But not all re-reads bring such delight. I recently picked up To Kill A Mockingbird to re-read and found myself….bored. Not only was I bored with the reading experience, I didn’t feel any sense of hope or enjoyment out of the experience. If anything, I walked away from Lee’s classic wondering why it was such a beloved, widely-read book. Was it because it’s an easy, mostly-palatable examination of racism? Is it because we really enjoy being able to see the world through the construction of innocence Lee builds (and it’s constructed — she’s telling the story as an adult looking back at her youth, which is a detail easy to miss but vital to, I think, the endurance of the story and its message). Finishing this book didn’t put me on the “excited” side for Go Set A Watchman. I’m happy I re-read this one and reconsidered my feelings for it, as I was able to not only see the flaws in the story, but I was able to look at my own intellectual growth and see what does and doesn’t work for me. Idealism and idolization aren’t aspects of fiction I find endearing or enduring in my life. At least at this point.
Earlier this summer, I talked about how I planned on spending these few warm months catching up with back list titles and slowing down a bit to savor some classics I’ve missed out on. So far, it’s been a rousing success. One of the things I’d mentioned was finally getting around to Harry Potter. I should be fair: I’ve read the first four books in the series. It was back during the summer the final book came out, and I read it because I was working with teenagers who told me I needed to. And because of the circumstances under which I read it — a hot dorm room with no a/c or kitchen after long days in a hot classroom helped teach those same teenagers about Shakespeare — I never got the spark from them that I’d hoped to find.
I picked up the first three books last month at the bookstore and cannot wait to re-read them with my mind open and ready to be excited by them. Technically, half of the series is a re-read; the other half is a first read.
I’m finding that re-reading is bringing me to texts in a much different way now. After reading so much more and simply living much more, it’s interesting to see what things I take away on a new read and which things I don’t. I’m definitely motivated to revisit more books now and see what does and doesn’t work for me now, as compared to the person I was when I initially read it. I was recently told to revisit, of all things, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, a book I never found myself quite enjoying like I hoped to. I was told now that I know about how the publishing world works, I’d appreciate it on a whole other level, and that sort of recommendation makes me excited about a re-read in a way I never anticipated.
And that’s the power of books — they grow with you, and like any relationship in your life, sometimes growing means becoming tighter and sometimes it means choosing to come to an amicable split.
Tell me: do you re-read? What books have you found to be immeasurably better upon re-read? Which have you found yourself disappointed in? What makes the difference to you?
Thanks to all who answered my informal poll about organization of your personal books! I thought the results were pretty interesting, if unscientific. Because we’re clearly all nerds, I thought you’d appreciate seeing the results in graph format. I’ve also shared some of the more interesting “Other” responses below.
|Click on the graph to make it larger.|
- I have a shelf dedicated just to books I haven’t read yet. (I had this at my old place where we had a ton of built-ins, but in my current place, the books I haven’t read tend to just sit on tables.)
- My other shelf is for books I’ve read and LOVED.
- By books I’ve read and books that are unread and then by genre. (An organizational scheme after my own heart. Perhaps something I’ll do in my new place.)
- Personal interest
- By imprint (all NYRB together, all Penguin black spines together, etc) (By far one of the nerdiest responses, and I mean that lovingly.)
- If they were purchased for a class, they tend to stay with their “classmates.”
- Release date then author’s last name
- Loosely by genre– for example, British mysteries are separate from cozy mysteries, etc, but I do keep series together.
- By “themes” and by favourites vs. non-favourites. (Organizing by favorites was a popular reply.)
- Crammed into boxes by size. I only have space to have out books I am actively reading. Very unhappy. (This would make me unhappy too.)
- Stream of consciousness
- Alphabetical and then by publishing date except for series… it’s complicated.
- Genre first, then beauty (series are kept together, no matter what).
There were a lot of great, more in-depth comments on the original post, too, so be sure to check it out if this topic interests you.
