Our fantasy library

So, some day when one of us becomes extremely wealthy… you know, when #2’s partner’s long-lost great-uncle dies and leaves him his hundreds of millions… we’re going to buy a three story flat in San Francisco.  #2 and company will live on the top floor, my family will live on the bottom floor where the running of small feet won’t bother anybody, and the middle floor will be our joint library.  (Yes, we know it would be smarter to have the library on the bottom floor, but #2 will be rich enough that they can reinforce it or something.)

While I was viewing the shots of #2’s bookcases, I realized something horrific.  “Oh man, I don’t think we could ever consolidate libraries though,” I typed.  “I’m itching to go through your shelves and sort by author alphabetically.”

Fortunately, that turned out not to be a problem.  “You could curate my books for me. You could even add yours in. I would keep them in order once they were in order,” she replied.  Apparently she doesn’t have her own strange filing system that I just wasn’t understanding.  They’re just not… in order.  *twitch*  You know that episode of Big Bang Theory where Sheldon goes to a party and organizes his hosts’ closet and begs to be allowed to take the button box home to organize in the car?  That’s totally me.  Though mostly with bookcases and spice racks.  I’m not a clean person, but I love my alphabetizing.

Well, it’s not quite fair to say that they’re not in order.  She does have them in “an order.” “For example,” she says, “there is one case that is all my best-loved and most-personal books.”  Which totally makes sense to me.  I’ve often had my most beloved books on the shelf closest to my bed in my life.  Or I’ll have a separate shelf for not-yet-read books.  But the former are generally organized by genre and then by author’s last name, while the latter are organized either by order I should read, alphabetically, or if there are a lot of them, in a manner than will help keep the towers from toppling (largest on the bottom).

“I would let you alphabetize them,” she said.  “I might even help. I just wouldn’t do it all myself.”  This is a good thing, because I might have a nervous break-down if I had to continually see Dave Barry coming right after Diana Wynne Jones.  My mind would not be able to handle it.  In no world does that make sense unless you have very few books by other authors and that just happens to be where you break between fiction and non-fiction/humor.

#2 also has another odd need– she wants authors who coauthor books to have the coauthored book in between the other two authors.  “Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett wrote a book together, so Good Omens is filed in between the two authors, who are next to each other.  I believe that Patricia Wrede and Carolyn Stevermer belong together.”  However, that problem is easily solved, “How about two copies of good omens, one housed with each author?”  “That will work.”

Series order is also important– we are agreed that the Discworld books should be in publication order.  After all, many of the characters show up in other folks’ series.  Especially the Librarian.

Some more discussion decides that hardbacks and paperbacks should be put together in the same shelves.  We are not facing space constraints in our fantasy library, and nothing has to be in a fancy display shelf.  If you don’t think old paperbacks are beautiful, you don’t belong in our library, even if you might be invited to our living rooms.

Then we move on to the more difficult discussion of how to group fiction vs. non-fiction and different genres.  I favor separation of fiction and non-fiction at the very least (though humor like Dave Barry could go in either or in a separate category), and have a slight favor towards subdividing fiction.  She prefers putting everything together.  She wants Malcolm Gladwell in with her fiction.  I don’t.  We throw the question to our partners.  Mine wants everything to be completely subdivided by genre.  Hers says that we should totally separate fiction from non-, and that his books have to go in, too, so, she reluctantly agrees, “I guess separation it is.”  As a concession I allow her to include the graphic novels, manga, and comics with the fiction by author.  She notes that we should put their gaming/RPG books in a separate section as well.

We agree on comfy brown leather chairs with ottomans.  And a divan or two.  And a window seat.  Also, comfy couches, cushions and blankets for the windowseat, curtains, and a fireplace.  Some super-fluffy rug so we can sprawl on our tummies on the floor in front of the fire.  Lighting will somehow be perfect.  And, of course a cat, though we’re not sure whether it should be our already existing felines or a new one specific to the library.  Possibly a marmalade tabby.  And some kitty-specific furniture that allows them to avoid other kitties.

