How to Organize Your Books: A Guide

There are certain perennial questions for a book lover: hardcover or paperback? E-reader or print? Write in the margins or never, ever mark a page?

And then there’s the matter of organizing your book collection, open to eternal debate. Genre, color, no scheme at all? Reading Group Choices understands, and we offer a few ideas to help readers arrange that growing home library!

Give Me Function!

When looking at your shelves or piles of books, first decide your goal: Are you frustrated because you can never find that title you’re looking for? If so, then take the functional approach and prioritize good organization.

There are different levels, from macro to micro, depending on your needs.

Catalog your books; "card catalog" by firemeboy is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0Conventional wisdom includes sorting into broad and then consecutively smaller groups. Start big with genres such as fiction on one wall or room (a sci-fi bedroom, anyone?), and then subdivide into mystery, historical, fantasy, or classics. Likewise with nonfiction and its sub-categories: biography, true crime, memoir, and others. Complete the taxonomy by alphabetizing by author last name or title within each smallest category. (And put those to-be-read titles at the beginning or end, if you wish!)

If you never want to (literally) lose track of a book, then zoom down to the macro level and be your own home librarian. Several apps can help you catalog your books, so that you have a trackable database of the titles you own, and the ones you’ve lent out.

And if the idea of classifying and sorting linearly doesn’t hold much interest, then consider a different approach…

Mix It Up!

Alternative ways of organizing your books have their advantages. They create interesting relationships between authors and titles (Harry Potter next to Jane Eyre next to The Poet X), and get you to think about them in new ways, like random roommates. It just may freshen up your shelves and energize your collection.

Organize books by color; "Reading Rainbow" by Fu Man Jew is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Sorting by color has been the rage (and the controversy) for a while. This method serves readers who have a strong visual memory for the book they want to find, or who just want something pleasing to the eye. Size is another choice: Level off those books and create one clean line with your spines. And for a bolder artistic statement, turning your spines inward has created a neutral look but a reader outrage.

For a twist, consider other large categories to sort by instead of genre, such as theme. Love or the law, coming-of-age or war. These topics can include all kinds of fiction and nonfiction, which you can sort into sub-categories and alphabetize as above. Or go geographic and make country or region the dominant principle, either based on the book’s setting or author’s homeland.

One novel idea is to organize books by when you read them, to create a chronological memory lane on your shelves. And save a place for the books you’ve read with your book group, so that you can revisit the discussions you had (and have a go-to spot when making recommendations for friends or family).

You can also make one grand, unified collection by alphabetizing all genres and types together by author, or by title. For some, there’s great satisfaction in seeing an author’s works all together. Or throw away any sense of organization and allow your books to exist randomly together: genres, themes, sizes, and authors mixed into one great readerly mélange.

However You Organize…

How to organize booksWhat matters is this: Ask yourself how you think about your books when looking for them, and make that your dominant organizing principle.

And when your tastes or needs change, have fun taking apart your collection and putting it back together a new way!


Have an out-of-control collection and need to weed? We’ve got tips for that as well!