14 Mar How to Organize Your Bookshelf
I am capricious. One day I’ll view a certain cookbook as General Cooking and file it away as such. Then after using it for a while, I realize I’m drawn only to its dessert section and stick it in with the baking books. Only it’s not a baking book, so I forget I did this. Or perhaps a book is easy to tag but too tall for the obvious shelf, and I am forced to find a spot for it according to its bulk. Under this willy-nilly system, my books become filed so irrationally it’s as if a drunken monkey had played librarian in my office.
Last month, my bookshelves reached a crisis point. I simply couldn’t find the one cookbook I was looking for. I spent half an hour craning my neck as I skimmed the spine of my 367 cookbooks. This is time I could have spent cooking. Time could have spent writing. Time I could have spent doing anything be scouring my inventory. Clearly I needed to organize my bookshelf — but I wasn’t sure how to begin.
Using Eat Your Books to Organize Your Bookshelf
At the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference last month, I asked everyone who would give me the time of day, “How do you organize your cookbooks?” Do you have a seasonal section? How do you file celebrity cookbooks? And what do you do with Big Celebrity Chef’s Quick Gluten-Free Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes? They all had a different answer, a different method, a different collection to shelve.
At one of the panel discussions, I met Jane Kelly of Eat Your Books (EYB) (click here for a brief review) and she got me thinking. Since I consult her online cookbook database almost daily for inspriation, why not use its customizable bookmark system to file (and track) my cookbooks?
The Big Sort – Or How to Organize Your Bookshelf Without Losing Your Mind
I began by looking at the categories EYB assigned, and created a pile using the category that made most sense to me. For instance, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything was categorized as Beginner, How To and General Cooking. I’d be using it mainly to check cooking techniques, so filed it under How To, which I call Reference just to be ornery.
So I began organizing my collection in the broadest terms, taking hints from EYB if I got stuck. I began with:
- Single Subject
- Memoir/Food Writing
That lasted about 20 minutes. I found I needed to add:
Still not there. I added:
- Kitchen Garden
- Specialty Diets
- Quick Meals
- Wine/Wine Pairing
With categories firmly in place, I began to refile books.
During this process other challenges arose — beyond the obvious. Some categories had 5 too many books to fit on the shelf. Others juuuussst fit but would outgrow their space during the next publishing cycle. So I broke these categories down again in a way that would allow me to move small collections of less used books out of the office without driving myself nuts. For example, under Single Subject, I created a subset called “Equipment Based.” Here I file the books written specifically for slow cookers, food processors and pressure cookers. I don’t use these often, so they can go somewhere else when the time comes.
I broke down some large categories just for ease. My baking collection has more than 60 books, so I divided it into General Baking / Breads / Pasta & Pastry / Chocolate / Sweets / Cakes, Cookies & Pies / Ice Cream. I know. I know. Ice Cream should go under Single Subject, but my logic is thus. Ice cream = sweet = dessert = baking. EYB graciously records my arbitrary bookmarks without any criticism, and away I go. No arguments.
Maintaining the Organized Bookshelf
Since The Big Sort, I have added “Under the Bed” and “In the Kitchen” for books that are … well, under the bed or on a shelf in the kitchen. I also have an “Articles in Process” section within easy reach of my desk for books I’m reviewing or whose authors I’m interviewing. Once I’m done, I consult EYB to see where I originally filed them. Should April Charmian disagree with the logic March Charmian applied, I can just change the bookmark in EYB — and still find the book when June Charmian is looking for it.
Definitely worth the $25/year. And day spent reshuffling. The resulting chiropractic bill is up for debate.
How do you file your cookbooks? If you subscribe to Eat Your Books, what do you use it for?