Shelving: 2017 Edition

I decided to take advantage of re-shelving my books to organize them in a more intuitive manner than just alphabetical by author, and non-fiction alphabetical by title. After all, a multi-tiered system well-formed now will save me time in the future, right?


As with any undertaking, I did an internet search to see if someone had ideas or articles on ways to make my job easier. I looked for how to organize a bookshelf, and I saw all kinds of pictures – of sparse bookshelves with maybe a dozen books and as many trinkets around them. The deeper I looked, the less functional the shelves were, and I was getting increasingly frustrated.

I mean, what d’you think we call them bookshelves for?

I searched for how to organize a bookshelf with a lot of books, and I got a few better ideas, although it was still about beauty over functionality, making sure you “balanced” the shape of the shelf, or having all the spines organized for the color of the rainbow. The issue with these kinds of shelving options, as many people attested, was finding the books you wanted/needed later. Especially if you have hundreds of books, like me.

First of all, no matter how you decide to organize your books, you need to know the important way to find where books are and where to put them back later: Keep an inventory in shelving order. Seems obvious now I’ve said it, but NOBODY mentioned that in the articles/blogs/etc. that I read. I opted to use Evernote for this, making a Notebook for my book catalogue and separate notes for fiction and nonfiction, as this is my major distinction.


My first secondary distinction was separating out the series and author collections from the rest of my books. A series is any collection trilogy or larger (if I have three or have any intention of gathering three or more books in the series), and an author collection is three or more books by a single author. Largely, these collections are by the same author, or two authors in the case of the Left Behind books, but there are exceptions. My Dear America and Royal Diaries collections have multiple authors, and I’ve organized these by year of events depicted, and then alphabetically by title if two books happen in the same year. Otherwise, series are organized in series order, and other books are organized alphabetically by title. This took about six shelves – all my traditional shelving. The way I’d shelved previously, this area is most of what my fiction covered, plus half the desk.

Then I separate the books out by genre, where practical. Plays, poems, crime, historical fiction, romance, youth, etc. Anything that’s not a classic that I can slip into a category. These take up around two thirds of the desk, which is a little over a shelf’s worth of space.

After that, I took the classics and divided them by country. If a country had five or more different works, it had its own section, divided alphabetically first by continent, then by country. So, the UK, Russia, and America have their own sections. All Anthologies are included in classics (for the sake of convenience) and are arranged alphabetically, and then within the “other” classics, books are organized by this same alphabetical structure.


By the time I had the classics sorted, I was already out of traditional shelving. I had to use the top of my dresser, and the top of a giant Rubbermaid container in my closet. When I started in on the non-fiction, I was fast running out of non-traditional shelf space already set aside for books.

I started with series-related non-fiction. This included Doctor Who books, books about Tolkien’s creations, and books about J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. Not too many books, but they take up some space. Beside them, I put my history books (may and sundry) organized by time period, and I ran out of space in my closet from there.

I went to the giant Rubbermaid container under my desk, the full extent of my previously-used non-traditional shelf space, and I put the history books organized by place, and my religious texts. I almost fit all of my religious texts until…. I reached the wall and still had nowhere to put my Gnostic Bible.

At this point – obviously – I began to panic slightly. Cleaning my room has never been a pleasant task, and I begin to find myself in a world where it’s possible there’s not enough room for all my books in my personal living space. This is nonsensical to me, and yet it was growing into a reality. My sister offered to keep some of my books in her room, but I just blinked at her, puzzled and confused as to why she thought this was a solution.

And then, my old adage hit me: “I had to choose between clothes and books, and I chose books.”

I thought that was true when I took clothes off the shelf and stacked books in my closet, but never was it truer than when I did this round of cleaning. I took ALL the clothes out of my chest of drawers and have turned them into a creative shelving option.

You may ask where my clothes are going. I don’t know yet. Some will fit on top of or behind books – little things like socks and underwear, and maybe some pajamas. Dresses and skirts should still fit in the closet. Otherwise…. Well, your guess is as good as mine, but I don’t really have that many clothes I wear. This was just a prompt to get rid of a lot of things I’ve been hanging onto by virtue of out of sight, out of mind.

Approve or disapprove of my creative shelving? Any other space-saving book shelving techniques you’ve used to combat a too-small-room problem?




Cleaning My Bookshelf

I have an important life philosophy, and it goes something like this:

If my room is a mess, I clean and organize my bookshelf. In the process, my room will become clean and organized.

How am I so certain this will work?

Because a stack of books already removed from my room for sorting and dusting takes up about a quarter of the living room (much larger than my bedroom), and it’s MAYBE a third of my books. Maybe.

