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Colour me blindd

We attack the boxes.

He starts downstairs, in the kitchen. I am left in the living room. I am tired. I am tired-unpacking.

As you may or may not but are certainly under no obligation to remember, we discussed tired-shopping the other day, ‘zombie-shopping‘, one commenter very charmingly called it.

It’s the process of filling one’s bags with random produce for reasons you cannot quite remember when wandering around the supermarket in a daze, over-tired.

Tired-unpacking is the same except that instead instead of random matter entering your possession in a seemingly incoherent fashion, these things start OFF in your possession then materialise spread around a brand new room, in a seemingly incoherent fashion; randomly.

And so it was that I began organising our bookcases by colour.

It started off as a simple idea.

I do not know how to organise my books. Hm. This book is red. On the spine, it is red. And THIS spine, It is blue! OMG, categorisation by colour! My GOD, why haven’t we thought of this before it is totally like the best idea that ever was!

And so, as happy as a zombie with a fresh bucket of brains, I began slowly, carefully, organising our books by shade and hue. I mean, I’d read about people doing this; I’d heard tell, but never thought we would do it. Ever. After all, who has time to reorganise their shelves? And besides, it would be utterly illogical; why WOULD we do it?

This book next to that book, poetry cheek by jowl with travel writing, etiquette rubbing up hard against po-faced textbook. This was exciting! And revolutionary! And new! How incredible an idea!

I started judging books not only by their cover but the shade of their spine.

How brave the interesting bright shades were! How pure the snowy white spines! How kind-of-meh the slightly off-white and ones with big differently-coloured writing that I didn’t quite know what to do with had suddenly become! Oh, when that sweet day comes when I write a book, I was going to ensure that it’s spine is a colour EXACTLY between red and orange. I cared about nothing else.

And soon, any moment, My Beloved was going to come up the stairs, and he was going to see the fact I was arranging the books into colour-coded order.

And he would ask what I was doing, and look it over, rationally. And then, finally, he talk some sense into me, and make me stop it, and make me organise them properly.

Or, at least, that’s what I was hoping.

See, it seemed like such a good idea at first, and because I’m a bloody-minded little sod I carried on doing it, but every book was like a thorn-style nail in the rod for my own back. It looked all right, sure, but it felt So Wrong. I hated it. And loved it. But mainly hated it.

My inner-aesthete and inner-logistician were having a punch up, armed with paintbrushes and sensible shoes.

Because there was Celebrity Feuds (a book I’m not even sure why we own, though it is, for sure, a great colour) cuddling up to The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath. There was a useful reference book nestling by a murder mystery. I was actively taking sets of six books by the same writer, and throwing them to the four winds.
‘Winds’ in this example meaning ‘shelves’.
And ‘four’ meaning ‘more than four. Far too many’.
And all of it meaning ‘Wrong’.

What should have taken less than an hour was suddenly taking ages upon ages. what should have order and sense was suddenly chaotic and weird.

But it was all going to be fine.
My Beloved is a sensible man.
He would never stand for this silliness.
He would put his foot down.
He would soon arrive from the kitchen, take me and the books in hand, and though I could put up a little struggle, I would eventually back down, and agree to organise the books in a more dull, boring, lovely alphabetical fashion.

And this way, it wouldn’t be me deciding I was wrong, and certainly not changing my mind, I would simply being wonderful and a good girlfriend, because love is all about compromise, so I would be compromising and conceding and therefore win, morally.

I heard steps on the stairs behind me.

“You’ve done the books.” He said.

He stared, for a moment.

“You’ve organised them in, um, order of colour.” He said.

I waited, expectantly, hopefully, to be told how wrong it was, and how we needed to reorganise immediately.

“Yes?” I said. “That’s what I’ve done, yeah. I’ve organised them in order of colour. I think it looks great. What of it?”

He stared a little more.
He cocked head lovely head to one side.
I steeled myself for a half-arsed argument.

“I agree,” he said.
“It does.” He said
“Let’s do it that way. Yes.” He said.

And that was it.
It seemed that I had been right all along, he thought.
Ladies and gentlemen, that was the wrong answer.


But still, in order of colour they remain.
And as I write, he’s merrily reorganising the books behind me.
Oh it was WRONG, of course.
It turns out they just weren’t colour-ordered enough.

