Naming What Matters for My Home Library

Photo by Radu Marcusu on Unsplash

My book collection has become a situation. Shortly after I started doing library work professionally, I decided I wanted a personal library. I’m privileged to have always owned books, but I wanted more than a few books on a shelf. I wanted a collection, something I’d build slowly over time. I have that now, and it could be going better. 

For one thing, I’ve outgrown my bookshelves. When that used to happen, I’d just buy another bookshelf from Target and call it good. But now there’s no room for more bookshelves. Hence, the situation. 

One of my favorite people on the internet is Kendra Adachi, a.k.a the Lazy Genius. I never miss her podcast, and I love her book, The Lazy Genius Way. Her work always helps me clarify my thinking, so I re-listened to a recent episode of her podcast called What to Do Before Reorganizing Your Home. In true Kendra fashion, she said something that resonates deeply: start by naming what matters

  • What matters to me about having a well-organized home library?
  • What matters about having a collection where I can find the book I want without moving a gigantic, wobbly tower to get to it?
  • What matters to me about having a home library at all?

These are some of the questions I’ll be thinking about in this post as I design a plan to conquer my bookish clutter. (I wrote about this in 2018 too but have apparently ignored my own advice.) I was going to make a Word doc and work through this project privately, but I thought this post might help those of you who are facing bodily harm due to the stack of hardbacks on your nightstand that looks more like a Jenga tower than literature. Let’s dive in.

Problem #1: I don’t have enough space for the books I have
Solution: Get rid of some books. 
Question: What matters about the books I choose to own?

Here’s what I came up with as I thought about what books and types of books I want to own rather than borrow: 

  • I want to own books by authors whose work I value deeply
  • I want to own books I know I’ll want to write in or underline
  • I want to own books I know I’ll return to over and over again
  • I want to own books that are part of special series I collect
  • I want to own books that are pretty because aesthetics matter to me
  • I want to own books that I’m excited to read right now

That last bullet point is probably the most important one for me as I embark on getting rid of books. I’ve had some titles on my shelves for years that I haven’t picked up yet. When I run into those books at one of my school libraries, I have no hesitation discarding them because books that don’t circulate don’t provide much value to a library. I need to take that approach with my own collection, too.

Problem #2: My books are disorganized. 
Solution: Organize my books in a way that makes sense to me. 
Question: What matters to you about an organization structure? 

Because I’ve been doing library work for nearly sixteen years, I can’t help but want my home library to have a strict structure. I like my fiction shelved alphabetically, and I like my nonfiction divided by subject. Have I briefly considered putting Dewey decimal numbers on my nonfiction books? Maybe, but I don’t want to talk about that right now. Organization matters because it saves me time finding books and putting them away. 

(Dear People Who Shelve Books By Color, 

Your shelves look so pretty, but I just cannot.

Love,
Andrea)

Problem #3: I buy books a lot faster than I can read them.
Solution: Buy fewer books. (Maybe stop checking out 17 library books at a time, too.)
Question: What matters about how I spend my money? 

Of the three main issues I have with my home library, this issue bothers me the least. I don’t mind having many unread books on my shelves, but I know I need to be more thoughtful about spending my money. Years ago, I’d often visit thrift stores and pick up any cheap books that looked even mildly interesting. I’ve become choosier over the years, but I still have work to do in this area. After thinking about it for a bit, here is what matters to me about the books I choose to purchase: 

  • I want to financially support authors whose work means something to me, especially if that author is a person of color
  • I want to purchase books I want to read, not books I think I should read
  • I want to purchase books I intend on keeping in my collection for a long time
  • I want to focus more on quality than quantity, like buying one new book at my local indie instead of six at a thrift store just because they were cheap

Having a home library matters to me because I love books and I like having them around me. It’s that simple. They’re exciting, comforting, beautiful, and stimulating. My collection brings me joy, but only when it’s contained and not piled up everywhere.

Working through these three main problems has helped me clarify what my next steps to need to be in order to go from a situation to an enjoyable part of my home. I should probably go get started.

Building a Personal Library

I’ve been a library patron for as long as I can remember.  Though I was a frequent library user, I’ve also been privileged enough to always own books. My collection evolved from things like The Baby-Sitters Club series to John Grisham paperbacks to whatever was $1.99 at Value Village. As I entered adulthood, I decided I wanted a large, well-curated library of my very own.

When I embarked on this dream I sort of ignored the “well-curated” part. I bought anything I thought looked interesting thanks to thrift stores and used book sales. I just wanted to have a lot of books, and I wanted them immediately. But over the years, as my reading tastes have changed and what I want to spend money on has shifted, I’ve finally become choosier about the books I purchase. Here’s what’s important to me now when I add books to my library.

1

IT’S A BOOK I KNOW I’LL WANT TO WRITE IN.

If I want to read a book to learn something specific, chances are I’m going to buy it. I don’t tend to write in fiction books very often, but my nonfiction shelves are full of books with my underlining and marginalia. (I love that word so much.) I don’t tend to write terribly detailed notes, but I do like being able to flip through a book to see what ideas I thought were important. Books that fit into this category are usually theology or writing guides. I mark up my poetry books quite a bit, as well.

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IT’S A SPECIFIC EDITION.

Do I need three different editions of Moby-Dick? No. Do I own them anyway because they’re pretty? Yes.

As a kid, I was always collecting something. I loved building mini-collections of everything from snow globes to rocks (a.k.a. gravel from my driveway). There are a few different editions of books I collect, and I’m always eager to add to them. One is the Penguin hardcover collection designed by Coralie Bickford Smith. I think these books are beautiful. I love the feel of them and how they look on my shelf. I also collect the Drop Caps series designed by Jessica Hische. While the hardcover books are elegant and classic, the drop caps are bright and fun. I love their boldness and the colorful edges that match the cover.

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IT’S BY AN AUTHOR I LOVE.

There are certain authors whose books are immediately on my to-buy list. They could write books about how to use a hammer or what crafts to make with dryer lint, and I’d probably still buy them. These authors include Donna Tartt, Celeste Ng, David Sedaris, Roxane Gay, Marisha Pessl, and Liane Moriarty. I know I love the work these writers put out so I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase their latest. (I even bought Pessl’s recent release, Neverworld Wake, even though it’s far outside my wheelhouse. Andrea + Marisha = Love)

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I READ A LIBRARY COPY AND NOW I NEED MY OWN.

The most recent book this happened with was The Nix by Nathan Hill. I listened to this book (the audio narration is excellent, by the way) and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to give it a hug, but you can’t hug audio files from OverDrive. I had to get the book. If you’ve read this far, I trust you understand.


Do you like buying and collecting books? If so, what guides your choices?