Bookish Bits and Bobs

It’s felt like a BIG week for prize news. First we had the Booker Prize longlist, about which I’ve already shared some thoughts. My next selection from it is Trust by Hernan Diaz, which I started reading last night. The shortlist comes out on 6 September. We have our book club shadowing application nearly ready to send off – have your fingers crossed for us!

Then on Friday the three Wainwright Prize shortlists (I gave my reaction to the longlists last month) were announced: one for nature writing, one for conservation writing, and – new this year – one for children’s books on either.

I’m delighted that my top two overall picks, On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester and Silent Earth by Dave Goulson, are still in the running. I’ve read half of the nature list and still intend to read Shadowlands, which is awaiting me at the library. I’d happily read any of the remaining books on the conservation list and have requested the few that my library system owns. Of the children’s nominees, I’m currently a third of the way through Julia and the Shark and also have the Davies out from the library to read.

As if to make up for the recent demise of the Costa Awards, the Folio Prize has decided to split into three categories: fiction, nonfiction and poetry; the three finalists will then go head-to-head to compete for the overall prize. I’ve always wondered how the Folio judges pit such different books against each other. This makes theirs an easier job, I guess?

Speaking of prize judging, I’ve been asked to return as a manuscript judge for the 2023 McKitterick Prize administered by the Society of Authors, the UK trade union for writers. (Since 1990, the McKitterick Prize has been awarded to a debut novelist aged 40+. It’s unique in that it considers unpublished manuscripts as well as published novels – Political Quarterly editor Tom McKitterick, who endowed the Prize, had an unpublished novel at the time of his death.) Although I’d prefer to be assessing ‘real’ books, the fee is welcome. Submissions close in October, and I’ll spend much of November–December on the reading.


Somehow, it’s August. Which means:

  • Less than a month left for the remaining 10 of my 20 Books of Summer. I’m actually partway through another 12 books that would be relevant to my flora theme, so I just have to make myself finish and review 10 of them.
  • It’s Women in Translation month! I’m currently reading The Last Wild Horses by Maja Lunde and have The Summer Book by Tove Jansson out from the library. I also have review copies of two short novels from Héloïse Press, and have placed a library hold on The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun. We’ll see how many of these I get to.


Marcie (Buried in Print) and I have embarked on a buddy read of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. I’ve never read any of his major works and I’m enjoying this so far.

Goodreads, ever so helpfully, tells me I’m currently 37 books behind schedule on my year’s reading challenge. What the website doesn’t know is that, across my shelves and e-readers, I am partway through – literally – about 90 books. So if I could just get my act together to sit down and finish things instead of constantly grabbing for something new, my numbers would look a lot better. Nonetheless, I’ve read loads by anyone’s standard, and will read lots more before the end of the year, so I’m not going to sweat it about the statistics.


A new home has meant fun tasks like unpacking my library (as well as not-so-fun ones like DIY). As a reward for successfully hosting a housewarming party and our first weekend guests, I let myself unbox and organize most of the rest of the books in my new study. My in-laws are bringing us a spare bookcase soon; it’s destined to hold biographies, poetry and short story collections. I thought I’d be able to house all the rest of my life writing and literary reference books on two Billy bookcases, but it’s required some clever horizontal stacks, special ‘displays’ on the top of each case, and, alas, some double-stacking – which I swore I wouldn’t do.

Scotland and Victoriana displays, unread memoirs and literary reference books at left; medical reads display and read memoirs at right.

I need to acquire one more bookcase, a bit narrower than a Billy, to hold the rest of my read fiction plus some overflow travel and humour on the landing.

I get a bit neurotic about how my library is organized, so questions that others wouldn’t give much thought to plague me:

  • Should I divide read from unread books?
  • Do I hide the less sightly proof copies in a stack behind the rest?
  • Is it better to have hardbacks and paperbacks all in one sequence, or separate them to maximize space?

(I’ve employed all of these options for various categories.)

I also have some feature shelves to match particular challenges, like novellas, future seasonal reads, upcoming releases and review books to catch up on, as well as signed copies and recent acquisitions to prioritize. Inevitably, once I’ve arranged everything, I find one or two strays that then don’t fit on the shelves I’ve allotted. Argh! #BibliophileProblems, eh?

I’ve been skimming through The Bookman’s Tale by Ronald Blythe, and this passage from the diary entry “The Bookshelf Cull” stood out to me:

“Should you carry a dozen volumes from one shelf to another, you will most likely be carrying hundreds before you finish. Sequences will be thrown out; titles will have to be regrouped; subjects will demand respect.”

What are your August reading plans? Following any literary prizes?

How are your shelves looking? Are they as regimented as mine, or more random?

25 responses

  1. I love those knotty bookshelf problems. I have finally convinced my parents to get more bookshelves in their house, which means I might be able to store more there too…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And I’m sure to acquire more before long, which compounds the problems!

