Bestselling authors explain how to organize their bookshelves and what’s on them

Shelfies by Elin Hilderbrand, Diana Gabaldon, Garrett Graff, Vanessa Riley, Emma Straub, Hernan Diaz, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Bohjalian and Christopher Buckley


My bookshelves are a mess. It’s not just that I have too many books and too little space. I’m just disorganized. It wasn’t always like that. Shelves I put together years ago, pre-children, generally remain intact: a full bookcase of poetry, alphabetically by author, and several crammed bookcases of fiction, also by author’s last name. These shelves now mainly serve as decoration or reference work or as a lending library for guests. But there’s more, much more: the tumbling pile on my desk – which rests the computer I’m typing on – and the books crammed madly in the bookcase in my bedroom and in towers on and around my nightstand are piled up. These are the books that are part of my daily life – for work, for pleasure, sometimes both. There’s no rhyme or reason for how I’m arranging them, but as I read in one of the books I consulted (then discarded) to solve my little problem: “If it’s where you intended it to be, then it organized.” I adopt that as my book-organizing principle. Don’t tell my kids.

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I asked nine writers to share a photo of a favorite bookshelf (or what social media might link to) as a “shelfie”), explain the organizing principle (if any) and tell me a bit about what’s on that favorite shelf. This is what they said:

Hilderbrand is the author of 28 novels, including “The Island,” “Summer of “69” and, most recently, “The Hotel Nantucket.”

This shelf is unique – my other shelves are organized by the time in my life I read the books. For example, there is a shelf of novels that I read in 1992-3 when I lived in New York City and traveled from Manhattan to my teaching job at IS 227 in Queens. There’s another shelf I read when I was breastfeeding my first child, Maxx. There is a shelf that I read when I was going through my divorce, when I was being treated for cancer, etc. But if a book was lucky, it was moved to this shelf! This is my “favorite book” shelf and my number one favorite book of all time is “Franny & Zooey” by JD Salinger. I received a first edition for my 50th birthday from my kids – which really means we can appreciate my ex-husband, who somehow tracked one down. (He was looking for an autographed first edition, but apparently it added a number.) It doesn’t matter – this is the best gift I’ve ever received.

Elin Hilderbrand reinvented reading on the beach — creating a community in the process

Gabaldon is the author of the Outlander series. The latest episode is “Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone.”

This is part of my working reference collection, which contains 80 or so (some weirder than others) herbal guides; a dozen slang dictionaries; a “Claire” shelf of medical references (such as the Merck manual that represents the temporary limit of her medical knowledge in the Outlander series) and biographies written by and about doctors; historical medical material; Scottish things (history, language, customs, geography, novels and poetry of Scots, etc.); various Big Books ranging from a two-volume collection of Carl Barks’ Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck stories to books on period costumes, maps, and things like hurricane history. I also have biographies of people I think I should know, medical history, a small collection of pornography and a shelf of family writings (my grandfather occasionally wrote short fantasy stories), my mother’s only published book (professional – as in the teaching profession) and my great-grandmother’s Bible. There are about 2000 books here in my office. Downstairs there are 1500 more. And then there’s a ‘real’ library (as in, it’s a room completely filled with bookshelves and has no other function) in my old childhood home. Nice, quiet room. Whenever I’m there, I always make time to just sit there and read quietly for an hour or so.

Review: Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone’

Graff is the author of “The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert S. Mueller III’s FBI” and “Watergate: A New History” among others.

It often feels like “book management” is my primary job – buying them, reading them, sliding them through shelves. When my wife and I moved from DC seven years ago, we had about 5000 pounds worth of books and I continue to collect them at the rate of about 200 a year. Nevertheless, I can tell you where each book actually is in my library. I generally group them by subject first and then try to organize them loosely by color and/or subject so that the shelves don’t look too chaotic. I have my Cold War planks; my 9/11 boards; my presidency boards; and, of course, a handful of shelves of fiction. I also throw in a lot of historical artifacts and photos that I’ve collected. My shelf on Nixon’s tires actually has as a bookend a wrapped hazmat suit that once sat in George W. Bush’s presidential limousine.

Review: ‘Watergate: A New History’

Vanessa Riley writes historical fiction, historical mystery and historical novels. Her most recent books are ‘Island Queen’ and ‘Sister Mother Warrior’.