X-rated stuff goes on high high shelves, or goes in individual bedrooms.  #2 must have a lot of pr0n.
We decide on a separate area with low bookcases for books for 0-4 year olds, but chapter books will be shelved with the adult ones.  I add some children’s puzzles and a little desk with little chairs.  Like at the library.  #2 adds a beanbag.  And step-stools.

Finally, we make sure the wifi covers that room too so we can get to LibraryThing.

Now we just have to wait for someone’s unknown rich relative to die and leave us lots of money.

What does your fantasy library look like?

65 Responses to “Our fantasy library”

  1. lenelein Says:

    My favourite library is already growing at my home. I’d love to have a dedicated room for it, but it currently resides in the living room where books add a lot of warmth and comfort (at least in my eyes).

    But you would hate my library with passion because I simply sort it by the time I bought the books. Not by alphabet or anything. I put series together, though. And my boyfriend – who actually wanted to keep them alphabetized- forced me to use a crude genre division, although I’m secretly undermining it by simply adding new books on the last shelve which isn’t full.

    What do you think about people who sort their books by colour? I like the look, but I could never live with series devided…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t mind what other people do with their books, it’s just mine that have to be alphabetized.

      Also, by date of purchase is a perfectly reasonable organizational system. That’s how my to-read shelf is sorted currently. But it wouldn’t work if I had to merge my library with yours!

  2. First Gen American Says:

    I’m reading Gormenghast right now and libraries there are a key feature of the castle. I’m more disorganized, the opposite of my husband. When he looks at my files, he’s like..what’s your system..um, the files I use most are up in front. Books would be the same for me..organized by favorites and genre’s.

    My library would definitely have one of those leather couches that stuffy lawyer offices have and a comfy reading chair with a little side table to put your afternoon tea on. I can’t even imagine reading without some kind of throw over my lap..but I suppose a cat would be a suitable alternative for those who like cats and don’t have allergies. My library would have wood paneling on the walls too. Stained and varnished, not painted. Like that room that the host from masterpiece theater sits in.

  3. Bek Says:

    That sounds delightful! When my partner and I bought our house, we agreed that we each got one dream thing. He picked converting the carport into a garage/workshop. I picked turning the top room into a library with a slidey ladder. We are in the process of making these things happen. It’s super exciting. Your library totally needs a slidey ladder for those high up books :)

  4. raluca Says:

    I’m building a new house soon and I’ll have a hallway library – the upstairs hallway is big enough to fit shelves between door frames and a reading spot in a corner near the windows. I’ll have a bean bag for sure :).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      When we were living in an apartment, the falling-apart mansion next door was being renovated, and that’s one of the things they did. It had a big window so we could see into that hallway. So beautiful.

  5. Debbie M Says:

    Several thoughts:

    1) No, it’s good not to have books on the first floor anyway because that’s where flooding happens.

    2) I don’t want to go around organizing other people’s things, but I do add obviously inappropriate things to people’s shopping lists if they are on the refrigerator when I am at a party. To your list I might add:
    * brown leather chair
    * ottoman

    3) I don’t think old paperbacks are beautiful, but beauty is not what I look for in a book. Sure, if two copies have the same content and are near the same price and in the same condition, I’ll get the more beautiful one. But of course what’s really important is how good the book is.

    4) I like separation too. That’s partly because I’m much more likely to remember the genre of the book I’m looking for than the author. And normally I’m more in the mood for a particular genre than a particular author (though I could almost make an exception for Douglas Adams). Mostly it’s because I love to organize my knickknacks by genre, too. For example, the stuffed mammoth goes with the natural history books, and The Tic is protecting my housekeeping books. (I also love libraries that are nothing but books, but that’s not how mine is.) We also have it separated by room. The most awesome books are in the public areas; the books that are merely reference are in the office. The cookbooks are in the dining room.

    5) You certainly have most of the good ideas. Somehow there should be a secret passageway behind a bookcase. Perhaps an emergency exit?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Good point on the flooding!

      We have the brown leather chairs and ottomen already!

      Ooh, yes on the secret passageway.

      • Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

        Flooding is unlikely in SF anyway. I presume you want a place with a view if you have all those millions, so you’ll be up on a hill, and the water will drain into your viewless neighbors’ places. Mudslides, now, you might have to worry about the whole place winding up further down the hill. I like your plan a lot.

        Scholarly books by LC number, fiction alphabetically, series in series order, no genre division. Sir John doesn’t have any organizing principle that I can detect. Our books are separate.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m not sure about the hills. When I was little I really wanted a house in the SF hills overlooking the city (and I’m fairly sure they don’t have flats there), but now that I’m the one who would have to drive those twisty muddy roads (I don’t think we want to deal with chauffeurs), I think we’d be happier someplace in the city that was in walking distance to amenities.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Sadly, flooding can happen anywhere. There is the washer hose leak cause, the hole-in-the-roof cause, and plumbing adventures gone wrong.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Hm, all potential problems with those lovely SF row houses. Renovation can only do so much.

      • monsterzero Says:

        Not sure I buy “ottomen” as the plural of “ottoman”.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I thought it was fun! (You can see that we use ottomans as the plural in the original post.)

  6. Steph Says:

    Dark wood or black bookshelves, framed art (fantasy art, probably, although possibly photography or maps), and a giant cushy chair and sofa with a side table and ottoman. The big overstuffed armchair is pretty key. And a snuggly blanket. I probably would make mine internet-less, because I’d be too tempted to do work there and I’d rather have it be an escape.

    I organize by genre. Ish. The only thing I organize alphabetically though is ‘literature’ (aka anything I read or could have been assigned in high school), everything else is just by how the books feel together. I also separate manga and graphic novels out from everything else – that’s partially a space issue at the moment, but format gives them a different association in my mind.

    • Steph Says:

      Ooh, I forgot something. Pretty old hardbacks go in a separate bookcase or separate place altogether, to show them off. I’m hoping to take an old writing desk off my grandmother’s hands that has shelves with glass doors above the desk part, it would make a gorgeous book display.

  7. Cloud Says:

    Oh man, you could totally come to my place and organize my spice shelf. That’s been on my “to do sometime” list for ages!

    My books are organized, though!

    Your library sounds nice. Now that I’ve gone mostly digital, I think I mostly want a reading nook. I know where I want it to be, too- I want us to have enough money to add a second story to our house, and we’ll want a roof top deck so we can get our full view, and then we’ll need a staircase to get to the deck… and I would make the landing of that big enough to have a comfy chair, and I could go hide there and read.

  8. Belle Says:

    Don’t you love it that such topic gets so many comments?

    My current library is by author, but not in any sense alphabetical by author. And I have three sets of shelves: those at the office (by topic, generally), my fun shelves at home (by author, according to how much self space each collection needs), and my long term shelves (ditto). I could -so- use somebody to impose order on all collections. Just not me.

  9. Foscavista Says:

    I assumed your library would be similar to the one in Borges’s short story “La biblioteca de Babel.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hm… it has been a long time since I read any Borges. Let us see what wikipedia says…

      Hm, no, I think we can do without the gibberish. Or the monkey typewritten Shakespeare.

  10. Rented life Says:

    Don’t have a wood burning fireplace. More work, can smell. Go with pellets, or gas.

    I’m a little undecided about my dream library. Husband has important collected works that can’t be in a room with too much light. I originally envisioned a darker room for him. Table (made by dad, stained by me), soft lighting, leather recliner (husband loves reading in the recliner). It’d have all his books (we don’t often overlap), a place for him to read, write, and have some mental space. But I’d rather a bright room, sun damaged be damned. Book cases, places for décor and candles, a cushy window seat big enough for me and cats, looking out over my garden. My desk and a huge bulletin board for placing ideas, organizing thoughts and keeping lists of books to look up and buy. Wood floor with a soft rug. French doors that open to a small quiet patio for coffee and reading outside on nice days. Sometimes I think I could get husband on board, if it weren’t for the sun damaging his books. We’d mostly have our books separate anyway, as we organize differently. His are fancy collectibles, different types of fantasy and then by author. My are roughly by category (work, fun, memoir,) but then I also group books because I find them loosely related or they look pretty together. The shelf in the living room? All books that look pretty together. On my desk is what I’m currently working through, or plan on soon–this is usually 8-10 books, rotating depending on project.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      (Shh, don’t tell #2, but #1 hates fireplaces with a violent passion. She has one because it is impossible to get a house in her small town that doesn’t have one.)

