Cynthia Kuhn

Bookshelves I Have Known: A Prequel

Yes, I already recounted the Ikea Bookshelf Saga, but may we please talk about bookshelves one more time, as a prequel of sorts? (Then, I promise, we never have to speak of them again.)

It’s just that…they are so versatile and present. They can change a room, make artistic statements. There’s a reason they are so often featured in home decorating shows. You don’t have to look very hard on the web to find pictures of bookshelves in all sorts of dramatic configurations that will take your breath away. Absolutely amazing. And I love every bookshelf I’ve ever had, though not a single one of them was fancy.

When I was growing up, my room featured a tall combination piece with three long shelves for books above and a cabinet below for everything else—namely, Holly Hobbie dolls, horse statues, and a box of shells I had collected on trips. It was sturdy and spacious—there was even a spot for a record player where I spun scratchy 45s.

In college, my shelves were made of white plastic milk crates. They stacked nicely and took abuse well, which was good because those dorm rooms were small and, you know, college.

By graduate school, my books lived on a rickety shelving system fashioned out of bricks and two-by-fours that was expanded several times over the years—all I can say about that structure is thank goodness it never fell on top of anyone.

When we moved into a new house, my husband and I bought some grownup (at least that’s what we thought at the time) faux-wood shelves and lined the front room wall. After we had kids, though, guess who needed the space to store the unfathomable wave of baby gear and toys slowly engulfing our entire house?

We had no choice but to lug all of the books to campus. I’m an English professor, so luckily, the office was already decked out with three large metal shelves. I quickly begged a fourth and, well, that was as many as they would let me fit inside because of fire codes or something. The shelves took up so much space that I had to remove a desk, but hey, sacrifices had to be made.

Then IKEA came to town. Somehow, little by little, we acquired more bookshelves. I blame, at least partially, the super-cute cube designs. We now have four-cube, six-cube, and eight-cube formations in various rooms. Heaven help me, I keep catching myself thinking that we need more. They are definitely not elegant, but the amount they hold is mind-boggling.

And surely the most beautiful thing about any bookshelf is its function: to hold our real treasures, the books.

What kind of bookshelves do you have/love/want? And how do you organize your books: color, shape, topic, author, genre, historical period, or…? So. Many. Choices.

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15 thoughts on “Bookshelves I Have Known: A Prequel

  1. Two tall Stickley bookcases from decades ago, and a six-cube formation in mismatched materials. All crammed with books, and I’m faithful to passing along my just-finished books to friends. I worked with a wonderful scholar whose books were so plentiful and so heavy, she had to add load-bearing posts to her house’s foundation. Not a pack rat, she had worked on the line that relayed books out of East Berlin into the west. You’re right–they’re the real treasures! –kate

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  2. I had concrete block and 2×4 bookshelves for years, Cynthia. Very practical for New York apartments–but lugging concrete around for each move was not fun. Probably very trendy again right now.

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    • Lisa, love it. Those are so versatile, aren’t they? Can just add to the height whenever another row is needed. Concrete block sounds much more stable than our leftover-bricks-we-found-in-the-garage design. But I can imagine it made moving day a workout!

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    • We loved our faux-wood ones–they looked like oak and took up the whole wall of our front room. As soon as we sold them, we regretted it. 🙂 Love this > Eclectic Bachelor Style.

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  3. I have one bookshelf in my apartment. It’s a cube Ikea one (I had to google cube bookshelves lol) and it’s in my hallway. My mom has bookshelves all over and they’re just crammed with books. It’s not the most organized (I’m still looking for a book I gave her months and months ago that she claims to know “exactly where it is”) but I just love the messiness of it. it just screams, ‘I love to read!” to me.

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  4. Cynthia, in our small apartment we only have two bookshelves. One tall cheaply-made one and one smaller, really nice one that my husband’s grandfather built. Both are crammed full of books. That, of course, is not counting the books stacked on the floor, window sills, and nightstand — and at least a dozen boxes of books in the storage unit! And they’re organized by genre. Mystery, mystery and more mystery, for the most part. 🙂

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  5. In my first apartment after college, after a drive halfway across the country with what I could fit in my Honda Civic hatchback, I lucked into some wooden cubes that had been for displays at a retail store. I think I paid about $10 per cube, and I took as many as that hatchback would hold. They served so many purposes – too bad, they disappeared along the way.

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