Mine The principle of plankie is to have things within reach that make me smile or think. This shelf is close to my desk and is often visible in my Zoom conversations. At the top are my Barbies: Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, The African Goddess (designed by Bob Mackie), Ida B. Wells, and Katherine Johnson. Then come and book. My favorite authors and titles, things that move me, things I’ve learned from, things that changed me. My reading habits are diverse. I need “Something Like Love” by Beverly Jenkins close to “The Mirror and the Light” by Hilary Mantel. There’s nothing like having the exploits of Henry VIII’s court alongside Olivia Sterling’s political struggles. The latest news from Jayne Allen, Kristan Higgins and Nancy Johnson keeps me glued to the present, as Kate Quinn, Maya Angelou, Sadequa Johnson and Denny S. Bryce bring the past to life in rich new ways. And, of course, my career achievements — my titles and awards — complete my boards. Probably on the floor near this bookcase is my latest manuscript, again reflecting my theme of the past and present.

How ‘Bridgerton’ Flipped the Script of ‘The Duke and I’

Straub’s most recent book is ‘This Time Tomorrow’. She also owns the Books Are Magic bookstore in Brooklyn.

I would describe our bookshelves as haphazardly alphabetical, with rocks and children’s art and little mysterious objects everywhere. Pictured here: fairly complete Dan Chaon, Michael Chabon, and Lauren Groff sections, a cut-out portrait of me and my husband for Books Are Magic, created by Lorraine Nam, an incredible artist, and given to us by Mabel Hsu, a children’s book book editor who worked part-time in the bookshop, several totems made of sticks and rope, a rock that lived in my older brother’s bedroom when we were children, a painted pinecone, some galleys, some beloved books, some never-read books: in short, a piece of life.

Review: ‘Tomorrow this time’

Diaz is the author of the novels “In the Distance” and, most recently, “Trust”.

This is a more or less random section of my library, mainly representing fiction. If the genre taxonomy here is rather vague, so is my attempt at literacy. Different languages ​​coexist rather promiscuously. Even though this is all a bit chaotic, the photo at least shows that I am emphatically not a backbone. The notebooks that lie on top of the books (spiral, red, yellow) are manuscripts in various stages of competition. Dickens and Tintin keep watch.

Review: ‘Trust’ by Hernan Diaz

Weiner is a novelist whose books “The Summer Place,” “Mrs. Everything’ and ‘Good in bed’.

My house has a gigantic closet that was clearly intended for a woman with a huge wardrobe. I don’t have a lot of clothes, but I do have a lot of books, so the closet is now a closet/library, containing the overflow of the shelves in the living room, office and bedroom. I arrange my books by color – sorry, I’m not sorry – but books are not only magical portals that offer escape and transformation, but also physical objects that you live with, and there is nothing wrong with arranging them in a way you aesthetically pleasing. Above I keep favorites that have traveled with me since college, friends books, TBR books, books I read as research for my own novels and books with special meaning – the copy of Susan Isaacs’ Almost Paradise was a gift from my mother , who had it written by the author for my 40th birthday.

Review: ‘That Summer’ by Jennifer Weiner

Bohjalian is the author of numerous books, including ‘The Lioness’, ‘Hour of the Witch’ and ‘The Flight Attendant’.

My fiction is alphabetized by author, and my non-fiction, which leans heavily toward history, moves chronologically. So the Vikings predate the Puritans, precede John Pershing’s World War I Doughboys. But my F. Scott Fitzgerald collection is extensive (not valuable, but sufficient), and so I interrupt the literacy of my fiction to give his work and the work about him two shelves of their own. I usually have one book for my own amusement when I walk into my library every morning, and currently it’s my Armenian translation of “The Great Gatsby,” which I cherish because I’m Armenian.

Review: ‘Hour of the Witch,’ by Chris Bohjalian

Buckley’s books include “Thanks For Smoking”, “Losing Mom And Pup”, and “Make Russia Great Again”. His next novel, “Has Anyone Seen My Toes?”, will be out in September.

All of the books in this section were originally not just randomly placed on the shelf, but chaotically, leading to endless and time-consuming searching. One day my agent called to report that my current book was empty. I was so depressed that I spent the next three days alphabetizing it. I don’t know why, but for some reason it helped.

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