Dusting books is very important, both for their health and quality and for my health and sanity. However, I’ve been putting it off for MONTHS, probably more than a year, now. This is because I know what an undertaking it is to get all my books on the shelf where they can be cleaned, and yet in the meantime, I keep collecting more and more books.

Even if your books aren’t taking over the entirety of your physical space, it’s important to keep your books organized, cleaned, and stored properly. Especially if you’re storing some of them horizontally, as you’ll need to rotate them to prevent warping. Allergies? Asthma? Make sure you’re dusting your books regularly with a clean, dry, microfiber cloth.

If you’re making the commitment to physical books, remember that it is a commitment, just like any other collection. And if you go through and realize you’ve got some books you don’t like, don’t want, or don’t read, perhaps it’s time to clear up space in your shelf for books you do want. Donate to a local library, or school library, or classroom library, or charity shop.




Into my Bookshelf: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Perhaps the thing authors thrive on most is possibilities. As much as I hate unfinished work, I’ve been reading a book alight with possibilities, that has captured so many imaginations, and certainly captured mine.

As a lifelong Dickens fan, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It’s his unfinished novel, about half done, that isn’t his best and isn’t his worst, but in so many ways has gone right up to the top three on my list of best things he’s written.

The story begins in an opium den, which really, is the recipe for an awesome story right there. There’s not a lot of mystery as to who actually commits the murder (which takes FOREVER to materialize), as Dickens has never been prided in his subtlety at ALL. On top of that, several people who knew where the story was going and had been given various amounts of privileged information all agree that the title character was murdered by his uncle.

That’s so not even a spoiler. If you couldn’t figure that out within the first couple installments (ten chapters or so), I don’t even know what to make of you.

The village of Cloisterham is a very closed community, with people with their very particular behaviors and habits. Quite naturally, the suspect is suspected easily because he’s got a checkered past and he apparently appears “un-English”. Mr. Sapsea, the person who coins that term in this work, reminds me of one of my favorite characters in all of Dickens – Mr. Podsnap from Our Mutual Friend, my favorite Dickens novel.

Based on clues in the novel, and based on conversations had with people like the illustrator and relatives, we know a bit more than just who the killer is (which is totally not even a secret to the reader by the end of the novel). We have a good inkling where the body is (again, once you know who the killer is, not even a surprise), who’s going to end up with the dear Miss Rosa Bud (slightly less obvious), and there are very few mysteries remaining. Although, may I say, some really fabulous characters are fleshed out or introduced toward the middle of the book – that is to say, the end of the book as we have it.

The one mystery – around which many adaptations can focus in trying to finish the story – that remains is whom Mr. Datchery is, a gentleman who shows up in Cloisterham toward the end of the story with the intention of moving there, possibly to investigated the as-yet unsolved year-old murder/disappearance of Edwin Drood. I mean, there are all kinds of possibilities, like a police officer or actor who has taken interest in the tale. We’ve gotten such suggestions as these. It even popped into my head while reading that it might be Drood himself in disguise – not killed, but somehow altered from the ordeal as to be unrecognizable.

That was a silly idea, naturally, but it occurred nonetheless.

SPOILER ALERT (kind of?)

I mean, since it’s unfinished, I use the term spoiler loosely. HOWEVER, I think that to me the most reasonable explanation for whom Mr. Datchery is (since we have a list of people whom he cannot be), given Drood’s actual death (which is pretty certain), and ruling out the impossible, is that Mr. Datchery is actually one Mr. Bazzard. He works for Mr. Grewgious, the guardian of Rosa, and writes plays. Or rather, has written a play that still hasn’t been picked up. We haven’t actually seen him yet, so we don’t know what he looks like. Many theatre writers have some acting experience, and as he wrote a tragedy, the tale would interest him. He would know it from the papers, and he certainly would have heard something about the death of Rosa’s once-fiance from his employer.

Of course, the biggest problem with this is the idea that he would be able to “live” in Cloisterham for the rest of his life and yet still work and live in London, spending time at work and with his writer set.  That’s a puzzle, to be sure.

Still, the beauty of this being an unfinished story is that we can imagine it to work out however we want. From my teacher/writer eye, I see possibilities not only for writing an ending myself, but for assigning this as a shorter Dickens novel, challenging students to write an ending in the style of Dickens, making it all work out sensibly. Could be fun, and useful.



Into my Bookshelf: 10 Things I Hate About You

Welcome back to my bookshelf!

I’ve got a bit of a weird one today: the novelization of the film 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s really the only book like this I have, and I inherited it from my sister. I think she got it in high school.

