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Some Pros and Cons of Organizing Your Bookshelves by Color

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color booksPROS:

1. Your bookshelves will be truly and undeniably beautiful. (See image).

2. The process of color-coding your bookshelves will take many enjoyable hours, in which you will find yourself faced with questions that are at once banal and delightful. Will you employ a ROY G BIV scheme? If so, where will you put your black books? Your white books? Your beige? Do the bright orange-spined Penguins look best clumped together or evenly-
distributed throughout the orange section? Will you ever get to ask Jeanette Winterson how she feels about Written on the Body being sandwiched between The Marx-Engels Reader and Sula? (Because you think she’d like it).

3. You will learn important life lessons. For example, a book that is both red and blue may be placed successfully in either the red or blue section, and look as if ’twas ever thus.

4. You may concede all life-altering decisions to the tyranny of your color-coding. For example, merging your book collection with your boyfriend’s upon moving in together does not have to be a (terrifying and/or exhilarating) decision at all. All books in the apartment must submit to the color-coding law of the apartment, which insists that you shall have no other methods of organization, including organization by partner, before it.

5. New guests will remark upon your bookshelves immediately upon entering your apartment and will be too blinded by their beauty to notice your apartment’s dust bunnies, its overflowing dish rack, and the fact that not a single picture on your walls (and there are a lot of them) is hung evenly. You will no longer have to joke awkwardly that you hung them that way “on purpose to cultivate a Gertrude Stein salon aesthetic” when the truth is that you just have negative interest in using a level.

6. Every time you look at your bookshelves you will be assured that you are a good person because have brought real beauty into the world.


1. You will never find your books again, because even though you may know the color of all of your books’ covers, you will certainly not know the color of all of their spines. And what they haven’t told you in your several publishing jobs, or in your PhD program in English, is that contrary to popular belief, a book’s cover often doesn’t match its spine.

2. The fact that you have not figured this out for yourself earlier is shameful, and you will find yourself dwelling on this while endlessly scanning your shelves every time you need a book, which is a lot, because you’re supposed to be writing your dissertation, but instead you are looking for your books.

3. You will be forced to articulate this particular shame every time a new guest appears in your apartment, because all new guests inevitably ask: “but how do you find your books?” You will refer them to the large “BE CALM” Louise Bourgeois print unevenly hung on your wall; this print is recommended for all color-coders.

4. You will expose your relationship to the possibility of your personal nightmare, which is the book-dividing break-up scene in Annie Hall, except in your life, all of the poetry books AND all of the books on death and dying are yours. You will think that your relationship will last, but you will always write your name in your books, just in case, and you will have to live with the fact that you are this type of person.

5. Your color-coded bookshelves will need constant attention. Every new book demands reorganization, and each reorganization is exponentially less fun than the one before it.

6. You will eventually have too many books and not enough apartment to continue color-coding. You will fight, but you will not win. First, you will buy new skinny bookcases from Bed Bath and Beyond to flank the TV in the living room. Then, some IKEA Expedits will appear in the bedroom, and encircle the dresser. Then, the Billys will come to surround the bed. The beautiful rainbow bookcases will still be in the living room, for the viewing pleasure of guests, but the bedroom will be filled with the leftovers—the many library books, your boyfriend’s endless art magazines, books that have been discolored by the sun, the stark white teaching editions of Shakespeare, his books about health problems, the books you are ashamed to own up to having read (some of them about health problems), the beige books that do not fit into either the black and white or the rainbow bookcases.

Eventually, you will begin to think that you should implement a sub-organizational system by reducing book repeats—by moving one of the books that you have two copies of to the bedroom. Your guests only need one color-coded copy of The Postmodern Condition to find you annoying, one copy of The Corrections to find you insufferable, only one copy of Catch-22 to know that you were once a precocious teenager.

But how could you decide whose to leave and whose to move? Your oatmeal hardcover On Beauty and his deep red paperback copy of the same, your strikingly ugly copy of Mrs. Dalloway, his somewhat less ugly Mrs. Dalloway—these books he read and loved (or read and pretended to love), because you asked him to read them and to love them.

7. Your sub-organizational system, and all other possible subsystems will fail along with your original color-coding system. You will settle for a beautiful, color-coded living room that holds the books that you both have both of. Know that this is your expression of love. You will settle for faded and beige books, ill-looking and ill-tempered, in the bedroom, watching both of you while you sleep. Know that this is also your expression of love. Submit to the tyranny of your schemes, and then, don’t do it any longer.

Read more Some Pros and Cons of Organizing Your Bookshelves by Color at The Toast.

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3333 days ago
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3324 days ago
You cannot imagine the number of times people walk into a bookstore and ask for "that new book, the one with the purple cover".
3330 days ago
3330 days ago
"Submit to the tyranny of your schemes" is really excellent life advice. :D
3333 days ago
I organize my books by strife. Lighter reads float to the top while the heaviest books sit on the bottom. There is some color coordination by coincidence.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
3333 days ago
There's a German literature publisher that designed a whole line of paperbacks in 48 graded colours so you can do this: http://kulturkenner.de/files/media_images/images/670_media_item.jpg?1263479619

And yes, bookstores tend to arrange them like that.
3334 days ago
Admission: I colour-code my books. Additional pro/con: sometimes you will be compelled to buy a book purely for the colour of its spine.
Yorkshire, UK
3334 days ago
First I thought "Ooh! Let's talk about bookshelves!" And then. And then.
3334 days ago
"You will think that your relationship will last, but you will always write your name in your books, just in case, and you will have to live with the fact that you are this type of person." I am this type of person.
Brooklyn, NY