13 thoughts on taking the rainbow bookshelf plunge.

Last week, I found myself standing face to face with four empty bookshelves, and I had absolutely no idea where to begin.

Until I did.

It looks like this.


I found loading this bookshelf to be as cathartic as a good burst of angry cleaning. I so enjoyed arranging and re-arranging, adding and taking out again, shuffling them to get the colors right, and musing all the way:

1. A blank slate can be paralyzing, but it can also be liberating. (Why not give those rainbow bookshelves you’ve always swooned over a try?)


2. Prepare for serendipity. Under the new system, my red copy of Pride and Prejudice goes first.

3. But prepare for some very strange encounters…


Nietzsche and Emily Freeman sit side by side. Huh.

4. … and a lot of culling. I moved too many books I don’t even like to our new house. Why, why, why?

5. Related: if you have stacks of boxes labeled “basement books” because you don’t like them enough to keep them upstairs, are they really worth keeping?


Growing Strong Daughters next to The Happiness Project. I like it. 

6. If a book gives you the heebie jeebies, get rid of it—even if it is a classic. (Goodbye A Clockwork Orange, Heart of Darkness, A Separate Peace.)

7. Unless it belongs to your husband. Don’t get rid of your husband’s books without asking him, even if you’re sure he doesn’t want them anymore. (You’ll be surprised at what he wants to keep.)


Krakauer’s Into Thin Air sandwiched between two Hemingway novels is oddly perfect. 

8. If you have two copies of a book, keep the prettier one.

9. But multiples are perfectly fine. I’m keeping my duplicate copies of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Winnie the Pooh, thank you very much.


10. You’ll find an overwhelming amount of white books.

11. But many more purple books than you expected.


12. You could never arrange your office like this, but it’s beautiful in the living room. Can you live with it?

13. Time will tell.


The living room is coming together—finally!

 P.S. Other people’s bookshelves, and a peek at my own old bookshelves.


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    • Liz says:

      I didn’t love it or hate it, but for a book I was required to read in high school, I sure remember it well. The messages ‘sometimes you (the protagonist of your own life) can be a real jerk’ and ‘life isn’t fair’ really sank into my 16-year-old mind. Especially since teenagers often have love/hate relationships with their best friends.

  1. Rachael says:

    The question I have about rainbow arrangements is what about series? They’re not always the same color and I kind of panic at the idea of separating them.

    • Anne says:

      These aren’t all our books, and I won’t separate a series! Something I noticed in the Other People’s Bookshelves link-up (well worth browsing through!) was how beautiful a well-designed series was on the shelf. After browsing through MMD readers’ bookshelves, there were series I wanted to run out and buy just because of how pretty they looked on the shelf, like the Mother Daughter Book Club series.

  2. Susan says:

    Hi, I’m fairly new to your blog and am glad I found you. Your shelves look lovely. I wondered about books in a series (like Rachael above ^^) Perhaps they would stay on my multi-colored shelves.

    I moved recently and like you have 2 boxes in the cellar/storage area that are not upstairs worthy. Some books are dear and I’m not quite ready to party with them yet — maybe while we are separated, I will come to realize that I can part with them. Or not.

    thanks for blogging ~

  3. I don’t think I own enough books to do this!

    We ARE a family of readers, but we tend to get almost everything from the library, and even when I own a book, I usually sell it after I’ve read it.

    So most of the shelves in our home hold schoolbooks, scrapbooks, and kid books.

  4. Whitney says:

    Love it! I’ve had my bookshelves arranged like this until I moved recently. I still keep my movies organized by this. In always surprised at how readily I can still find books – I almost always remember spine color now. Haha. I hope you keep enjoying it!

  5. Betsy says:

    I arranged all of my cookbooks by color on a bookshelf in my kitchen. It’s made me happy every day since I did it!!

  6. Susan says:

    We recently downsized from a house with many built-in bookcases (where we had lived for 20 years!) to one without even a wall to accommodate a single bookcase. I only kept the books I cannot possibly live without, and still many of them are in a box in the garage. It makes me feel like an evil stepmother! Next time we move, space for bookshelves will be a priority!

  7. I did this recently when we also moved, and I LOVE IT! As I was doing it, I kept thinking the the range of greens couldn’t possibly all look cohesive, but from afar they totally do! And I’ve surprised myself by realizing that I know what color most of my books are. I was trying to find one to loan and friend and I thought, “Oh yeah, that’s an orange one,” and I went right to it. I was surprised by the number of black books I ended up with!

  8. Rachel N says:

    I just did the exact same thing two days ago. I’m not sure how I feel about it because I have always arranged my books by genre, author, then title. But I decided to live with it for a week and then see what I want to do about it.

  9. Anne says:

    Do you get a little thrill when you pass it? Fun stuff!!

    Also: “why, why, why?” *chuckle* I’m sure a lot of us can speak to that. 😉

  10. LOVE. I may have to do this – though I’ll keep my series together! And ugh, I hated A Separate Peace. (Ditto Catcher in the Rye.) But I kept Blindness by Jose Saramago – even though it’s a jarringly difficult book – because I believe it’s an important one. I read it in a college course that featured tough books and eye-opening discussions.

  11. I love seeing how other people organize their bookshelves. Personally, I’m a curator: I like shelving authors or characters who would get along well right next to each other. It’s fun for me to think of Madeleine L’Engle chatting with C.S. Lewis about art and Christianity, or putting my husband’s Louis L’Amour books next to my Leif Enger novels.

