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Category Archives: Dear Book Dr.

[Dear Book Dr.] How to Organize Your Bookshelves

how to organize your bookshelves

Dear Book Dr,

I am simplifying my house by working through the Cozy Minimalist eCourse. While the author has some great ideas for display bookcases, she doesn’t have a lot of suggestions for attractively displaying books and organizing bookcases for practical purposes. I’ve determined my various bookcases are for storage, not for display. The shelves are crammed full of books of all sizes, colors and shapes. I would like the bookshelf to look more uniform and organized and simple. Perhaps this is not realistic. Can I have both beautiful and practical bookshelves at the same time? I know I have too many books, so I’m beginning the process of sorting out books to give away or sell. However, I’m stuck with how to display the books I currently want to keep, without looking like a cluttered mess.


Hopeful Minimalist

Dear Hopeful Minimalist,

You are speaking my language. I know that book storage is a terrifying topic for many of us who are book junkies. I once counted how many books I owned that I hadn’t yet read and the number was so terrifying I don’t think I can share it. Perhaps that will be a future post.

However, I take your point- how to organize your bookshelves if you have enough books that remembering what color they are is a challenge. I think color sorting can hold up by category- just art books in one room, for example, but is tough for a serious library.

Here are my ideas:

  • Try sorting by category first. Think about which rooms you tend to read which sorts of books in. For example, I keep my spiritual books in the bedroom since my meditation area is there and I am most likely to consult them in that room. Fiction is in our sitting room, writing reference in the office and so on. This is a good way to begin to break things down.
  • It sounds like you have modular bookshelves, correct? The kind that are pieces of furniture? Sadly I can’t take my own advice on this one, but in a former house I was astonished at how much more shelf space I got from wall-mounted bookshelves. The container store makes great ones that you can customize- you just mount one strip of metal near the ceiling and the shelf supports hang from that so there is minimal wall damage. It felt like twice as much space. They tend to go on sale about twice a year. This should help with the space problem and does make everything look much more uniform. A fun thing to do also is paint the wall behind the shelf a bright color- I did hot pink– and the color peeks through from behind the books.
  • Be ruthless about the books you keep. I know, I sound cold. But as long as you have a decent library system near you, books that don’t immediately spark joy when you go through them a la Marie Kondo should go. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t read most novels more than once and I get more joy out of passing them on to a friend than I do cramming them into my shelf. I may be alone here, but still- sometimes friends try to give borrowed books back and I try to run away without them.
  • And if you’re really desperately swamped, try decorating with books. There are quite a few places to look for inspiration on this one. (Pinterest is definitely your friend here) Have a ton of books that you don’t need access too regularly? Stack them up and use them as the base for a coffee table or an end table. Make a cool headboard out of books. I almost always have stacks on my dresser in my bedroom- we have another on the blanket chest in there as well. And Christmas is coming eventually.
  • Look for extra clever places to add shelf space– one apartment I lived in had a gap between the top of the kitchen cabinets and the ceiling- that’s a great bookshelf. Find a room that could handle a single strip of shelf along the ceiling about a foot or so down- instant increase in storage.
  • If all else fails, start a book swap- invite friends who also have too many and bring your cast-offs and trade. You’ll at least save money on buying books. Everything that’s left over at the end of the swap can go to a donation point- the library or goodwill, which also takes books.
  • Ok- one more idea- I have always dreamed of having a little free library, but my house is way down a long driveway away from the street. If you are close enough to the street to put one of these up, do it! And please send updates so I can live vicariously.

Ok, Hopefully. I hope this gives you some good ideas about how to organize your bookshelves, and even how to get beyond your bookshelves. Do let us know how your minimalism and book decoration progresses…

Happy sorting!

The book dr.


[Dear Book Dr.] How to Write a Bollywood Memoir

Bollywood Memoirs

Dear Book Doctor,

The last 4 and a half months of my life have been like a Bollywood epic sending me on an international rescue mission to fetch my poorly dad home from rural Punjab to northern England, complete with overtly emotional crying scenes, dramatic battles with evil villains, the uniting of a distant family (almost) and of course, a couple of group dance scenes.

It was the only time I ever got to fly business class but spent most of it on the floor so my dad’s bouncy knee could rest on my head whilst he slept.

