I'm not sure what the last time was that all my books were shelved. I know when I lived in my own apartment 2008-10, pre-marriage, there was no point all my books were shelved; I didn't have anywhere near enough shelf space then, and my Star Trek books remained boxed the entire time. So it must have been before I moved out of my parents, but I know the last couple years of living there was a struggle to find the space. At least. So I don't know when all my books were last shelved, but it must have been since before 2007. March 2007 was when I finished logging all my books into LibraryThing; I had about 1,030 at the time.
When my wife and I were house-hunting, we knew we wanted a house with three or four bedrooms. One for us, one for guests, one to be her craft room, one to be my study. But even though we moved in in August 2017, things kept us pretty busy, and setting up house was a slow process (we didn't have a tv until January 2018, for example), and my study wasn't a priority. So most of my books languished in piles of boxes in my study until July 2018, when Hayley surprised me by organizing friends to assemble IKEA shelves while I was at a conference.
Since then, I've been shelving in fits and starts, working my way through my massive collection. I got a little bit done most weekends, and some weeknights when possible, extracting books from boxes and alphabetizing. In Connecticut, I'd segregated literary fiction from science fiction and fantasy; I decided to not do that here, which required more work. I started at A (specifically, with Daniel Abbott's How the Wizard Came to Oz) and kept going until I hit Z (Jack Zipes's The Great Fairy Tale Tradition). I would continuously find pockets of books I'd missed that required me to rearrange what I'd already done.
From there, it was on to tie-in fiction and nonfiction, then shared universe graphic novels (another change I introduced was folding standalone graphic novels into my main collection). My wife had bought five Billy bookshelves from IKEA; I ended up buying four more to house it all, alongside utilizing a couple bookcases we'd brought with it. Eight of the bookshelves are in my study (plus a little one), with two in the dining room, and two in our bedroom.
The moment where I shelved my very last books (DC comics too big to fit with my other DC comics, specifically Superman: Sunday Classics and the four volumes of The Annotated Sandman) was profoundly satisfying. For the first time in at least a decade, every book I owned had a place and it was in that place! It had only taken me seven months of slow and steady work.
I even managed to build in some slack, having a little bit of space at the end of every row, and even some blank rows here and there. I worked out that in my main shelving area, I have room for about 90 more books. Over the past year I acquired 72 books, but of course many of those were comics or Star Trek or for research, so they wouldn't go in that main area, meaning I should be set for a couple years at least.
I still wander among the shelves and just marvel at how nice it is to have everything in its proper place. The study is actually a good room for walking in circles while I shush Julian, and looking at the spines gives me something to focus on.
Hayley has requested I organize hers, though, so soon I will have more work to do.
* * *
This is the first set of "literature" shelves in my study, going from A to S. Like I said above, this mixes together literary fiction, sf&f, and comic books that don't fit into shared universes. I did this because it was beginning to feel silly that some of my, say, Doris Lessing novels would be on one shelf, and the rest on another. I also mixed in nonfiction if I bought it because the author wrote fiction I also owned. Like, I own M. T. Anderson's Symphony for the City of the Dead because it's by him, not because I care about the siege of Leningrad, so it seems like it belongs with my other Anderson books, not on my history shelf between Supergods and BBC VFX. I stored some mass market paperbacks sideways if it was more space-efficient.
The other side of the study finishes off my fiction, authors S-Z.
The rest of the shelves are filled with tie-in mass market paperbacks. (IKEA's Billy shelves are basically perfect for MMPBs if you buy two extra shelves per case.) The tie-ins go Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, with miscellaneous ones shoved in on the last shelf on the bottom right (e.g., Babylon 5, Ghost in the Shell, Stargate). I did shelve some tie-ins in with my main collection if I didn't have very many; for example, I only have one Babylon 5 comic so I just put it under its writer. Within each set of tie-ins, I broke it down into subseries, and then publication order within the subseries.
Finally the little shelf by my desk has reference books (e.g., the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology) and large academic anthologies (e.g., the Riverside Chaucer, my various Nortons and Longmans), as well as the five volumes of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (because I couldn't think of where else to put them). Underneath them goes extra complimentary copies of my own fiction.
The dining room is a mix. The left side shelf starts with Penguin Classics, which I organized by author birth date (right now that's from Giovanni Boccaccio, 1313 to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, 1938). I have a friend who organizes her entire collection that way, which seems neat but too much work, but doing Penguins that way seemed both worthwhile and doable. Clearly George Eliot belongs next to Herman Melville in some sense. After that comes nonfiction. First, biographies, memoirs, and other books focused on a single person, organized by subject birth date (from Hypatia, c. 350 to Ishmael Beah, 1980); that idea was inspired by the author birth date thing. Then history books, organized by date of subject (from Writing: The Story of Alphabets and Scripts, c. 3,000 B.C.E. to Bringing Down Gaddafi, 2011). Other nonfiction is organized alphabetically by author, and then science books by Library of Congress catalog section. Some books are stored sideways because they're too tall. Plus there's some leftover nonfiction too big to fit anywhere else.
The right shelf is Star Trek hardcovers and trade paperbacks. I used to shelve these by series and release date, but I decided that wasn't worth the effort anymore; Star Trek mass markets had consistent spine designs that make publication order aesthetically pleasing, but that was rarely true for the larger format books. So now I'm shelving alphabetically by title (ignoring the words "Star Trek"). Then Doctor Who hardcovers, Doctor Who-adjacent books (e.g., Bernice Summerfield, Iris Wildthyme), and lastly, nonfiction about Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Star Wars.
The first bedroom shelf starts with Star Wars trade paperbacks and hardcovers, then Star Wars comics, Star Trek comics, DC trade paperbacks, Marvel trade paperbacks, and miscellaneous shared universe comics (e.g., Miracleman, Top 10). All of these are sorted by title.
The last bedroom shelf has most of my comics hardcovers, and other large comics. DC hardcovers, then Marvel hardcovers, then Doctor Who comics, and finally Avatar: The Last Airbender. I have to say these look very nice-- I don't think I've ever had more than a few of them shelved before-- but if this shelf falls over in the night, I might die.
* * *When I posted about this on facebook, my brother observed, "I'm going to buy you a book but not give it to you." I replied that would be great, actually, because I would own the book but it would take up any space. He retorted, "It's going to blow your mind when you learn about libraries." I don't use libraries as much as I ought. Part of that is sort of a collectormania you clearly see evinced in this post: I like owning things, because then I can put the things that I own in neat little rows.
I used to get lots of books from the library, in fact. But while there was a point in my life I could read every book as soon as I got it, I eventually fell behind on reading the books I owned. (I don't know exactly when this was, but I created a file to track my "To read" list in August 2008.) When you own unread books, it's hard to justifying borrowing books to read them-- and I think I actually fell into a trap as a result. Because if I wanted to read a book, I couldn't justify borrowing it from the library. But that meant if I was going to actually read a book, I had to buy it. And so the ballooning of my collection began!
I own 2,667 books. But according to LibraryThing, 627 of the books in my personal library are also in my "To read" collection, so just under a quarter of my collection I haven't even read. I have a long way to go before I clear that backlog, but at least for now, I can see every one of those books.
It saddens me to think that I shall have to die with thousands of books unread that would have given me noble and unblemished happiness.
—The Haunted Bookshop (1919) by Christopher Morley