Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

What Do Your Bookshelves Say About You?

“If you go home with somebody and they don’t have any books, don’t fuck them.”

John Waters

Chances are, you’ve heard this timeless piece of dating advice before, and maybe you’ve even put a few books on proud display to make yourself seem fuck-worthy. I would argue, though, that establishing whether a would-be lover has books is just one piece of the puzzle. You’d be amazed at what a stranger can tell about you by looking at your bookshelves. You might be super-organised, highly ambitious, deeply creative, easy-breezy – and someone can probably tell all of this (and more!) from what you’ve stuck on the flimsy particleboard slabs you bought at IKEA and assembled yourself. Think about it: what do your bookshelves say about you?

What Do Your Bookshelves Say About You? Keeping Up With The Penguins

Your Bookshelves Are: Alphabetised

Woman Standing Among Alphabetised Book Shelves Holding Book Over Face
Who You Are

You’ve got your shit together. You’re probably shaking your head and thinking I’m crazy, that you’re just as much a mess as the next person, but you’re wrong. You probably have a day-planner and remember people’s birthdays and everything. You absolutely excel at scheduled, orderly fun. You’ve got the patience for complex problem solving, so you probably give your friends great advice. You love stationery stores, and getting a good night’s sleep.

What You Read

You’ve probably got a pretty broad collection, but you read more non-fiction than most people. You’ve also probably got a stash of “inspirational guides” and “personal development manuals” (because you can’t bring yourself to call them self-help books). You might have found yourself wondering if you should implement the Dewey Decimal system. No one but you will notice or care that you’ve done it, but dammit it will feel good.

Your Bookshelves Are: Colour-Coordinated

Bookshelves Arranged by Colour in a Rainbow
Who You Are

Others might call you “adorable”, or “off with the pixies”, but you prefer to think of yourself as “creative” and “free-spirited”. You definitely own a few floaty skirts, and your Instagram feed looks like a rainbow full of glitter exploded over a unicorn. Your bookshelf system is maybe not as efficient as the alphabetiser’s, but you’ve got a great memory so you know where to find every single book. Plus, you don’t see any problem in having something pretty to look at.

What You Read

You’ve probably kept a few of your favourite books from childhood – Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree books, or The Babysitters Club series, maybe. Your collection definitely includes all of the Harry Potter books, and at least one of the ancillary titles (Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, perhaps?). You’ve splurged at least once or twice on gorgeous Penguin cloth-bound covers, or similarly beautiful editions, and you display them proudly in your colourful booktopia.

Your Bookshelves Are: Alarmingly Cluttered

Person Wearing Beanie Looking Through Cluttered Bookshelves
Who You Are

You have books stacked every which way: on top of one another, leaning against each other, and crammed into every nook and cranny. You are the polar opposite of the alphabetiser (you can hardly organise your weekend, let alone your life), and the colour-coordinator would cringe at your devil-may-care arrangement. You’ve been accused of being scatter-brained, you’re constantly late, and you frequently forget to respond to text messages. But you are also intensely loving, and great fun to have around.

What You Read

You buy more books than you could possibly read, but you could never bring yourself to part with any of them (unless you’re trading in your third copy of Pride and Prejudice to score a rare edition of My Brilliant Career, or something). You have no idea how big your collection actually is, but you love it and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

God only knows what you’re actually reading at the moment: it’s impossible to tell, because you’ve got shit piled everywhere. Your tastes vary so widely even you can’t tell what you like anymore.

Your Bookshelves Are: Clean and Minimalist

Clean Minimalist Shelves
Who You Are

Your bookshelves have never been cluttered, not a day in your life – an alarmingly cluttered shelf would give you intense anxiety. You’re pretty frugal, mostly because you’re a firm believer that you can’t buy anything to make you whole. Your bookshelves are a decorative feature of your home, not a storage mechanism. You dust them (and every other surface) regularly, and you water the small potted plants you keep around your home religiously. You love a quiet glass of wine, when the meditation app on your phone just ain’t cutting it.

What You Read

You’re not a voracious reader per se, but you have a handful of favourites that you return to time and again. You’re probably subscribed to a bunch of periodicals online (you’d die without your daily updates from The New Yorker), and you listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks. When you do splash some cash at a bookstore, you probably pick up a couple of gorgeous cook books, and/or some recent award-winning literary fiction.

Your Bookshelves Are: Stacks on the Floor

Messy Leaning Piles of Books
Who You Are

A close cousin of the alarmingly-cluttered reader, you refuse to invest in the bourgeoise notion of a “shelf”. The closest you get to a “system” is separating stacks into “read” and “unread”, but even that distinction is pretty vague. You probably dog-ear your pages, too. You’re definitely a night-owl, and generous to a fault. You make a pretty good show of being pessimistic and cynical, but deep down you’ve got a lot of love for people around you, and you really believe in yourself (though you’d never admit it, because it sounds so cliche).

What You Read

You buy your books second-hand, so you pick up whatever’s going. As such, your stacks could contain just about anything… but you can guarantee there’s at least a couple poetry collections, maybe some European philosophy, and definitely some sci-fi and/or dystopian fiction. You have very strong feelings about On The Road, one way or the other.

Your Bookshelves Are: On A Kindle

Person Holding eReader On The Beach
Who You Are

It’s hard to catch you Kindle readers in your natural habitat, enigmatic creatures that you are. You read on busses, on lunch breaks, in bed, and anywhere else the urge strikes. You’ve got a strong sense of who you are, and you’re not going to bow to social pressure when it comes to reading, or anything else. You’re not likely to be waylaid by sensory pleasures (like that “new book smell”): you’re practical, logical, and focused.