I need to write dad’s story and my story of having this one dad. A story of adventure, immigration, magic and hope. Of the lessons I’ve learnt from this quiet sage.

And I need some inspiration on where to start with writing a memoir please. What other inspirational memoirs have been written that could inspire and guide me? Maybe memoirs where the gaps have had to be filled in with a sprinkling of imagination? Memoirs that require a box of tissues, leaves me in a satisfied heap at the end and makes me feel that I’ve really shared a journey, learnt something. And any book recommendations for the process of writing a memoir or personal narrative?

Thanks Book Dr for your wordy medicine,

Mired in Memories

Dear Mired,

It does sound like you’ve been on quite the adventure. And just from what you’ve written so far, I can tell this Bollywood  level memoir is a book that needs to get written. I, for one, am eager to read it! Let’s get started.

First of all, I can’t help but mention A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It is a novel, but it is the sort of grandiose epic that would be an appropriate tone for your book. Worth a read- it’s one of my favorites although it is an enormous volume. Good for an eReader, I must say. Audio would take about a year and a half to get through…

Now on to memoirs. There are so many out there, I think it’s a question of what style you want to pursue. A full length book with one narrative right through? I would look to The Glass Castle as the example of a heartbreaking memoir about parents for that. In addition, I would give you the divinely titled Them: A Memoir of Parents by Francine du Plessix Gray, which my aunt absolutely went nuts over. (I must admit I haven’t read it yet, but I remember her raptures very clearly)

The other option is a series of shorter pieces. While not a memoir, strictly speaking, I was so won over by the very revealing personal elements in The Empathy Exams. It was one of the best things I read the year it came out. Leslie Jamison writes so well it almost made me puke. Or give up on writing ever again. But it was still worth reading. At a writing conference I attended that summer it was the absolute rage and it might be a way to think about telling different parts of the story in shorter essayesque chapters.

But then how to write the thing in the first place?

You have to go right to the source, Natalie Goldberg. Yes, Writing Down the Bones is genius and required reading for anyone who wants to write anything and Old Friend From Far Away is specifically about memoir, but I think Long Quiet Highway might be best for you. It is the story about her personal discovery path through Zen Buddhism and writing and her relationship to her beloved teacher, Katagiri Roshi. I think there may be something of your Bollywood memoir in this- beloved father figure, spiritual overtones, a journey… stop me if I’m going too far afield.

And finally, I recommend The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gorelick as well as To Show and to Tell by Philip Lopate, both of which were recommended by my creative nonfiction teacher. They have slightly different angles- Lopate is more focused on literary nonfiction and Gorelick is more personal narrative and has the advantage of referencing a wide range of successful work from many different cultures and situations. I’d start with Gorelick and then go to Lopate.

Phew! Lots to say on that one.

Now… you’ll have to tell us first once you sell your book, ok?

Happy reading! (and writing)

The book dr.


[Dear Book Dr.] The World’s Largest Book.

Mao and the world's largest book

Last week, we had a fantastic letter from Hildegard, in which she requested recommendations for both tiny books and enormous books. We covered tiny last week, but this week we’re going large.

Dear Hildegard,

I have been researching away on your request to collect the opposite ends of the size spectrum in the literary world. I’ve come up with some exciting results in this world as well.

First, I think it’s essential that we start with the world’s largest book so you know what you’re getting yourself into. According to the video below, you will need an entire crew and a gallery with a removable roof in order to get this into your home. Or your castle, since this book is so big I don’t think it’s going to fit on your average home plot. Let’s have a look, shall we?

It looks like you’ll need, in addition to the purchase price of the book, a crew of 10-12 men and a crane. And it is going to take all day to get this thing placed in your space. I have no idea how you are supposed to read it- perhaps they supply page turning support? I personally would like to sleep in a hammock suspended over the book to read from it. But that’s just me.

So now we move on from that definition of large to several others. There is a bit of a debate about which book is actually the largest out there. Just a few months before the above book was settled on as the world’s largest, the Klencke Atlas was listed as the world’s largest and was displayed as part of the British Library’s exhibition on maps.