      Ooh, that will be useful — but also dangerous. I have quite a lot of books stored in my sister’s basement in the USA…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Double stacking is a killer – you’ll forget all those hidden books if you’re not careful. (Speaking from experience here). I have managed to get down to just one tall Billy that’s double-stacked now. But there are probably more piles elsewhere created by removing the other previously hidden tomes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I admire your restraint! I only ‘allow’ double-stacking on cases of read material, so it doesn’t matter as much if I lose track of them back there.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. My books are boringly organised. Fiction in alphabetical order, non-fiction roughly Dewey. 90 books currently being read? The mind boggles …

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m impressed by the Dewey arrangement! I have lots in some NF categories and vanishingly little in others, so I have full shelves of travel and theology but a partial shelf with a random assortment of history and social sciences.

      I don’t call them all current reads. Some are “occasional reading” (bedside books, etc.), others are “set aside temporarily” (which sometimes becomes “abandoned”), others have gone back onto the TBR. Perhaps to fool myself that they are less numerous than they really are! But yes, whether I only opened up and read the first few pages or got to the 2/3 point, they’re all partly read.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I see. What a complicated life you lead!


      2. All minor problems of my own making 😉


  4. I’m quite a bit behind on my reading goals this year too, and don’t think I’ll make my target, but that’s the way it goes sometimes!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wonder sometimes why we put all these obligations on ourselves! Reading is for fun, but like anything else can turn into an obsession and/or a burden.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree, which is why I’m not too bothered this year if I hit targets or not. I’d rather read less and not feel under pressure.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I read The Disaster Tourist a couple years ago now – I don’t think I was that impressed, but can’t remember much about it.

    I organise my books mostly by size and colour, so the hardbacks all go together. (I’m still sad that I had to move them all out of my childhood bedroom – where I could visualise where any given book was on the shelf. They’re now in a new order and I can’t find anything).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw your 2-star rating … looks like a polarizing one!

      Organizing by size would be quite useful. I’ve had to separate hardbacks from paperbacks on certain cases for that reason, but that introduces multiple sequences. I get annoyed when I have to do something untidy or illogical to fit all the books in. But, as you say, so long as it works for you and you can find things easily enough, that’s all that matters 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha! I forgot I gave it 2 stars! Oh dear.


  6. I completely understand your shelving questions, but, like Margaret, I have fiction shelved alphabetically and non fiction roughly Dewey. Maybe it’s something to do with us both being North Yorkshire volunteer librarians!!??
    I loved Shadowlands, and indeed most of the Wainwright Prize books I’ve read. With my library volunteer hat on I’ve definitely noticed an increase in that genre being borrowed – nature/environment/memoir.
    Mind you, popular fiction will always be our library’s bread and butter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I shelve fiction alphabetically but have various runs because of separating read from unread books and sometimes, due to space requirements, hardbacks from paperbacks and proofs from finished copies. I’m a library volunteer and former library assistant but don’t know my Dewey well enough to use it at home (when I was paid to work in libraries we used Library of Congress classification).

      That’s heartening to hear that nature books are becoming more popular! Maybe the Wainwright Prize has been a part of that trend. One hopes that engagement with books about nature reflects greater interest in nature in general, and a will to preserve it.

      I saw a list of my library’s top 10 books of the month and it was all fiction, mostly crime or women’s fiction, but literary fiction was in there too with Hamnet.


  7. I’m doing the dreaded cull of my bookshelves – like spring cleaning but more painful – to allow Emily to have more space for her books, meaning any appearance of organisation is ceasing to convince. Mediocre books I’ll never reread, unread books whose first page fails to grab me, once loved copies which are falling apart – all accorded a regretful wave but no backward glance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Occasionally the whim to cull takes hold of me, but I would be more likely to double stack everywhere than to sacrifice books for space.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. How fun to organize your books in the new space! I do shelve read and unread books separately, which I quite like – it lets me have easier access to the next thing. I’ve run out of bookshelf space at my house, though, so I’m starting to accumulate piles by my bed – egads! I’m due for a purge ASAP. I am going to try and be ruthless and assess whether or not I can see myself rereading.

    I’m going to read at least one translated book for in honor of WIT month – I’ve got a few titles checked out. Disoriental by Djavadi, Convenience Store Woman by Murata, and The Hour of the Star by Lispector.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew bookish friends would understand the delights and ‘problems’ of organizing a personal library, whereas others would just think, what’s all the fuss about?! Eventually our plan is to replace our fleet of Billy bookcases with built-in shelving, which should hold a lot more overall, but I know it will probably take us years to get around to that!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I DREAM of built-in bookshelves!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Shelving is so thorny! I’ve changed ours at least twice as new bookshelves are purchased or wall shelves put up, books culled (I’m getting better at being ruthless about this, especially given my newfound library love). I’m fairly happy with it now but there’s only a tiny bit of room for expansion, so… it’ll probably all change again soon. And I’ll love pottering around reshelving! Congratulations on your new home – rearranging whenever you feel like it is half the fun 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No wiggle room in my current arrangement and I’m going back to the charity warehouse on Friday … so I expect I’ll be moving things around sooner rather than later!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I can recommend the very thin “CD” racks from the Billy range – you can get them arranged so they fit paperback height very nicely by taking out some of the shelves and you can fit them into all sorts of little spaces …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a fun idea! We have CDs, and previously also had DVDs, stored in one of their above-desk organizer shelves, so it’s true their storage solutions are versatile.

      Liked by 1 person

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