What You Read

You’ve picked a genre, and you’re sticking to it. Whether it’s fantasy, horror, romance, or crime, you know it inside and out, and you’re all across the new releases. You leave honest reviews on Amazon, and love nothing more than getting an advance reader copy from a hot new author.

Some Final Tips for Organising Your Bookshelves

Ultimately, regardless of what it might “say” about you, to your hot date or your mother-in-law or anyone else stopping by your abode, your organisational system needs to make sense to you.

You might find it easiest to have everything in alphabetical order (this is particularly useful for really large collections), so all you need to do is scan your bookshelves for the author’s surname. Maybe there are books you reach for again and again – in which case, it might make more sense to have your favourites at easy-to-spot eye-level, while the others can languish on upper and lower shelves.

Whatever you choose, you should leave a little extra room for new additions. No matter what you tell yourself, even if you’re not “really” a book-worm, you’re never “done” buying books. You don’t want to find yourself having to start all over again next time you get an Amazon delivery.

If you’re really worried about what your bookshelves say about you, think about this: diversity is almost always going to be the key. A well-rounded reading list usually means a well-rounded individual. Even if you haven’t got around to reading much outside of your usual genre or your favourite authors yet, shelves of books “to be read” can say a lot about your aspirations and goals. That still counts for something!

In the end (unless you’re a fancy bookstagrammer, like these folks) how you organise the books isn’t as important as the fact that they’re there.

What do your bookshelves say about you? Do you recognise yourself as one of the readers on this list? Let me know in the comments below (or tell us your “type” over at KUWTP on Facebook!).

Note: a few Keeper Upperers have reached out to ask what my bookshelves say about me – fair enough! I’m Alarmingly Cluttered, with an Alphebetiser’s heart (as you can see from my challenge to arrange classic books alphabetically by title here).


  1. Ahahahaha, okay, you got me! All except for the inspirational guides and business manuals. I’ve separated my books out by genre and then alphabetized within each genre.

    Actually there’s another organizational principle you haven’t thought of! In one of the places I lived, I organized my books from left to right based on how much I loved them. The less I felt able to live without them, the farther left I put them. It was great!

    • ShereeKUWTP

      August 31, 2018 at 10:20 AM

      Ahahahahaha well that’s still pretty close! 😛 And I LOVE the idea of organising books based on how much they mean/how important they are/how much you love them… but did it lead to some tough Sophie’s Choice moments? What about when you got a stack of new books and you didn’t know where to put them because you hadn’t read them yet??

  2. Oh geez, I see a little of myself in every style you mentioned! Hahaha! We have shelves in every room of the house and each one is organized completely differently. And even though I have never read a book on a virtual platform (like a Kindle), I ALWAYS have a book with me to read if I run into down time. This is a great post!

  3. Haha! I tried out color-coordinated (sort of) and it’s devolving into alarmingly cluttered. I pick through my books too much to leave them in any kind of organization. I don’t really care, though. As long as it’s on the shelf, it’s put away.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      August 31, 2018 at 3:16 PM

      Hahahaha I find *every* system I try ends up devolving into “alarmingly cluttered”, so I totally feel you!! 😂😂😂

  4. Great post! I’m a little bit of everything. 😁

  5. I used to have SO many bookshelves, but after you move all over the place, something has to give. I also realized that even though I love collecting books, they do carry a lot of dust and trapped kitty litter. We downsized about 2 years ago. I took down my one room that was an entire library with wall to wall books. Blasphemy, I know.

    I had to sit through a library presentation about decluttering (when I was a public librarian), and I decided the advice was good. Keep about 20 books that you really enjoy and donate the rest. I have more than 20 with cookbooks, but we have cut back. We have minimal shelves with little organization except LP–which has a few dedicated shelves. It’s our tradition to collect LP’s for every international trip.

    I won’t get rid of Anthony Bourdain, Bryson, The Little Prince, childhood favs (I have a really old Pippi cover) or some of my S. Asian diaspora themed titles either. Everything else eventually gets passed to friends or donated.

    I love this fun post, and you had me at the starting quote. I wouldn’t date or marry a non-reader. Love, Christine @ The Uncorked Librarian

    • ShereeKUWTP

      September 2, 2018 at 2:50 PM

      20?!?!?!?! What fresh hell is THAT?!?! I’m not sure I could stick to twenty books per ROOM, let alone altogether 😂😂😂 And I love that you have an international trip tradition, my husband and I do a similar thing (we seek out secondhand bookstores). Thank you ❤️❤️❤️

  6. Very interesting speculations. Once upon a time I organized my bookshelves. Now my wife is the organizer in my house. I have also moved to using Kindle whenever the book is available in e form. With that, I do not fit the above profile of a Kindle reader.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      September 2, 2018 at 2:48 PM

      Oooh, interesting!! I totally think of you as someone who won’t bow to social pressure when it comes to choosing the next read, so I would’ve thought a lot of the Kindle stuff would apply pretty well 😉 Just goes to show! You’re a mystery wrapped in a bookish enigma, Brian 😀 hahaha.

  7. yer spot on stacks on the floor, second hand mainly fantasy and a heck of a lot of non fiction. books stacked everywhere and not enough time to read them.

  8. I got here from your Instagram. And I’m glad I did. This is hilarious! =D I’ve never considered what type of a ‘book organizer’ I am, but now you got me thinking! I organized them according to topics (more or less), although having only limited shelves for them, I’m already double/triple layering… I must say though, when I dislike the cover of a book, I usually would just buy the kindle version 🤣 Talk about judging a book by its cover! Thanks for the great read!

  9. Omg lol. I’m somehow all of these! I have bookshelves in every room in my house and couldn’t decide what organizational approach was my favorite so I did them… all! What does that say about me?!!

  10. Hang on – what about your books are organized by category and then alphabetically ? Where does that fall in?

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