      • Rented life Says:

        That’s a problem in this area too. “Wood burning stove/fireplace.” awesome. Didn’t want one. Husband has romantic views about it, but I grew up with one and with having to do wood, start the fire, etc. Too much work.

    • Debbie M Says:

      I think you guys need two libraries. Or, if husband doesn’t actually want to do his reading in the darkness next to his books, you could have a book vault. Like a bank vault only with books. You could put your other valuables in there, too.

      • Rented life Says:

        I like the vault idea, just because it sounds so secret and cool :) I don’t mind us each having our own space (no fighting about decorating, which we would). In real life, if we just had one room for all the books, it’d be nice.

  11. Linda Says:

    I am like #2 in that I don’t sort by author alphabetically. I find it much better to have my books grouped by the following criteria, in this exact order: genre, subject, size. This is mostly evident in my post about bookish things. http://awindycitygal.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/bookish-things/

    My knitting books (genre) are all in one bookcase, sorted by subject (general reference, lace, socks, patterns), and then arranged on each shelf in a way that takes best advantage of space. I will note that I try to group books by one author together if possible, hence all my knitting reference books written by Elizabeth Zimmerman are shelved together because they fall into the “general reference” category. Conversely, Nancy Bush’s book about socks is grouped in the sock section, while her book about Estonian lace is in the lace section.

    I also position the books in rooms where I find them most easy to access, with knitting books in the living room and cookbooks in the dining room. (Unfortunately, there is no room for them in the kitchen itself.) Most of the books I have on other topics like gardening, chickens, dogs, and all fiction books are in either the messy office, the bedroom (not shown in the photos), or in boxes in the basement.

    For this reason, I may be a lone dissenting voice here in that I would *not* want a separate library, even if I was fabulously wealthy. I love having books in all rooms and want to be able to enjoy them in all the spaces in my home, and since I’m quickly adapting to accessing books mainly electronically, I sort of wouldn’t need a separate room, either. I guess I just don’t share the fantasy of having a separate library.

    Alphabetization would make sense, though, if one was curating a very large library, which is why libraries arrange things by genre, subject, then alphabetically. My librarian side approves.

  12. Alyssa Says:

    Our books are only organized by genre right now – although books by the same author are put together. I even do sub-genres (historical fiction, chic lit, etc.).

    Both DH and I have always wanted a library, which was one of the reasons we chose a 4 bedroom house with an attic that has amazing renovation potential. We will only have two kids, so that leaves 1 bedroom and the attic to play with. The last bedroom will probably become our office/guest room. The attic – or half of it anyway – will become a family room/play room because we only have one living area on the main floor and it’d be nice to get the toys out of there. I’m hoping we can divide the attic into two (but with a half-wall, with hopefully a 2-way fireplace in it), and house a library in the other half.

    Bek – I’m SO jealous that you’re getting a room dedicated to a library with a sliding ladder!! Dream!!

  13. monsterzero Says:

    This is a somewhat painful subject for me, since we’ve spent the last five years in a house with maybe 50% of the shelf space we need for our books. And this is *after* a series of brutal cullings occasioned by seven moves in nine years.
    I’ve got fiction divided into sci-fi, children’s, mysteries, horror, and Other fiction. Then there’s textbooks, Other non-fic, and graphic novels/coffee table books.
    My dream library would have just enough shelf space for my current books, but no more (so as to discourage me from adding more without getting rid of some). There’d be a window with an ocean view, something to play mp3’s, and a sill for cats.

