Are you a book stacker?

For five years now I’ve been trying to organize and/or keep my home office clean. If admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery, I will do it here, publicly: My name is Chris and I’m a pack rat and a stacker. Especially when it comes to books.

I couldn’t tell you what was in most of the stacks of paperwork and other detritus that had been sitting around the office, but the stacks of books . . . those I could tell you about. Sometimes they were small stacks, sometime large, but they each held a memory of where and when I acquired them: There were stacks of books purchased at various bookstores, library sales, on vacation, during a first visit to a lovely new bookstore, you-name-it.

Sometimes the stacks were simply overflow–my shelves were full and I didn’t have space for the new arrivals. But I recently purged my shelves and kept only what I truly wanted and made room for future arrivals. Yet this book stacking behavior continued.

As of this writing, I am almost stack free. There’s just one stack left, pictured above. Of the 112 books purged, this is what’s left. I’ve already taken boxes of books to sell/trade to two different used bookstores, The Frugal Muse and Half Price Books. The stack in the picture has some ARCs (advance reader copies) in it and I’m always a little unsure what to do with those. Donate them to the friends of the library sale? I have come across bookstores (both new and used) selling ARCs and I have to say that makes me a little uncomfortable. Most of them say right on the cover: not for sale.


Let me tell you about a few of the last remaining stacks.

The Uncharted Books Stack
I recently visited Uncharted Books for the first time which was voted Chicago’s Best New Bookstore by the Reader. What I brought home:

  • Willa Cather: Her Life and Art by James Woodress. This book, published in 1970, was the first “ebook” that I ever read. I put “ebook” in quotes because it was actually in the form of a Word document that I put on my Palm Pilot (remember those?) and read during breaks at work.
  • A Tide Water Morning by William Stryon. Because I love the Tide Water region.
  • New Cardiff by Charles Webb. The word Cardiff caught my eye because there was a scene in Cardiff in S.J. Bolton’s novel Now You See Me, which I recently read. And the first few pages of New Cardiff pulled me in as I stood there reading it in front of the shelf from which I pulled it.

If you’re in/near Chicago, check out Uncharted Books. I met Tanner, the friendly owner, and his adorable dog, Ramona. Uncharted Books is a smaller bookstore, but the fiction selection was very rich. Good LGBT non-fiction, biography, and writing sections, too.

The Powell’s Stack
From last month’s visit to Powell’s in Portland:

  • Bram Stoker: A Bibliography of First Editions by Richard Dalby. This a small, but very cool book designed to help collectors identify first editions of Stoker’s books (not that I’m such a collector, but a girl can dream).
  • The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker. I love Stoker.
  • Willa Cather Living by Edith Lewis. I’ve wanted to read this one for some time now. Edith Lewis was Cather’s friend/companion/partner (depending on who is doing the labeling) for over 40 years.
  • On The Good Life by Cicero. On my To Be Read list forever because I’m from Cicero, IL and I do like philosophy although I don’t read near enough of it.

This was my second visit to Powell’s. I was overwhelmed the first time and walked around in a drooling, dazed state. On this visit I was more prepared and had a few books in mind to look for and knew what sections I’d focus on, in order of priority, for the three hours I got to spend there. Every book lover should make at least one pilgrimage to Powell’s.

The Case of the Three Year Old Stack

After the dismantling of stacks, purging of books, and reorganization of bookshelves, I noticed there still remained a small stack of four books on top of the file cabinet. These four books where purchased at three different bookstores in Alaska. In 2009. This stack of books has been kept together and moving to various perches around the office for three years.

These books are:

  • A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece edited by Jane Jacobs (purchased at Parnassus Books when it was on Creek Street)
  • The Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship and Discovery in the Alaskan Wild by Lynn Schooler (grabbed at Rainy Retreat Books in Juneau just as they were closing)
  • Cold Water Burning and The Angels Will Not Care by John Straley (purchased at Old Harbor Books in Sitka)

Did I keep these books together to commemorate the trip? Or was it that they are books set-in Alaska and actually purchased in Alaska, a place so far away and remote and that still smacks of high adventure?

The idea of commemoration may be what my book stacking behavior was generally about. Maybe it was some sort of magical thinking, like that if I kept the books together that were purchased at a particular store, then that store would always be there, at least in my mind, it would never close.

I’ve started putting a sticky note with the purchase date and location on the inside cover of each new arrival. I’m hoping this will help me quickly shelve all new arrivals in their appropriate section on my organized shelves. Well, perhaps they can spend at least one day as a stack on my desk.

What do you do with new books that come into your home? Do they go straight onto your shelves? Or are you a stacker, too?


  1. The couple ARCS that I've gotten from giveaways, I've donated to the library when I was done with them.

    As for stacking books, my library books always stay in stacks, when they're not in a bag. But books I buy go right onto the shelf.

  2. Donation to the library it is! Do you keep your shelves well organized? All of my fiction is now alpha by author, but I still have some tweaking to do on the nonfiction side of things.

  3. Well, my shelves are organized in that every book has its place, but where that place is might not be evident to anyone but me. I have a kind of weird bookshelf in that the shelves are all different heights. So, the top shelf is all MM's, because that's all that fits there. Ideally I would have it sorted by genre, then by author, but with my limitations I've had to fudge the rules a bit.

  4. Love this account of your 'stacks'! Fascinating to observe how your purchases have been grouped – Other than now in my blog, I have not kept good track of which books were acquired when. They get sorted into the bookshelf soon after they come home. I do have my books sorted onto “read” versus “unread” bookshelves though! 🙂 As those bookshelves are almost full, my stacking may begin soon…

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