  1. i love it! i have always wanted to have the guts to do this sort of thing, but don’t. we went to visit a friend in ohio’s apartment this weekend and he had all kinds of cool stuff around, in a fashion that your colored books made me remember… i got home to my nice, sterile, cookie cutter apartment and felt sick! may we all have the courage to arrange our books like you!!! such fun!!

    Comment by prettysparrow — 27 February, 2007 7:32 pm

  2. Are they in rainbow order? Oh but no, they can’t be, what would happen to the white ones and black ones? Or the brown ones? And the ones which have more than one block of colour on the spine (there are a surprising number of those on my shelf, I’ve just looked)?

    Oh good grief, now I understand. It sounds all lovely and rainbowey at first, but gah!

    Comment by FB — 27 February, 2007 7:40 pm

  3. Is there a colour you don’t have that would complete the effect, or are you juxtaposing you colours in an indeterminate fashion, to be ironic?

    fab post ;O)


    Comment by Cat — 27 February, 2007 7:56 pm

  4. Ooh. Now I actually think that is rather a good idea, you know, because it means that you will accidentally come across lots of books that you hadn’t read for years and wouldn’t have thought of reading again if they hadn’t been arranged differently.

    *waits for the Entire World to sneer, “You RE-READ your books? Looooooser.”*

    Comment by Katy Newton — 27 February, 2007 8:23 pm

  5. To be fair, Katy, that DID happen, and, I suspect, will keep happening as the search for the book I do actually want to read/want to lend to someone/need to prop up the telly will result in having to comb through all the other books on the way, resulting in an inevitable OOH, now THAT’s what I’ve been meaning to read…

    It’s just the inbetween that’s really painful.

    And everyone else, yes, they were in my own idiosynchratic order, with my very favourite colours (red, orange, pink, yellow) on the middle shelves in order to be at hea height when I am in my reading/blogging chair, and the rest rather randomly colourised – the black through purple shelf here, the blue through green shelf there…

    They are now much more in rainbow order. Though of course the good colour books are still in the same place, as they by default have to sit under the white and off-white shelves.


    Jesus, it’s complicated.

    Comment by anna — 27 February, 2007 8:51 pm

  6. I’m glad that beloved stepped in because I was beginning to worry that you didn’t seem to be taking into account shades of spine colour.

    I think we deserve a photo of the finished shelving. Does anyone agree?

    Comment by Lionel — 27 February, 2007 8:52 pm

  7. I was! I WAS taking them into account!

    I was!!!

    And you can’t have a photo yet. Not till everything is nice. Sometime, though. Promise.

    Comment by anna — 27 February, 2007 8:55 pm

  8. Oh how I giggled, My books are still in the cupbaord, for want of a bookshelf to put them on at the moment.
    But even in the cupboard they are categorized, by fiction – travel, non-fiction travel, fiction – country, non fiction country. Cookbooks, books about cooking, books that reference cooking but then it becomes a big old mess because some books belong in two different places and you can’t decide. In this instance, I see how colour coding can come into its own.

    (And Happy Housewarming!)

    Comment by ladymissmarquise — 27 February, 2007 9:31 pm

  9. I still haven’t unpacked my books from when I moved house. Two years ago.

    Unpacking them would mean putting up shelves, and that would mean engaging in further keystone-copesque DIY, and that way pain and misery lies. In my experience.

    So in boxes, in the loft, they shall remain.

    Comment by Mr Angry — 27 February, 2007 10:03 pm

  10. Oh I’m pining for my packed away books now can’t buy any new ones till after we move and the charity shop only has boddice rippers

    Comment by Karen — 27 February, 2007 10:36 pm

  11. Oh s***. I’m hopefully moving soon and now will absolutely have to arrange books in colour order. All right, I admit, I did alphabetise (spelling? ) them but only because I was damn sick and tired of going ” I know it’s here somewhere” And yes I ‘d called people who did such like anal – and worse – but it works. Although if you have only 3 books then I would be worried about you. Whereas if I do it by colour, it will be much easier. It is kind of pinky-purply, ahh there it is.

    Any advice on CD storage?

    Comment by H — 27 February, 2007 11:04 pm

  12. Why is it loser-y to re-read books?

    I never knew that.

    Now I am upset.

    Comment by potentilla — 27 February, 2007 11:12 pm

  13. CD storage?

    Oh god, I’m going to get yelled at by someone for this, I know it.

    We don’t organise CDs. We threw away all the covers and now they sit in little paper envelopes in nice filing boxes. The alternative (with covers) is far far too bulky. They are in no order. But now they are on the computer, so who cares.

