Spring cleaning the book collection

It’s officially Spring in some parts of the world and yesterday certainly felt like it here in Wales. The sun was out, sky was blue and the daffodils were sitting up and paying attention. Spring was traditionally the time when housewives (never the men!) ‘did’ the house from top to bottom, clearing out the cobwebs accumulated in the darker months. Doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

I thought I’d do my own version of spring cleaning by trying to bring some semblance of order to my books. They certainly need it.

organised shelf

How I wish my shelves looked

I often see pictures of other bloggers’ book shelves and can’t help admire how organised they all are compared to my ramshackle approach. Some have them sorted alphabetically (oh boy) others group them by author or genre. I did adopt a method a few years ago where I allocated the TBR books to separate shelves for classics, Booker prize winners and world literature. That worked until I went through a buying splurge and ran out of space.

The reality

The reality

Now everything is muddled together again which makes it hard to see what I actually have. I was absolutely certain I had Pat Barker’s Booker prize winning book The Ghost Road. But can I put my hands on it? No way. I know what will happen – I’ll go and buy a copy and then the very next day I’ll find the original. Just yesterday, day one of the clean up, I found duplicate copies of Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (both never opened). Ditto with One Hundred Years of Solitude. Its such a waste of money.

It’s time I’ve realised not just to clean up the clutter, but to start keeping a record of what’s in the piles and on the shelves. I’m now the owner of an excel database recording all the books I have yet to read and for each one, when and how I acquired them, if I finished them or whether I gave them away unread. As a result I know I have 133 books still to read, rather more than I had expected and I have a feeling I’ll find a few strays dotted around the house in coming months.  Now all I have to do is keep the list updated and the shelves in reasonably good order.

How do you keep your books under control? Any tips and techniques to pass on??


About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on March 22, 2015, in Sunday Salon and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. I’m a naturally organised person, which is best as I don’t have a whole lot of time for housework so otherwise my belongings would be chaos! Also I was school librarian and seriously considered it as a career choice, so I take my book (and DVD) shelving seriously 😉 Our dining room is lined with bookcases, with the books sorted by genre and then author surname. I do need to do a reshuffle as the graphic novel and sci-fi shelves are overflowing but first we need to build some shelves in our living room to move some of the reference and coffee-table books to. It’s all planned in my head, we just need a free weekend or two…

  2. I had a spring cleaning surge the other day and actually got rid of six bags of books from my study room shelves and plan to get rid of even more for shelves in other locations of the house. The books in my study room are grouped by TBR and other books are grouped by subject and then in general alpha order by author. The books in the designated library room of the house that has nothing in it but wall-to-wall bookcases are grouped by fiction and nonfiction and then alpha by author. The Library is where I am heading next!

  3. I don’t collect long in advance. I don’t record. As for those I’ve read.,I follow the when in doubt, throw it out — or rather for books, pass it along. I no longer have shelves of unread books. I can claim an active yoga books library which I keep to refer to as questions about practice arise — and that needs weeding.

  4. My shelves look like yours so I’m in no position to give advice

  5. I’m very similar to you. I often struggle to find books and buy duplicates 🙁 I’m afraid I can’t offer you any advice as I’m so terrible myself!

  6. The biggest trick for me is having that donate bag/box right by the bookshelves. If I pull a book off and I think “Why in the world did I buy this? I have no intentions of reading it.” It goes right in the bag to be donated later!

    • Thats a good idea. I usually just start another pile but that doesn’t look very neat and tidy. If they’re in a bag I also won’t get tempted to pick it up and start thinking maybe I do want to read this after all.

  7. I’m fortunate enough to have a dedicated library with a wall of shelves and a free-standing bookcase, too. Those fiction books are alphabetized, but there are also sections for history and art and a few reference books. In a room upstairs I have shelves for mysteries, gardening and nature, and biography. (Ive always been a frustrated librarian.) There are also books on tables in the living room, the bedroom, and a few in the bathroom. I can usually find whatever book I’m looking for, except for those I’ve forgotten I’ve culled in the past. I no longer keep books I’ve read unless they have collectible or sentimental value or are part of my ‘classics’ core library.

    • A dedicated library.Wow, you are a lucky person. Was this something you built yourself or you inherited when you moved into the house Joan?

      • There was an extra room between the bedroom and the bathroom on the second floor. It seemed that making it into a library would be a nice buffer between the two. So my husband and I built shelves along one wall. It’s a nice cozy, cluttered (because of all my stuff), quiet room, but a bit dark because it has only one window. I leave libraries / wall shelving in all the houses I’ve owned. I hope the next owners enjoy them!

  8. I constantly weed my shelves, so to speak. I like looking at my books, so when the shelves begin to look rather messy I immediately get everything out and re-organise and arrange them.

  9. My books are roughly in order – divided into fiction and non-fiction and a-z by author, BUT they’re not really under control. The problem is lack of space and new books get put on the shelves where they will fit – or left in piles, so I can understand your problem. I do find LibraryThing helps – but that’s only if I remember to add books to it and record if I’ve not kept books when I’ve read them and I haven’t recorded where they are in the house (and I have books in nearly every room). It’s all a bit of a muddle really – I often can’t find books I think I own. I hope you find your solution.

