Bookcases Speak Volumes …


Centuries ago, books were written by hand on parchment paper. The earliest literary works (preserved in a manuscript tradition) date from the early Iron Age. Ancient writings were kept in small boxes which owners of the works often carried with them.

As volumes accumulated in homes and places of work, the flat books were stacked, back side down, on shelves in cabinets. In large libraries, doors were often installed to protect the fragile, original manuscript.

With the invention of the printing press, more and more people could afford to own copies of printed books and the modern bookcase idea evolved. Bookcase doors were discarded, books were printed with the title of the book on a spine. The spine made it easy for the book to sit upright and allowed the reader to view a particular book title from the shelf before removing it.

Modern bookcases are now used to store books in an orderly fashion, or not. My husband and I once visited a new-age bookstore on the Oregon coast where he recommended they find a better way to organize their books. He then suggested placing them on shelves by the color of the book cover since “new agers” were looking for answers without knowing the question first. The owner wasn’t keen on that suggestion. I remember thinking the “color system” wouldn’t work well for color blind readers. But it was fun to imagine an all green section without any books about money or gardening. Years later, I read about an independent bookstore in San Francisco where a local artist arranged every single one of the 20,000 books by color. Readers loved it. Makes perfect sense to me.

As you can see from my photo, our living room bookcase holds books plus a few little extras things. My favorite cookbooks sit together on the top shelf, to the left. Our language and travel books occupy the bottom shelf. Literary works fill the spaces in between. There’s no rhyme or reason, but there is a good explanation for the extras. Rescue Remedy? It’s in a convenient location when I need to calm an over-excited dog on his way to the groomer. Mosquito repellent? Yes, the bookcase is just inside our front entrance and is easy to grab and spray before taking a walk during mosquito season. A nail file? Easier to find than in my purse. A bookmark? Always handy to have near a bookshelf.

Can you spot a slim black book-looking device, without writing on the spine? I store another entire bookshelf filled with dozens of books on this unit. I’m curious to know what treasures your bookshelf holds. How do you organize your books? Do you keep non-book items there?

2 Replies to “Bookcases Speak Volumes …”

  1. My books are organized by genre, roughly, but some subjects overlap. I have a thousand books (not counting my husband’s) but am in process of culling, as our recent cross-country move with hundreds of cartons made me realize that I have to curb my obsession. (As if that’ll happen. If I get rid of some, I’ll just get more!) I’m thinking online bookshop but most discards will probably be library donations. Both of them. I have put paintings, vases, photos, a little marble box collection, seashells, & bookmarks in baskets on my shelves at various times. Only the beautiful is allowed – no toenail clippers or socks – although one does have to keep an eye on one’s absent-minded husband. We also have Kindles & iPads, making us terminal cases of bibliophilia.

    1. Claire, thanks for the mental snapshot of your bookcase. Culling and weeding are ongoing in our home also. And we join you as terminal cases of bibliophilia.
      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.
      Susan Joyce

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