    In fact, this was my idea first, but my beloved has caved in.

    Just had to get that in there.

    Oh, and it is not losery to re-read books, it is winnerish. Obv.

    Comment by anna — 27 February, 2007 11:19 pm

  14. I think, you just might be my hero, anna. I can’t wait to move house and rethink my book-organisation now! Happy new home!

    Comment by Fi — 27 February, 2007 11:29 pm

  15. The perfectionist in me won’t let the other part sort books by color, but there is a little stack (well, not so little) of books that won’t fit in the shelf. These have been co-opted by the other part and are nicely stacked by color/spine pattern.

    The perfectionist says “Well how do you ever find anything” The other one says “Don’t be such a stick in the mud!”

    The perfectionis secretly thinks the stack looks kind of nice, but will never admit it to the other part.

    Congrats on moving and don’t worry, eventually you’ll find everything again.

    Comment by Myra — 27 February, 2007 11:49 pm

  16. “happy as a zombie with a fresh bucket of brains” – I’m having that!

    Totally agree with Katy and Potentilla, some books just cry out to be read one more time, pleeeeease? I once picked up, yep, Lord of the Rings to check one paragraph. Came to my senses three days later. Well worth it, though.

    Oh and I’ve got my books stacked up, so naturally they’re sorted by size, largest on the bottom.

    Comment by Farty — 28 February, 2007 12:20 am

  17. i arranged my shoes by colour…. and my clothes and underwear…. and my socks….. why not my books too?? i have 432 of them…. and i cant sleep… so lets hop to it!
    thanx for giving me something to do other than sit at my computer like a friendless loser….
    yes… i am sad sad cow.

    Comment by Rachel — 28 February, 2007 12:23 am

  18. I’m cringing at your CDs! My son does the same thing, it makes me absolutely crazy! He gave me one of his CDs recently (Green Day) because I really liked it and he was sort of sick of it. But it had no case! How could he just throw it away! It had the names of the songs, and pictures, and lyrics! ARRRGH! (Back in the days of vynl, the pictures and artwork on album covers were almost as important as the music on the record! My bedroom walls were decorated with them!) This Green Day CD is currently number 2 in my 5-changer CD player. Next to the CD player are the CD cases corresponding to what’s in the machine, in the same order. But Green Day has no case, so there are only 4 cases, and one phantom space. Where is Green Day? Every time it suddenly comes blasting out of my CD player, I’m utterly surprised. Where did that come from? It’s just wrong.

    Comment by Maria — 28 February, 2007 12:36 am

  19. When I was little, I used to imagine that when I threw my shoes on the floor, by the next morning the molecules in my shoe would have made friends with the adjacent molecules in the carpet. I always felt bad putting on my shoes in the morning, because then I was separating the new friendships. (Not bad enough to keep me from putting on my shoes–I wasn’t that weird.)

    So think about it like this: now your books are getting to make friends with books they never had the chance to know before!

    Comment by Liesl — 28 February, 2007 1:15 am

  20. If you alphabetise your books, guests find it far too easy to spot all the moments-of-weakness-junk-food-for-the-mind books, carefully grouped together by author. Sorting by colour might therefore make you seem more serious and intellectual without having to resort to long words…unless, that is, you buy your books by colour in the first place.

    Comment by JJ — 28 February, 2007 2:42 am

  21. I have always organized my books this way–it made sense when I was young, no one stopped me, and I still do it. Drives everyone else batty, but it works for me. Particuarly since I’m an artist who is terrible with names, but great with color.

    Comment by Jessica — 28 February, 2007 2:56 am

  22. Some ideas are more widespread than one would think.

    During WW II, some German PoWs (former Afrika Korps men) were assigned to help out in the camp library of a US Navy base near San Francisco. This blog entry tells what happened: http://snipurl.com/pe33

    Comment by Rich Rostrom — 28 February, 2007 7:03 am

  23. I love your colour idea. But I recently organised our own great book reorganisation and now they’re arranged by possibility-ness of wanting-to-be-read-again. Which I’m glad to hear is winnerish thankyou Anna.

    It strikes me that my own version of tired shopping is pissed internet shopping. The grocery van arrives and I have no recollection of ordering all that choclit and gin.

    Comment by Lisa — 28 February, 2007 8:24 am

  24. I used to organise my books by colour, that way you only have to remember you are looking for a blue book or whatever, not the title, author, subject etc. Also within colour, where there are several books the same eg penguins, I used to do it by length of writing on the spine so the longest titles were at the ends and the shortest ones in the middle to create a pleasing pattern. Anal? Moi?