  14. Bardiac Says:

    I like Debbie M’s idea of having the mammoth stuffed toy near the natural history. It reminds me of the Cotton Library, only instead of really dead guys’ statuary, stuffed animals. I can totally see my library remains eventually being marked: Bardiac Mammoth MS 22 or whatever. (If this doesn’t make sense, look up Sir Robert Cotton’s library.)

  15. chacha1 Says:

    My fantasy library, hmmmm …. I am really pretty happy with the distribution of books in my home right now. If I were sufficiently rich to dedicate a space to hold all the books, I would still want the space to serve at least one other purpose.

    As I get older I need better & better reading light, so a comfy reading chair with an excellent lamp is a must. But I also want a window seat. In fact, a window daybed would be ideal. Or two of those. Yes, let’s go with two.

    I would rather keep my collection of mostly Chinese storage furniture than build in glass-fronted shelves (why duplicate that expense, after all, let’s save the $$ for square footage and windows and electrical outlets and air conditioning). Since this furniture also holds my crafty crap, I would want a good work table in the room, with more good lighting. Bare wood floors, of course.

    I would want it to be open to the “media room” of the house, so that if DH is doing something in there I am not locked away in lonely splendor, and also with a sightline to the flatscreen. We’d want to run the media audio into the library, of course.

    And I would want a cat-friendly shelf running around the top of the room, above the furniture, with a ramp or staircase for the bound-to-be-multiple cats.

  16. plantingourpennies Says:

    A marmalade tabby in a library… sounds a lot like Dewey. You have read Dewey, right? http://www.amazon.com/Dewey-Small-Town-Library-Touched-World/dp/B005GNJ8ZY
    Easy read and super cute.

    I’d require big ottomans and hand knit throws.

  17. Flavia Says:

    I still mourn the demise of my alphabetical-by-author library, which I gave up partway through grad school when it just didn’t make sense any more. I’m a fanatic for alphabetical order for its elegance and convenience, but when you’re a literature scholar sometimes you want criticism shelved near the authors it’s ABOUT, and sometimes (in the case of writers who are themselves part of a critical movement or are beautiful stylists) by the authors themselves. . . and then you start to think that you need your history texts organized by period, too, and maybe interleaved with literature for coherence. . . and what about philosophy and social science? Are they meaningfully tied to period, or are they a whole separate section?

    Most things I now organize roughly by period, and within period by genre or topic, with a few separate sections for distinctly different subjects. This is the best solution I’ve come up with, but it means I can rarely find the book I want immediately the way I could with alphabetical order. I have to go to the right section and then scan the shelves. Doesn’t take long, but it still irritates me.

    As for my dream library: if my spouse and I stay in our current home, I’d love to turn our (unfinished, but full-size) attic into a shared library and study.

  18. EMH Says:

    I know water and books don’t mix but my dream library would also have a soaking tub with a wine cooler within reach. I love reading in the bathtub. That is why I have duplicates of so many of my favorite books. Beautiful hardcovers to always have and a paperback copy to be dog-eared, dinged and passed around. I don’t know which copy I love more.

    My organization system is haphazard but I know where everythingis. I organize our some of our books by author but it isn’t always alphabetical because it will depend on the size and shape of the shelves. I do have some shelves that are just by genre. My husband is a librarian and my system drives him crazy but not crazy enough to change it. He does hate it when people use too short of shelves for large format books because it can damage the spine.

  19. MutantSupermodel Says:

    Lots of windows. Very high beautiful windows with fabulous window seats. I like chaises too because I like sprawling to read. I’d actually probably end up with a harem-like room– lots of cushions and low low tables and lap desks and stuff like that. I’d also definitely have one of those ladders with wheels because i have always wanted one. I would have a special section for books that “appropriate for the children” because I really don’t like the idea of my kids books being mixed in with some of my more adult stuff. I guess if I did have the big fancy library it’d be organized, but probably just by author. I don’t like too much breaking down of my books, it annoys me. The only exception would be skill-related books because I don’t give a hoot about the author. So if I wanted to read about cooking, I’d go to the cookbook section and so on and so forth. I like the idea of cats BUT I also like the idea of a big giant massive dog in the library instead. Like a mastiff. So I could read on it.