There are two reasons I decided to keep this book, because it’s not like it’s a great work of literature.

The first reason is that my good friend, E. M. McBride and I used Heath Ledger (God rest his soul) from this film as the physical template for one of our characters in “Maybe I Know.” Not just the looks, but the clothing, the attitude, the way people saw his character before and after the character has really made his stamp on the story.

The other reason is that the Shakespeare play this was based on, The Taming of the Shrew, is basically one of the best things ever, and I’ve yet to come across a version of it that wasn’t fabulous. I’ve got the Elizabeth Taylor film version, and I’m itching to get my hands on a good copy of My Fair Lady and a copy of the actually film, 10 Things I Hate About You for the complete set.

As far as modernizing Shakespeare is concerned, this is head and shoulders above the Amanda Bynes film based on Twelfth Night (The title of which is escaping me… She’s the Man? Something like that). That was a good enough film, but it was kind of a one-man show as far as casting was concerned. Heath did a much better job than Channing Tatum, and while Amanda Bynes was a comedic natural, Julia Styles just sort of nails the “shrew” role. Also, I just felt like the story for The Taming of the Shrew was not only the more believable story, but infinitely the more adaptable story, especially for the high school scene. It was always going to be the better material to work with.

I have to say that Heath and Julia were one of the best teen rom com pairings that ever happened, and I’m kind of tearing up writing this right now, but isn’t it awful to think it’ll never happen again, those two in a movie? Any movie? I mostly have the book just to look at the cover sometimes and think of how perfect that duo was together.

K. I’m going to find my mysteriously missing tissue box now.



Into my Bookshelf: The Invisible Man

Welcome back to my bookshelf!

As far as classic monster tales, H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man is easily my favorite, and surprisingly under-read. Griffin is up there with Dracula and Frankenstein (I vastly prefer him to Frankenstein), but in spite of the incredible number of reimaginings of the story through time, if people have read any Wells, it’s usually not this one.

One thing I can figure is that Griffin has a little bit of Dr. Jekyll in him. Because the story of Dr. Jekyll is so well-known, perhaps The Invisible Man has fallen by the wayside a bit. A man taken over by his experiments?

On the other hand, Dr. Jekyll is not a sympathetic character, but inherent in the type of experiments he does, he’s not a bad one, either. We come to think of Dr. Jekyll as “good,” regardless of what he was before he split himself, and it’s the bad part of him that takes over. Because we call it by a different name, it’s easy to pity Dr. Jekyll.

Griffin, the scientist so obsessed with optics that he discovers a way to turn tissue invisible, and does it to himself, isn’t a terribly sympathetic character. He’s ambitious, brilliant, and throughout the book he becomes a bit power-mad and megalomaniac. Which is fine, for a monster, but anything good about him is buried by the mania brought on with the possibilities of his new condition. He wants to enact a Reign of Terror, killing and pillaging. The usual.

And because we still think of him as the same person, because he’s not split himself in two, we don’t have sympathy for Griffin. Yes, it’s not easy being invisible, but killing for fun?

Really, though, Griffin is very much the same as Dr. Jekyll. The condition he puts himself in brings out the worst in him. Power corrupting, after all. His invisibility, like Dr. Jekyll’s experiment, unleashes the darkest parts of him, frees him to act on his base impulses. If we can pity Jekyll, we ought to be able to pity Griffin.

To be honest, I’m not certain we should pity either one.

At the end of the book (not all versions, but in the book), the tramp, Marvel, that he works with in the first part of the story, has all of Griffin’s notes, but he’s incapable of understanding them. This is a beautiful touch, like all the best horror stories. The truth, the formula, is still out there, waiting for someone intelligent enough to stumble across it and unleash the horror of the Invisible Man all over again.

It doesn’t sound spooky, perhaps, but after reading Griffin’s spiral into madness, it’s sufficiently spooky, especially if read in dim light, as all horror stories ought to be read.



Into My Bookshelf: God is Not a Christian

Hello, and welcome back to my bookshelf!

Today we’re talking about Desmond Tutu’s God is Not a Christian. This book was a coursebook for my History of Christianity course in undergrad.

I can’t stress how fabulous this book is. It is filled with religious musings of the brilliant Desmond Tutu on the nature of religion, Christianity, and what it means to be a Christian in a world where so many religions exist.

In a talk he gave in Birmingham, UK (my favorite city in the world), included in the book, he brings up the point that for so many of us, what religion we follow is an accident of birth. We are usually raised in the religion of our parents, and if we switch, it is often to the predominant faith of our friends, neighbors, or culture. In some places, certain religions are enforced by the state, or illegal to practice within a nation’s borders.