  12. Kristina says:

    I love the rainbow bookshelves…they’re so appealing to the eyes. Also, the basement books? Yeah, I definitely have many of those. I have a “basement bookshelf.” *facepalm*

    • Katherine says:

      We have “attic books”. Which somehow seems terrible because of the change in temperature up there… Clearly those are not books that we care about. Blerg.

  13. Karlyne says:

    Well, I think it might be a good way to re-train my mind. You know, to think of Persuasion as white and Peace Like a River as blue (oh, that’s easy: river=blue) and Christie as black (too easy again). Anyhow, yours look lovely!

  14. Liz says:

    I just love seeing your red Pride and Prejudice because my mom gave me the same one. I had my books in rainbow organization until we moved last month & it does take upkeep if they’re books you reach for regularly, but it’s so pretty. Actually, I think I organized books into themes (fiction, spiritual, nonfiction, cookbooks, books about food, children’s) first and within the themes made each shelf color coordinated.

  15. I arranged my books by color in our last house, and I agree–it was fun to see which books ended up side by side. In our current home, I went back to organizing by genre, just for fun. I definitely find myself banishing some books to basement cupboards, which probably means I should send them off to the Goodwill. 🙂

  16. Karianna says:

    I just did this! After being prodded by my friend, Natalee! She even went as far as to organize the books for me. We have them spread out over 2 shelves so things aren’t so tight and I have some vertical and some in stacks with pictures in between. I do need to find some great book ends though…

  17. Sonya says:

    I LOVE sorting books in rainbow order!! I once did this with cheap, black Walmart bookshelves.. the TALL ones.. 2 of them. The problem was I packed them full and then when I got new books, there was no room to put them into their correct color category. My uncle does gorgeous woodworking as a hobby and we had a ton of wood from when my parents cut down a large cherry tree on their property. He made me 2 bookcases that were even larger than the cheapo ones, and I had so much more space to spread out my collection. All my boxed sets/series have their own special shelf.. the rest? RAINBOW COLORED BLISS!!

  18. Bonnie-Jean says:

    It looks great Anne! My sister did this with her bookshelves in her lounge room and I love the effect. I think it takes moving or a major rearrange of the house though to get this done. I love the idea but taking all my books down and sorting them into colours is not high on my to do list. Maybe next time we move house!

  19. Andrea says:

    I think the way you’ve done it here is perfect — the bookshelf is small enough that you won’t drive yourself crazy looking for a particular book. It’s quite striking!

  20. So glad you took the colored book shelf plunge! I love your observations; they are right on: the juxtapositions, the new desire to purge books, the love of pretty books, husbands not wanting to purge certain books. We in a temporary living space, and I hesitated at first about whether our abbreviated books should be color arranged, but then it really did make me so much happier and our little attic room seem better and more pulled together when I arranged them by color.

  21. Catie says:

    I like how it looks, but it’s SO impractical! I tried to organize my books this way a long time ago and I couldn’t stand it! 🙂 I like my non-fiction and fiction to stay separated, thankyouverymuch. It does look pretty though. Beauty is pain?

  22. Angie says:

    This makes me all twitchy. In fact, if you hear mumbling and things banging around in your living room in the middle of the night it’s just me, the OCD Book Fairy. I’ll put your books and your husband’s on separate shelves, then arrange all books into groups by author, then chronologically. Favorite authors at eye level. Whew, I feel much better now.

    • Anne says:

      I didn’t say you couldn’t, I said I couldn’t! (Actually, I could to some degree, but I also keep books in my office organized by projects I’m working one, ones I’m going to get around to reviewing one day, and ones that need to go back to the library. I like those the way they are. 🙂 )

      I can’t wait to see the picture once you’re finished!

  23. Jennifer says:

    I will never get rid of my copy of “Heart of Darkness” — it was the first book to actually give me a bit of fear chills, and as much as I don’t love or seek out that feeling, it’s a powerful reminder to me as a writer of the power of words. Looking at it doesn’t give me heebie jeebies, and I’m not tempted to re-read, but just keeping it is like a sign of respect for me 🙂

    I have rainbow book shelves in every room, it gets complicated when book covers have different colours than their spines… ugh, lol.

  24. Maggie says:

    It looks lovely! The librarian in me is twitchy and wants to jump into your photos and alphabetize, but I will admit it looks lovely on someone else’s shelf even if I couldn’t do it myself. 🙂

  25. Jenney says:

    what? You didn’t like Separate Peace or Heart of Darkness? Those are two of my favorite books! My teenagers loved them and reread SP a hundred times, and we cried every time! I am amazed people didn’t like those. Send me your unwanted copies because mine are worn from over-love!

    I can’t do this rainbow thing, even through it is aesthetically pleasing. I need my books catalogued according to the Dewey decimal system. Plus, I need all the Lemony Snickets together. I will grant you, it looks very nice and it would be easy to keep track of because we always identify books by the color of the spine!

  26. Margie says:

    Pictures of peoples bookshelves always give me a crick in my neck as I crane my head sideways so I can read all the titles. They look pretty, but did you keep them?

  27. Kim says:

    So how do you find a book you’re looking for? I have mine in alphabetical order by author. Did you end up being able to live with them this way?

  28. Amy C says:

    I did this when we moved four years ago. We now have a room devoted to books with built-ins. It can store several hundred books, and I love the way it looks visually. I learned that I’m pretty good at taking mental pictures of books, because I am usually able to find what I’m (or a family member is) looking for!

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