from sky to seed

Book Love

My “foodie” shelf: Essential cookbooks, organic gardening reference texts, wine guides, and the latest on food politics.

When Jon and I combined our homes, I brought with me two suitcases of clothes and approximately… 15 boxes of books. I was fresh out of grad school. He thought I was cute and charming. Once, as a prank, he told me that he’d washed the floor and accidentally gotten the boxes wet–including my complete autographed Michael Ondaajte collection. I was so distraught that I considered moving out.

It was then that we realized we needed to make room for a serious set of bookcases.

He generously offered to buy them, “Whatever kind you want,” he said, waving his hand. He’s the type of guy who doesn’t price compare orange juice brands. He just buys the first thing he sees.

I picked a huge set by Restoration Hardware. When I emailed him the link, his response included a lot of blocky capitalizations, exclamation points, and question marks. I scaled back and found a comparative set on Overstock.

Ever since, we’ve lived with a bookcase that looks like this cluttered, chaotic nightmare:

With the weather outside still unsuitable for garden prepping, I’m stuck inside the house with magazine deadlines, which I’m grateful for, and a decorator’s clumsy thumb. This weekend, I decided to attack the bookcase. After browsing beautiful home design blogs and articles for advice, this was my end result:


Not bad, eh?

Here’s how I got there:

First, I spent a lot of time on Pinterest, Apartment Therapy, Real Simple, and Oprah. Also, this NPR article was super helpful.

In browsing style blogs and Pinterest, it became immediately clear to me that one of the keys to a stylish bookcase is space. With that in mind, I decided to free up at least two shelves, requiring me to rid myself of several stacks of books. To a reader and writer and devoted book lover, this was really hard. I had books that I’d read once and loved, like The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, books that informed and moved me intellectually at past points in my life, like Wilderness and the American Mind by Roderick Frazier Nash, and books I felt a true reader ought to have Night by Elie Wiesel and just about everything by David Foster Wallace. Even though I can’t stand DFW.

But I took a deep breath, and shed.

Step One: Reduce, reduce, reduce.

Step One: Reduce, reduce, reduce.

Next, I had to figure out a method for organizing my books. The dorky grad school graduate in me told me that the only proper way to organize my books was by genre and author. Of course! It made finding anything ridiculously easy. But it also made my bookcase ridiculously ugly, which was not OK with me. I wanted my bookcase to also be a display. Here’s what I did:

1. Color Categorize

Admittedly, this sounded like the dummy’s way to display books at first, and one thing that makes me love my book collection is that I feel it reflects my intelligence, and I’m proud of that! After some mental wrestling, I decided it was okay to do some color categorization, as long as the books were tied together by some other support, like author or theme.

2. Build Up

My bookcase is actually three bookcases of four shelves, totaling twelve. One of the problems with the way my shelves were originally arranged was that the monotony of the book rows couldn’t direct the eye to points of interest that I wanted to showcase, like small sculptures and photographs. By playing with height arrangements, I realized I could pull the eye in different directions without sacrificing style and simplicity. It was also important with me that the heights of objects and stacks varied, because once again, I wanted to get away from the feeling of dull monotony that a row of books can portray.

3. Dimension

The same appeal of shadowbox frames applies here. Instead of pushing all of my books and items to the back of the shelf and against the wall, I pulled a few sets forward, particularly the book arrangements that were beautiful to the eye, like those categorized by color. I also incorporated framed photographs, decorative props like vases and pottery, and sentimental objects like my Dad’s flight logs and our arrowhead collection.

Check out a couple shelf close-ups below. Not bad, eh?


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