He talks in that same section about how insulting it is for Christians – as so many do – to say that practitioners of other faiths are just Christians without knowing it. If you’re a Christian, how would you feel, knowing that Muslims or Jews were sitting around somewhere saying that you Christians were really of their faith, but just didn’t know it?

The essential point is the things that Christians hold the most dear – God, the Spirit, divine love and mercy – exist outside the realm of Christianity. They were around before Christians ever came to be. Christians, like other faiths, don’t have a monopoly on divinity, and  if you are truly a Christian, that requires respecting the faith of others on their terms. They believe what they believe no less than you believe what you believe.

I think the critical thing he gets at in this book is something I remind people constantly: spirituality is universal and divine, but religion is man-made. Even if you believe that those who created your religion were inspired by God, you have to concede that man is flawed, and if you look back on the history of whatever your religion is, those men running things have made choices that clearly were no inspired by God. Let’s not forget the Pope Pius XII had his actions in regard to Hitler, just to name one that could be nearly universally agreed upon. If we look at our religions rationally, they are flawed.

And yet, people haven’t left the Catholic church in droves because of Hitler, or the Crusades, or things like that (although I do know someone who didn’t let his children be baptized into it for the stuff with Hitler, but that’s a rarity). I didn’t see a mass exodus from the Muslim faith after 9/11, and the comparisons could go on.

The fact is, while faith is important to everyone, the really critical things in Christian faith are love, forgiveness, mercy, grace – things where doctrine and the beliefs of the other people around you are irrelevant. You care for your own soul, and that includes loving everyone, all of God’s creation.

The fact that Desmond Tutu had to say that, the fact that it isn’t just a given, is the part where we should all be looking inside of ourselves. Because no matter what our spiritual and religious beliefs, there is no reason not to love our neighbor.



Into My Bookshelf: Treasure Island

Welcome back to my bookshelf!

Like so many children, I wanted to be a pirate.

This started young. I had a little pirate action figure set complete with ship and skull-shaped island (I’ve since leased this, if you will, to my niece to play with when she visits her grandmother’s house). Peter Pan was one of my favorite childhood stories, and Hook and Smee my favorite Disney villains (apart from Scar, admittedly, but you never forget your first). When Disney came out with Captain Jack Sparrow and updated my always-favorite ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, needless to say I was in hog heaven.

But even if I weren’t a literature fan, I would have all of this owed to Robert Louis Stevenson, a Scottish author from the late 1800s.

If you read Treasure Island, or watch one of the many television or film versions (seriously, take your pick, there’s so many), you might roll your eyes and think it’s cheesy. A stereotypical show if pirates, with X marking the spot on an island where treasure is buried, and a peg-legged pirate with a parrot on his shoulder. I mean, that’s in every poorly conceived pirate story, right?

Where do you think those stereotypes came from?

As many great novels from this era, Treasure Island was serialized, and Robert Louis Stevenson released it in segments to a magazine (or maybe a literary journal, minor distinction, and I’ll admit that I haven’t carefully researched this; I just happen to know it and I don’t remember why). In those segments, he not only told an adventurous tale that young boys could play with and relate to as a coming of age story, but he literally wrote the book on over-the-top pirate lore that has become canonical, thanks to many Disney imaginings of pirates since based on this original brilliance.

It’s important to remember when we read old books that we’re reading the baseline. Classics aren’t classic necessarily because they’re any better than what we have today. Some things are classic because they did something significant first. Treasure Island formed the conception of pirates in the way Ivanhoe romanticized the Crusades and chivalry for future generations to play with, but it did much more than that.

Apart from crystallizing my pirate obsession as a child, this novel also presented me with a story that creates almost an antihero in Long John Silver (who has his own seafood chain because he’s that cool). Unlike many children’s books, of the era or of our era, good and evil aren’t so clearly delineated. Like our modern Jack Sparrow, Long John Silver makes you wonder if up is down on many an occasion, and this resonates with children, even if we adults don’t want it to.

The world isn’t black and white, and even though children seem to want it to be, this isn’t natural to them. They think it’s that way because we present it in that way to them, but they are remarkably perceptive about the complexities of life. They know that things aren’t always fair in the numerical sense, and they know that right doesn’t always win. They also know that the “wrong” choice often looks very tempting, reasonable, and even good.

It’s this moral complexity that Robert Louis Stevenson appeals to in children when he writes this book, and generations of young children (admittedly mostly boys) were just as captivated as I was by a story that tells it like it is while still capturing the imagination with adventure, puzzles, and a world where rules are a little bit more flexible.

Because seriously, who didn’t mark the spot with X?

(If you didn’t, shame on you.)