It’s something I’m quite proud of and has really only come to fruition in my current house in London.
Turns out the secret ingredient was less space… Rather than more. It keeps you diligent and forces you to think a bit more creatively.
I guess the other key factor in the success of my current book system is that my occult library has very recently been culled: It began in my home in Australia and grew to an enormous size in Sydney. Then I moved to New Zealand and started bringing select titles that I missed and felt were useful back over with me during my regular trips back home.
Finally, there was another culling prior to the move to the UK because I shipped all my books over. (The Aust/NZ culling was useful in its way but I just ended up re-purchasing titles or angrily doing without. I won’t ever make that mistake again. I now move around the world with a library. That’s just how I roll.)
What it means is that I don’t have a lot of ‘junk’ titles left in my occult collection. They’re all either useful in an ongoing way or part of my regular practice.
So the system got off to a good start.
1. Have the right tools
In this case the tools are
- Post-it flags
I am not in the least bit precious about bookshelves. The ones that aren’t built into the library room are all ikea’s Billy bookshelves. This is a working book collection. It’s not meant to be pretty. It’s meant to be practical. And whenever I need a new Billy I just head up to Wembley and get another one. (Besides, I’m renting. Maybe oak panelling will be in my future, maybe it won’t.)
Post-It flags may or may not have changed my life. My job (and other writing projects) require a lot of ongoing research. I have moved practices from this over to magic. Now all my books have rainbow headdresses.
2. Group intuitively
Your permanent book collection is going to be pretty unique to you. So why would you want to implement some kind of Dewey system or try and categorize them the way the publisher intends? Group them in ways that ‘work’ together and reflect your own mind’s way of doing things.
- History/Anthropology/Sociology/Economics. They all work together in my brain.
- Career/Media/Marketing/Filmmaking/Money. I have a career in media. It’s where I make money.
- Science Fiction/Fantasy. My second biggest fiction category. But only because I have grouped the rest under:
- Fiction (All other). Mostly classics and a bit of modern literature.
- Graphic novels.
- Tolkien -and all Tolkien-related stuff- is its own category.
- Plays/Short fiction/Poetry. I write plays sometimes. I won an award for my zombie radio play. Bet you didn’t know that!
- Travel/Cooking. They definitely go together in my head.
And now for magic. I don’t group it by category but by ‘usefulness’ and ‘usefulness together’. So the top shelf is chaos books, other modern magic books (even if I can’t remember their exact titles. Something about an apprentice, maybe?), ideas I like at the time or am working with.
The next shelf down is ‘regular reference’. So spell books, magician’s tables, grimoires, Book of Thoth, other Tarot books, etc. It’s the ‘cookbook shelf’ of magic.
Beneath this is miscellaneous and ‘large books’. Titles move up and down from here to the top shelf depending on what’s in high rotation.
Incidentally, re-ordering the bookshelf to the way it is now only took a day. And it was fun in the way Spring cleaning is allegedly fun. Wear some ‘house clothes’ because you’ll get filthy and sweaty, put on some music and have at it.
3. Pile intelligently
My system hangs on this. I have two bedside book piles:
- ‘New books to read’
- ‘Books I am re-reading’ (hence the post-it flags)
Not every new book has to go into the ‘new books to read’ pile. I buy a lot of reference books, travel books, cooking titles, etc. I picked up a really cheap collection of gnostic texts at Watkin’s the other day. It went straight into history/anthropology because I don’t want to read it now but one day I certainly will.
Once you buy a book (and as long as you don’t copy it), your obligation to the author is complete. You could cut all the pages up and make a crazy, serial killer-styled collage on your wall if you want. Purchasing a book is not a promise to read it as soon as you can and as fast as you can.
So the secret to the system is to decide which ‘new’ books you actually want to read right now. Then put them in the pile.
When books are finished, they go from the ‘new pile’ to their relevant homes. They don’t go straight from the book bag to the shelf or I will completely forget about them until I need them again. That’s what the reference books are for.
4. Change the channel
You can read multiple books at once. And you don’t have to finish titles that you aren’t enjoying!
If you aren’t enjoying a TV program you change the channel. Never forget that books are just media. They’re subject to the same rules. Media begs for your attention because it is so unbelievably valuable. Why should books get an automatic right of way if they aren’t up to the task?
This is a very late realisation for me. I think it had something to do with the library rules I was taught in primary school about how many books I was allowed to take out. And the fact I could only swap them for something else once I had satisfied the librarian that the titles had actually been read. (She also got really annoyed at me for re-reading things rather than reading something new. So the pile system may have annoyed her. But I think she’d approve of Post-It flags rather than highlighting in library books.)
It was so liberating when I discovered I wasn’t scorned for not finishing a book. Life is too short and I am too time-poor.
5. Read strategically
My ‘new books to read’ pile is too big at the moment because I have accidentally blocked all my ‘lanes’ with large, heavy-going books (a history of persia, triumph of the moon, black swan).
So I have left them all behind on my weekend away and taken three smaller ones… It looks like I’ll be able to smash them all by tomorrow night… Hence making the ‘new book’ pile smaller.
I can usually only manage about four books at once but that’s just my brain. It’s not like it’s a rule.
6. Be a decidedly un-sexy librarian
If, like me, you have a shared library/bookspace, then threaten physical violence or creepy, fairyland-style fines (your ability to laugh, the taste of anything sweet, etc) if books aren’t immediately placed in their relevant category. It’s a slippery slope.
And no lending.
With no exceptions. I would not lend a book’s author my copy to use at a reading at the end of my street. That I was going to. (The best compromise in that situation is that I would probably hold the book while the author read from it, turning the pages at the right times like we used to do in pre-school.)
As long as everyone is aware of this in advance, they won’t think you’re weird. (They already think you’re weird, anyway.)
What about you? How do you approach the ol’ book management question?