For many romance readers, looking over their bookshelves is something akin to entering Aladdin’s cave. Whether hardcover, paperback (mass market, category, or trade,) e-book, audiobook, or other format, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader in possession of a collection of books must also be in want of a way to manage that collection. The question is, how?
For some readers, the answer is easy – they don’t. I know, I know. This may seem strange to some of us, but others don’t see the need. Either they don’t keep books, and, instead, pass them along to new homes, or are primarily library readers, or all books go in one place, period. What exactly that place may be would be up to the individual reader, and, while it may seem that this might make finding a particular book a challenge if they want to read it later, this also may vary depending on reader. Some readers might remember where the book is, others don’t mind a bit of searching, or they may not be big on re-reading, but still like to keep their favorites around.
For the rest of us, things may get a bit more complicated. There are as many different ways to shelve and keep track of books as there are, well, books. Many factors come into play here: how much storage space the reader has, how many other readers are under the same roof, whether the storage space is shared or not, and whether the other readers like the same sorts of books. C0-owned or communal books happen, too, and there may well be a handful of relationships out there, of any ilk, that remain together, at least in part, because splitting up the book collection would be too much of a hassle.
Any form of organization is going to take some planning. Many of us have seen spreads in catalogues or decorating magazines, of bookshelves where books are shelved, not by series order, genre, or author, but by the color of the cover. Think this happens only during a photo stylist’s workday? Not true. A non-romance reading friend has some pretty spiffy looking shelves, all red books on one shelf, all blue on another, all white on another, and so on. As long as the owner is able to find the books they want, why the heck not? This may require some juggling, when books with unusually colored covers join the family, or a new brown book arrives, but the brown shelf is already full. In those cases, where does the new arrival go? Is it a matter of one in, one out, so the number of books is always the same?
While it’s okay to shelve a book by its cover, if that’s what floats a particular reader’s boat, many of us prefer to find our criteria between the pages. This is where thing can get, perhaps, the most interesting. While some readers like to read only one sort of book, say only Amish romance, and nothing else,which would make shelving by subgenre a breeze, others branch out a little -or a lot- farther. Maybe Amish romances go on one shelf, contemporary category on another, erotic romance on a third, and then the rest can jockey for position in the space that remains.
As readers can appreciate multiple genres, writers can, as well, and that brings up another option; will the reader shelve all of Suzy Author’s works together, or do all the historicals go with all the other historicals, all the romantic suspense novels with all the other romantic suspense novels, and what about that one time travel with the FBI agent and the Bow Street Runner? Does that go between the two, even if it doesn’t share characters with the other works? Off on its own with other time travels by other authors? On a shelf for miscellaneous works?
When a book collection gets to a certain point, there comes a time when there are more books than shelves, which requires a whole other level of organization. Some readers like to use spreadsheets, either on their computers, or good old pen and paper, to tell them what goes with what, and what’s stored where. This may also be useful for devotees of shared continuity series, popular among category readers, where many authors join together to write one series in one shared world. Many resources for tracking books a reader has read, whether they are keepers or not, exist on the web, with a technically endless number of variables. Want to keep all Tudor-era romance novels in one place, or keep track of books with veterinarian heroes, prom dress covers, or heroines named Diana? There’s an app for that. Actually, several. Mix and match at will.
With all these options, some may wonder if there is one way to organize books and/or reading that is better than all the rest. I’m going to say yes. There is. The one best way is the way that works for the individual, which, of course, is different for every individual, and that best way may change. Perhaps the Amish-only reader stumbles across, let’s say, sweet historicals, or gives paranormal a try and wants to shake things up a little. Adding something new to one’s reading routine is a great excuse to hunker down with the book stash and move things around. Of course, if that leads to an hour or two, or ten, paging through old favorites, well, where’s the harm?
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you organize or keep track of your books? If so, how? Do you separate To Be Read from Want to Read, or do the read and unread mingle? Do you shelve by author, genre, color of cover? Do you ever change your shelving criteria? If you keep track, do you like to do so electronically, with pen and paper, or a combination of both? If you don’t keep track, or don’t keep books at all, we want to hear from you, too. Pull up a chair in the comments section, and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.