    I moved bookshelves and now they are totally random. I still can’t find There’s Lovely by Johnny Morris. I know its a big blue one.

    Comment by Debster — 28 February, 2007 10:03 am

  25. [...] Little Red Boat (link) Today’s entry: Colour me blindd Anna arranges her books in colour order. This book next to that book, poetry cheek by jowl with travel writing, etiquette rubbing up hard against po-faced textbook. This was exciting! And revolutionary! And new! How incredible an idea! [...]

    Pingback by Blogs which made me smile » The Cartoon Blog by Dave Walker — 28 February, 2007 11:10 am

  26. Have you noticed how, when you start talking about colours and coordination, most of the responses are from women?

    And do you have a tag on me, so that when I take a couple of days off, you KNOW and post several postings?

    And now I’m not going to be able to sleep until I find out WHY the wonderful man on the tublar Underground train of London WAS a wonderful man. I do hope you remember soon.

    Oh…and well moved, young lady, well moved.

    Comment by AndyB — 28 February, 2007 11:36 am

  27. You have only just moved and yet your books are on shelves ALREADY! I moved two days before christmas and our books are still in boxes in the living room because we can’t put shelves up until we have decorated, and we can’t decorate until we have done 50 other things.

    Comment by Hopeless — 28 February, 2007 12:17 pm

  28. It is not me who thinks it is losery to re-read books. Honest. I have had to buy several copies of some of my favourite books because I read them to death. It is just that whenever I mention that I am re-reading something, or that I have read something several times (e.g. Carter Beats The Devil which EVERYONE IN THE WORLD SHOULD READ IMMEDIATELY) some philistine in the back can be relied upon to scoff, “What do you re-read your books for? Isn’t once enough?”

    Comment by Katy Newton — 28 February, 2007 12:34 pm

  29. That sounds like such a pain in the arse to do, but will obviously have a lovely rainbow effect upon your bookshelves.

    I may have to try it, when I have a spare 8 hours.

    Comment by Timbo — 28 February, 2007 1:37 pm

  30. People who criticise book re-readers obviously haven’t re-read a book. (Some, possibly, haven’t read a book at all!) Try to sum-up one of your favourite books – you’ll do it in 100 words, max. The only way to savour the other 97,900 words is to re-read.

    We investigated the idea of organising books by colour. But we’ve ended up with a very complicated system:
    - cook books in the kitchen, mostly
    - other books a combination of specialised systems called “random”, “where they will fit” and “in little sub-collections based on when they were picked-up off the floor”

    Comment by Damian — 28 February, 2007 2:36 pm

  31. Re #24. When you find the book, you’ll probably discover that it’s really bright red instead of blue. The number of times I have searched for a document contained in a yellow folder, ignoring any blue folders, and, after a long time, found what I was looking in one of the blue folders that I hadn’t opened because it was the wrong colour.
    As for the CDs, my son’s preferred method is to put each CD in the next available random case. I guess we should have a shelf full of empty cases and a shelf of CDs in plastic pockets.

    Comment by Pierre L — 28 February, 2007 3:09 pm

  32. This was also done for Adobe books in San Francisco – see http://www.geocities.com/cobb_media/adobebookshop.html

    It was a great effect, and inspired me to do the same w/ a section of my books. For a little while, their sales went up, probably a lot due to publicity, but maybe also b/c people found things they wouldn’t o/w have. It’s back to normal now, though.

    Comment by erehweb — 28 February, 2007 5:51 pm

  33. I read your post and the comments with complete dismay. Then I came across comment 30 from Damian. Whew. Someone else has a system just like mine.

    Comment by z — 28 February, 2007 6:46 pm

  34. A quite delightful tale.

    Comment by Grant — 28 February, 2007 7:08 pm

  35. Nice system. I tried going by size once. It was pleasing to the eye too if not overly practical. The thing that bugs me the most is that books in French and books in English have spines where the writing is in opposite directions so browsing involves much neck bending one way and hen the other (seems impractical to split authors just because they have been translated in different languages).

    Comment by stroppycow — 28 February, 2007 7:43 pm

  36. Like my LPs, CDs, and DVDs, the books are in the order in which they were purchased, i.e. more or less in chronological order. Sort of a mini archaeological expedition each time to find one in particular, but it does place it in its proper context (for me at least).