I just recently bought a house, and it’s big enough that there’s room for a dedicated personal library. I’m very excited! It presents a really fun challenge: how do I organize my books now that I have enough space to display all of them? (Previously, I had been just shoving a bookcase wherever it would fit and stacking books on tables. I expect I’ll probably continue to do that, but the majority of my books will now fit in a single room.)
I was in library school when I first learned that some people organize their books by color. The effect is really cool, and I don’t think it would be that difficult to find a particular book since I tend to remember what color my own books are. I actually have this IKEA bookshelf where I’ve organized a few of my books in roy g biv on their sides from top to bottom. It looks pretty neat. When I was first dating my boyfriend, he moved into a new apartment and I convinced him to let me organize his books by color because I really wanted to see what it would look like. I found out later that he hated the idea, but he let me do it anyway. (Aww.) I can definitely see the drawbacks. For example, a lot of series books wouldn’t be shelved together since they each have a different cover color, like the Harry Potter books.
Aside from the IKEA shelf, my books right now (prior to moving into the new house) are organized in the standard alphabetical order by author’s last name. Most of what I own is fiction, and the few nonfiction titles I have occupy a single shelf and they’re not really in any particular order.
I say that my fiction is organized in alpha order, but that’s true only to a certain extent. Because we have limited space in our rental, I’ve divided them into hardbacks and paperbacks. The hardbacks go against the back of the shelf and the paperbacks go in front of the hardbacks. Most of my shelves are deep enough that this works without any of the books hanging over the edge. In theory, this allows me to see all of my books at once. In practice, I still have to lean the paperbacks forward to see the title of the hardbacks. I hope that this won’t be necessary in the new place. My graphic novels I also keep separate, and they occupy just a couple of shelves next to my cookbooks in the kitchen. (You see what I mean about putting books wherever there’s space?)
When I was a kid/teen and living with my parents, I’d frequently take a couple of hours and reorganize my bookshelf in my bedroom for fun. I loved looking at all of my books and remembering a title I had forgotten I had. At the time, I had a single bookcase and it seemed like I had quite a lot of books. Teenage Kimberly would look at my current collection and feel awed. I know the trend nowadays is often to downsize material possessions, including book collections, but acquiring books has always made me feel good and I’ve come to like that aspect of my personality. I do have a lot of books that I haven’t yet read, but the fact that they’re there comforts me. I always have a book at hand, on almost any topic, whenever the itch hits me – sci fi, contemporary, romance, high fantasy, classic, middle grade, YA, adult. I strongly associate books with memories, so almost each title I pick up reminds me of something good, like the first time I attended a library conference or a particularly engaging undergrad literature class.
In my new house, I’ve been toying with the idea of organizing my books more like they’re organized in a library. I think I want to separate my adult books from my children’s and teen books, and I may even decide to separate them by genre as well. I doubt I’ll go the color route, since I’ll be sharing the space with my boyfriend’s books (we don’t interfile!) and it would look a little odd to have some shelves in the room color-coded and others not.
I thought it might be fun to take a little informal poll to see how our readers organize their personal book collections. Feel free to elaborate on your system in the comments!
I’m feeling way less pressure when it comes to reading now, and a big reason is that I’ve made the conscious decision to not just slow down, but to not feel obligated to read everything that’s new. While that still makes up the bulk of my reading diet, I’m much more intentional about my choices. I’m not picking something up just because. Instead, I pick it up because I’m interested in it; I’m reading far more books across genres and styles not because of that. Perhaps it’s changed how I’m blogging a bit, since I don’t write reviews as much as I once did, but it’s changing my reading life for the better. Choosing to be intentional about reading backlist this summer and slowing down to drink in the words, language, and stories makes me even more excited to discover new favorites.
Without doubt, making this choice will encourage more excitement and engagement with those fall titles when I’m ready for them.
What are you reading this summer? What backlist should I be looking into? I am open to YA and adult fiction, as well as really solid, engaging non-fiction — memoirs by people of color or microhistories are especially appealing to me. Tell me your reading plans and what should be on my radar.