    • I keep forgetting about Library Thing and Good reads also. Plus there is something to be said for a list I can carry around with me if needed so I don’t end up in the bookshop buying something I already have

  10. I hate the cleaning, but I do it twice a year anyway 🙁
    Regarding my bookshelves, I have the books ordered by author. I started to order them when I had a few books, and then my shelves grew and I kept on ordering them when new books arrived, so it was easy that way.
    I also think that if you finally decide to order your books (however you want), you won’t need to keep a database, because you “have them in your mind”, and anyway, sometimes it’s easier to go to check to the shelf than to go to the computer to see if you already have a certain book.
    Good luck!

    • it would certainly be easier to just scan along the shelves but its going to take me a very long time to get there since the minute I get organised my husband goes and messes it up again

  11. I use Library Thing and regularly export the Spreadsheet so I have an inventory on my computer (in case LT ever collapsed). (I think LT provided this capacity before GR which is why I’m on LT – as I started this back in 2007). I bought a little bar code reader which sped up entry of the backlog books. You can create categories – so you could do a TBR category – and you can capture a lot of data I think. I am now going to create a new category for Weeded/Disposed (can’t decide on the name) – because I am starting to declutter and but I want to remember my collection. I don’t have ALL my books in LT yet but I have all the main groups – fiction, memoirs/autobiography/biography, literary non-fiction. I don’t have the cookbooks or old art books or coffee table books in there.

    I have one TBR in LT but in fact I have a couple of hundred books in the TBR shelves and piles. I DO know where they are though!

    • Oops, my read fiction are in two alphabetical sequences – women writers in our bedroom (close to my heart), and men writers in the guest room!

    • I’ve not done very much with Library Thing for more than a year. I had started to list all my books but then ran out of steam before realising you could export the list. would have saved me some effort.

  12. I am participating in the 40-books-in 40 days project on Facebook but have year to attack my book shelf. Perhaps tonight would be a good time. No matter how neat and tidy I get it it is always a mess again in a few months. Oh well. Good luck with your tidying project. My Weekly Sunday Salon

    • Does that mean you are supposed to read all those books in 40 days? that sounds very daunting to one who just about manages 45-50 in a whole year. I’m surprised you even have time for blogging Anne

  13. My fiction shelves are in sections of classics, modern classics, contemporary literature, but there is no more place for trashy pop-fiction – they now go in boxes. My non-fiction shelves are in sections of history, biographies, science and math, religion and philosophy, economics, pop culture and other. I have two special sections which mix fiction and non-fiction – one on India, one on Russia. I also have spreadsheets of all this, plus one that shows the order I bought them in, the order I intend to read them in – putting like authors or themes or periods together, etc, by year with consideration of page numbers, difficulty, etc. Rankings for books I have read by year, how much I enjoyed them, how much I respect them. I could go on, Over 900 books in all, I love being organized! None of this means I don’t lose some. I am certain I have The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, but I have no idea where it is! Have to go, my wife just said she wants to visit a book store today!

    • Wow Wow and thrice Wow. That is being super-organised to separate them AND catalogue them to this extent. Maybe you’d like to share your skills with those of us more challenged in the organisation stakes

  14. Good grief, Karen! At least get them all turned so that you can read all the spines!!! LOL But no…I’m no help to you as I have books in bookcases and piled next to my bed on top of shoeboxes, and stacks of paper and laundry that need to be put away.

  15. i use Goodreads, but I recently made an excel spreadsheet too!

  16. Each spring we have two major charity book sales and I have already filled two huge bags with books to go. I still have a pantry with several shelves packed with books my ex left behind when my marriage ended 15 years ago. About time those went too. I wouldn’t even want to count how many books are in my TBR pile. I have also begun collecting some paper editions of books I loved on my e-reader as I tend to be migrating back from e-books where I have the choice. I like to surround myself with books I love and those I am really looking forward to, mostly at eye level on the bookcases in my living room and office.

    I still think there are many more books that can go out. Maybe I should pack one off for each new one that comes in because somehow they keep coming in!

    • I did dabble with that one in and one out approach a few years ago but it lasted no longer than 3 months……As long as they are not eating you out of house and home I’d leave them where they are and just enjoy being surrounded by the things you love

  17. Seven years ago when I had too much spare time I typed all the books on the shelves – nothing special, a simple word file – and sorted the authors alphabetically. So this means at least I don’t waste money any more on books I already have. For a couple of years I even sorted the books alphabetically on the shelves. But somehow I don’t like that anymore. It’s great to wander along the shelves and saying to myself: O look, that looks interesting. Somehow it works 🙂

    • I started a simple word file too but it quickly got messy so I’m hoping that my new Excel version will work better. And yes I agree with you that the spontaneity factor is good fun

  18. Goodreads has the ability to scan ISBNs in, and a few years ago I put the books then on my shelves onto the TBR list. It’s not perfect – it doesnt include the latest books for instance. You can also export from Goodreads, so that’s formed the basis of a spreadsheet (still a work in progress) of where I got books from, when the review is being published on my blog etc.

    • I didnt know there was a way to do an export. That could have saved me time creating my own spreadsheet. Oh well, I needed to boost my excel skills I suppose

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