    Comment by xl — 28 February, 2007 8:21 pm

  37. I keep checking back in case there is photo documentation of the new shelving system.

    Comment by Fi — 1 March, 2007 12:35 am

  38. Well, there won’t beany photos, my darling, until I’m back from the sahara.

    Or something.

    Comment by anna — 1 March, 2007 12:43 am

  39. I hate to be one of those people but your idea sounds familiar.

    Comment by drew — 1 March, 2007 3:40 am

  40. Hahahahaha. And ha. And [ha].

    [stifled giggle]


    Comment by Clare — 1 March, 2007 11:33 am

  41. Clare

    Do you have a separate shelf for your own books – the books you’ve written – or do they comingle with the rest?

    Comment by Damian — 1 March, 2007 3:16 pm

  42. My partner did this when we moved last August, and the books are still like that. It’s great – since I generally know what all my books look like, I can find them from across the room in seconds with my glasses off. And it looks beautiful; I’m particularily fond of the eau-de-nile shelf.

    Comment by Jim — 1 March, 2007 3:21 pm

  43. I wish I had the courage to reorder my books by colour; it sounds delightfully Dadaist.

    My father-in-law once went on a behind-the-scnes tour of the National Library of Scotland and discovered that they shelve all their books by size as that optimises the use of space. As the public never access the shelves, simply requesting a book from the librarians who look unit location and have it brought up, it works perfectly.

    If you combined your colour system with a location index on the computer you’d be ready for any smartypants who said “bet you can never find anything”, even if you COULDN’T remember its colour.

    Re #35, I find French books worrying that way too. So I turn them over before shelving them. While part of me worries that the words will all run out and leave my landing covered in bits of Goscinny and Perec, it makes the shelf look tidy. And tidiness, as we all know, is next to godliness (at least, if they both have yellow spines).

    Comment by Rob — 2 March, 2007 8:29 pm

  44. Eeek! I love the idea but how do you deal with size?

    My books are catagorised by fiction/non fiction. Fiction is sorted by authors surname, and non fiction by catagories (which on my bookshelves goes bibles, faith, language, pop science, real science, other reference (cookbooks, knot handbook, first aid handbook etc etc), then textbooks wedged together right at the bottom as they are tall and thick and floppy.) ALL my shelves would have to be 14 inches high to accomodate all my books by colour, but some are only 2 inches high! Would be beautifully rainbowed but look all higledy-pigaldy!

    Comment by KT — 5 March, 2007 11:01 pm

  45. Oh no you CANNOT be throwing away the CD booklets! *gasp* it’s like ripping all the covers off your book and only leaving the bare, semi-glued pages behind. I am very anal when it comes to organizing my books/CD’s/DVD’s. What I do with music: first I separate the genres (i.e. pop, world, jazz, classical) and then I sort them in various ways, like they do in a record store. All my pop albums are sorted alphabetically on the artist’s last name and then chronologically (from debut to latest release). Jazz used to be sorted instrumental vs. vocal and then alphabetically, now it is just a casual pile (I got a little freaked out by my sorting habits and figured: what better genre to be careless about than jazz?). World music is grouped in geographical zones. Classical music I’m not sure of. I’ve tried splitting vocal-instrumental-soloists, I’ve tried a chronological approach (which the historian in me really likes) and now I’ve arranged my CD’s alphabetically which is also really nice, because now Glass rubs shoulders with Händel.

    Ah! I really really love re-organizing my CD’s. I own loads and that way I can reacquaint (sp?) myself with my collection. Also I move a lot, so it is something of a necessity…

    Lovely post.

    Comment by Alexandra — 5 March, 2007 11:23 pm

  46. I’m not throuwing away the booklets!!! They’re all kept in the little paper envelopes witht the cds!

    It’s just the plastic covers that go…

    Comment by anna — 6 March, 2007 10:18 am

  47. I do love the aesthetic idea of “books by colour”…my bookshelves are currently ordered by the slightly less aesthetic “books by space”… jam them in wherever there is a milimeter of space. there are nowhere near enough bookshelves in my flat at the moment!

    Comment by Clair — 6 March, 2007 3:00 pm

  48. I just stumbled upon this website – http://www.superherodesigns.com/journal/archives/000453.html – and it reminded me of your post about organising your books in order of colour. See – you are not alone!

    Comment by Psammead — 16 April, 2007 6:09 pm

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