boxes with other books, save for the ones I'm currently most interested in or reference which are boxed together and one box holding my remaining antique reference books that I keep together as they fit the one remaining actual bookshelf I still own and might someday be placed back into it if I think I'll live in one place again long enough to bother unpacking them. Needless to say, I guess, but categorizing and tidy organization isn't much my thing as my personal frame of reference tends to favor the chaotic.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:44 PM on May 1, 2020

My shelves are always hovering in some space in-between order and chaos. In about 2003 or something, I ordered all the non-fiction in my then studio (now dining room) roughly after Dewey but with some exceptions that are similar to Eyebrows McGee's. Some books need to be together! Fiction went into my bedroom in an order only known to me. Cookbooks in the kitchen, duh. But since I was both a book reviewer and involved in a publishers back then, the books outgrew the shelves fast, and just lay about in stacks everywhere. Then my dad died, and I inherited quite a few of his books. During the necessary culling, the order loosened up a bit.
Then my gran moved and I inherited all of my granddads books and his wonderful shelving system, and one of my daughters moved out, so her room became my new study, and some order was reestablished during the proces, though now with almost double the books. Then gran died, and I inherited her books and entropy entered my life. When I let out my bedroom and moved my bed and the bedroom books into the study, I became overwhelmed by books. I invited a used-book seller home to pick whatever he wanted (though with some shelves masked off with tape), and he left with several bags. You can't even see he was there. When my mother moved to a nursing home, she really wanted me to take her books home, specially her many Richard Carrier cookbooks. I started laughing hysterically.
But there is still a method to the madness. Mostly I know where the books are.
If yard sales are permitted in the summer, I plan to hold one with books and cameras. I don't know why, but I also have a lot of cameras. And tableware. I can easily host 60 people, and I did that often once. Now I don't, so it's time to cut down.
When travlling, I buy e-books, so I have a few, but they don't spark joy like paper does, and I keep forgetting I have them.

It's funny though, when I talk with my daughter on the phone, I can hear that they are really using the library these days (they are four young adults in the apartment). Normally, they are all more of the party-loving type, so this is a big social change for them.
posted by mumimor at 12:20 AM on May 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

As for arrangement, my books mostly aren't. I've got a few things put together. The Foreigner series by CJ Cherryh is all on one shelf and in publication order. All the Discworld books are together and not in any particular order.

Otherwise my shelves are chaotic and don't even have basic subject matter organization. My copy of the Veganomicon is right next to my Japanese-English dictionary. Finding any particular book involves vaguely remembering where it was and then hunting through the shelves.

I've been vaguely intending to organize the bookshelves for, oh, about 30 years now.
posted by sotonohito at 5:49 AM on May 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

My permanent collection, excluding some reference works by my desk, some oversized books that only fit in one place, and my cookbooks on the shelf near the kitchen, is in my bedroom, partially because I have a tiny NYC apartment, but partially because I don't want people to think I keep books as wallpaper or to show off. What's in the public areas are to-read shelves, a very mixed bag prestige-wise, which keep...expanding. (It's still good for discipline to have them, though, because sooner or later you have to admit that [x] has been on the to-read shelves since you last moved, the physical evidence is right in front of you, and it's probably time to let it go.)

My formal video conference background ends up being my kitchen in the distance, because there's only one place I can put my monitor and that's the direction it ends up looking. No books at all!
posted by praemunire at 11:05 AM on May 2, 2020

We’ve already argued about fore edge-out shelving but hey, if El Escorial isn’t a library to you, we could do it again.
I am always ready to snarl at that heinousness.
posted by doctornemo at 8:25 AM on May 3, 2020

I do most of my webinar and videoconference work from my office desk.
Five bookshelves are behind and next to me, so they can be seen. (Three others are across from me, and so cannot.)
The three central shelves hold books focused on my work: the future of education, plus education and technology. It's a clear and useful category for me to use, ruthlessly alphabetized. And it makes sense to be seen with me for these professional live video events.

Otherwise, I have sections:
-science fiction
-comics and graphic novels
Most are alphabetized by author.

(And about 40% are still in storage in another state. Which is like missing a limb.)

Working at a used book shop for a decade definitely left its mark, as did dwelling in libraries for decades.
posted by doctornemo at 8:29 AM on May 3, 2020

> I just realized that I've never met *anyone* with an actual full size OED on their bookshelf.

My mom has it. It was a gift from her brother, years ago.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:59 AM on May 3, 2020

Going the shelve-by-colour route amounts to telling the world you don't think of books as something to read at all, but merely a subset of home decor.

Counterpoint: If you have to rely on alphabetization instead of using a sizeable chunk of your brain to store the current location of each individual book you own, do you even like books
posted by taquito sunrise at 12:19 AM on May 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

I always knew vaguely where on the shelves a particular book was, to the extent that my siblings in Pakistan used to call me in London to ask where they could find something they were looking for. That ended, when a helpful decorator came by in my absence and rearranged all the books by colour, with some artistically laid on their sides and the raggedy beige ones hidden behind photo frames. My mental map suddenly became useless, the chaos to which only I had the key was tamed, and I never really forgave her. I still know where each book used to be 10 years ago.
posted by tavegyl at 1:27 AM on May 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

Since we only have 750 square feet, my massive library mostly got consigned to the garage, where it remains in more or less utter chaos with nary an organizational scheme to be found. I'm just lucky if the book I want to read isn't behind the gargantuan ten-ton dresser or stored in flat-packed Tupperware in a disused part of the shed.

I do have one slim bookcase in the house where I keep things I think I'm actually likely to read sometime soon. So none of the books a visitor to my house would see on the shelf are things I've actually read...

And, predictably, I'm just as likely to go spelunking in the garage as I am to read one of those books that i'm allegedly "actually likely to read sometime soon."
posted by zeusianfog at 4:56 PM on May 4, 2020

Twitter account @BCredibility does a good job of keeping it just about the books.
posted by xtian at 1:19 PM on May 8, 2020

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