  20. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    (1) My books are organized by size and shape.

    (2) I would love to visit your cooleasse house!

  21. Ally Says:

    My office shelves are according to LC – but that was partially so I could have my own little haven of LC Classification in a library that uses Dewey. My books at home are at least split by genre and groupings of what makes sense of my favorites, but I have one large bookshelf of books I access very infrequently that is in “whatever order got the last of the 20 boxes of books unpacked” order :D I figure I’ll get to them eventually, but it’s just not high priority… In a dream home library I’d have money for a bookcart (so books I was rearranging would have someplace to go besides the floor) and time to put things into a real order :)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ooh, and you could get a fancy bookcart too. Maybe out of wood. Or one that the unshelved people decorated.

      • Ally Says:

        There are some absolutely gorgeous bookcarts in library catalogs – they’re also way too expensive for a librarian’s salary! (I’d use them as end tables, etc, I mean these are honestly gorgeous wood bookcarts I’m talking about here!)

  22. C Says:

    One of my great joys is taking time to reorganize my books. I’ve done the everything alphabetical order thing; the fiction and non-fiction separate (but still alphabetical according to author, and according to title for series); separate by language of the text; etc. We’ve recently moved and are in the process of acquiring new bookshelves, so I cannot WAIT until the end of the semester so I can take the time I want to really organize my home-books the way I’d like to. My office is, on the other hand, haphazard. My tolerance for disorder is being tested, though, and I suspect I may spend some time this summer re-organizing.

    My ideal library would have somewhere for me to curl up with a table for coffee, tea, or wine within easy reach, good lighting for reading, and quiet. Beyond that, I don’t have strong preferences.

  23. hypatia cade Says:

    Does your library contain the library at night (http://www.amazon.com/Library-at-Night-Alberto-Manguel/dp/0300139144) or the picture book of the most beautiful libraries in the world, many of which are private unfortunately (http://www.amazon.com/Most-Beautiful-Libraries-World/dp/0810946343/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366903692&sr=1-1&keywords=0810946343) Both are useful for fantasizing about libraries…

  24. Rosa Says:

    In my fantasy library, the authors-who-switch genres problem and the pen names problem is solved the same way you solved the cowriting authors problem – two copies, one in “fiction” by author and the other in the correct genre, and all of one person’s books in one place by real name (if known) and also correctly shelved by pen names.

  25. Revanche Says:

    I know exactly which house you should inherit enough money to buy! At least if you’d like an ocean view.

    We found an amazing print of nearly my dream library, with extra stories, the slidey ladder and even a winding stair. Super tall windows and sunlight … *sigh* So we bought the print to hang in the Future Library. Now we need a Crap Ton of money to make that happen.

    Y’all have talked me out of a fireplace mostly, I don’t want my Library to be a lot of work. Just reading and lounging: an ottoman and matching armchair, a hammock (yes, this is unorthodox but it’s something that harkens back to grandma days) and lots and lots of light.

    There’d also need to be big squashy bed for Doggle to hang out too. He likes books. He always gives my books and comics a once-over: a light sniff and gently turns the pages with his nose if he can. Lucky for him he has a dry nose usually or else he’d be banned from the book section.

  26. Link love (Powered by leggings and Freecycle) | NZ Muse Says:

    […] and Maggie’s post about their fantasy libraries is BEYOND. Fellow bibliophiles, click over there right […]

  27. What Now? Says:

    Love it! Especially “yes” on the big comfy chairs … all with a blanket nearby for snuggling, please.

    The problem I have in imagining dream libraries is that D. and I have enough books together (even though I do a big weed-out every few years) that it would have to be a pretty big room to include all of the books, and yet that bigness might work against the necessary coziness factor.

  28. My Achin’ Back Roundup! | Funny about Money Says:

    […] Academics love books. We can’t bring ourselves to get rid of the things, so we end up with gigantic, dusty libraries covering every available wall. Nicoleandmaggie ruminate interestingly on their fantasy library. […]


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