An illustration of bookshelves against a yellow background

How do you sort out your books? Image: iStock

Are your bookshelves fit to burst, or looking a little lacklustre? Perhaps you’re perfectly happy with your library system, but are always curious as to how others sort theirs. No worries – we’re not here to judge. In fact, here at Penguin.co.uk we actively enjoy chatting about the best way to store our books. Which is why we’ve decided to spill the beans on our own techniques of bookshelf-sorting at home.

Embrace the rainbow!

Imogen Rayfield
Children’s editor

When it comes to organising my books, I’m pretty Type A. I typically organise by genre, and then within that genre I organise by the author’s last name, followed by the release date of the book. And I also organise my books by hardback and paperback. I apply this same method to my Kindle eBooks although I’ve created an extra folder for books I’ve read.

However, when the first lockdown kicked in, I decided to embrace my inner Type B and went for the bookstagram look – I organised all my physical books by colour! It looks wonderful, took me hours (but hours well spent) and it’s not caused me too much stress that I’ve felt I’ve had to change it back. The Kindle library is staying as it is however – I need to feel some sense of control.

Apply a system to the space

Indira Birnie
Senior marketing manager

As much as I’d like to be a minimalist, my love of books as beautiful objects and ever-growing reading list mean I own more books than I have space for. But there is a system because the years I spent working as a bookseller have left me with strong opinions on how books should be arranged – by type of book or genre and then alphabetised by the author’s surname (or, if there’s more than one book by an author, alphabetise by title too). It’s rigid but it makes sense and it’s always easy to find what you want. 

In my flat, graphic novels and arty tomes live together on the tallest shelves, paperback fiction and non-fiction go on a small bookcase, and my most-thumbed cookbooks huddle together on a little unit otherwise used for glassware and booze. This, however, is where the system falls to pieces; without the space for more dedicated shelving, the remaining books are forced to suffer the indignity of being shoved in wherever there’s space, which is why there are currently several boxes of books hibernating under my bed.

Divide and conquer

Sarah Shaffi
Managing editor

I have spent years trying to perfect my bookshelves, arranging and rearranging to try and squeeze everything in and get rid of some of the teetering piles that live on the floor. I finally had a breakthrough when I separated out my hardbacks from my paperbacks. Shelving them separately – in alphabetical order by author surname, which is my forever method of arranging books – meant that I could fit more in; because they all are (roughly) the same height I can stack horizontally on top of the vertically stacked books. I’ve stuck to this arrangement for a few years now, and it’s resulted in fewer piles of books on the floor; a win in my books.

Compromise works

Alice Vincent
Features editor

When I lived alone, my books were organised in a matter that made perfect sense to me, but was, essentially, impossible to explain to anyone else. Then I moved in with someone who enjoys alphabetising and a convoluted compromise has unfolded. It all starts with “the unread bookcase”, which does what it says on the tin and contains non-fiction and fiction. Once a book has been read (or abandoned), it moves to either the charity shop pile or the main bookshelves, which are alphabetised by the author’s last name. Despite being fairly large, we have to insist on a one-in, one-out policy because they’re pretty full.

Chaos reigns, however, on the separate bookshelves where our distinct interests our housed  (gardening and theatre, respectively). There, as with the shelf of art books, I allow happy chaos to reign – books ordered by subject, size, sometimes colour and mostly hunch.

Separate the read from the unread

Stephanie Tait
Newsletter editor

For someone who feels strongly about how bookshelves should (alphabetical by author’s surname) and absolutely should not (colour-coded) be organised, I’m reluctant to admit that the only organisation behind my current shelf is simply: read and unread.

The have-reads sit together where I warmly gaze at them mid-Yoga with Adriene, below the haven’t-read-yets that both excite and periodically overwhelm. Having moved house eight times in the last seven years, I haven’t been in one place long, or big, or mine enough to establish my own, proper, correctly-ordered shelf – yet.

What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

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