Personally, this is where I would go with elephant-sized books. I am a map lover. Every time I crack open a novel and I see a map, preferably hand drawn, in the overleaf, I breathe a sigh and know I am in good hands. If I was gathering a collection of big books, I would snatch up every atlas I could get my hands on. I still might- it sounds pretty exciting, actually.

But you might not share my love of maps. You might want something a bit more sculptural. In Bhutan, for example, there is a book, also called the world’s largest, that exists where each page is a stone tablet. I don’t know if you can even collect this one. But if you wanted to install something similar, I would start interviewing stonemasons and make sure you have at least 10 acres to work with.

And maybe this all seems like too much. in the interest of just getting your feet wet, you could start with collecting the 10 longest novels ever written. This is absolutely a respectable choice, and one that you can start working on right away, which has a certain appeal.

And last, but not least, I don’t think we can ignore the largest ever chain reaction of books, set up like a complex domino display. If you don’t have the attention span to watch the whole thing, skip to the middle- it really gets going then.

I hope this has given you something to work with, Hildegard, Please do keep up apprised of the state of your collection, both large and small. We are eager for updates!

Happy reading,

The book dr.

[Dear Book Dr.] What to Do if You Want to Collect Tiny Books.

tiny book

What is your recommendation for an incredibly small book? And then also for a very large book. I’d like to start reading books that give me the sensation of being a very eccentric noblewoman in my country estate where I collect only two things: very tiny and elephant-like books.  This is not a joke.

Best regards,



I am loving this question. I must be honest with Hildegard and everyone else- I needed a little time to really dig into answering this question. And, in fact, I’m only going to answer half of it today. This question is worth two Book Dr. columns so we’ll start small- with collecting tiny books.

It turns out that you’re in good company, Hildegard. Not only can you collect diminutive books, you can actually join societies of people who also collect tiny volumes.

Here are my recommendations for you:

First, I would decide how small you want to go. Do you want to collect books that actually have words on the pages? Or does that not matter? If it doesn’t, then you can collect books that are designed for dollhouses. If you’re a bit more avant garde, you can invest in a copy of the world’s smallest book, which was printed on a microchip and measures just 70 microcentimeters by 100 microcentimeters. This technical marvel is blessed with the riveting title “Teeny Ted from Turnip Town” and retails for an easy $10,000, a steal compared to the $15,000 it originally retailed for on Kickstarter.

However, if you want to get into the books with words on the pages, you have to get into the serious collectors. I was charmed by this piece on the NY Times blog about a tiny book collector, 77-year-old Neale Albert. He is described as the most serious miniature book collector living in New York. I think it would be worth reaching out to him. Apparently he began as a dollhouse aficionado and amassing a library for a miniature house hooked him on tiny books. It sounds like you are well on your way.

As a first foray into the world, I might check out this album of beautiful tiny books. The array of options for books this small is astounding. I expect a full report as you build your tiny literary empire, Hildegard. Do send us updates!

Stay tuned- I will not leave you hanging on the elephant-like portion of your question. I will return next week with a prescription for those.

Happy reading and happy hunting,

the book dr.

dear book dr.: road trips with audiobooks.


Dear Book Dr,

My husband and I are taking an 8 hour road trip (one way) this weekend to a family reunion. Do you have books on tape to recommend that we would both enjoy? We do best with lighter short chapters and enjoy humor, memoirs and storytelling. Some of our favorite books on tape have been memoirs or stories by Bill Bryson, Mitch Albom and Garrison Keillor. He typically likes history, science and math related books like Finding Zero by Amir Aczel but also likes a good historical fiction book.  I prefer spiritual and self help books when traveling alone, but nothing too deep that requires too much concentration.

When we can find a good PBS station for a few miles, that tends to be our listening choice, but we often lose the station halfway … and have trouble picking it up to finish the program.  A book on tape seems to work best. Any good ideas for us to consider?

We do love a good story!  Thanks – D & L

Oh my, D&L. You have asked a question close to my heart. Pictured above is my beloved first Mini Cooper, who carried me safely from Maine back to California when I moved to Los Angeles nine years ago this September. A two week road trip certainly drove home the need for good audio entertainment, especially since this was well before smartphones. That car still had a tape deck in it- my current Mini doesn’t even have a CD player inside anymore…

But I digress. Between that drive and the LA traffic which has made my commute as long as an hour and a half each way at previous jobs, I am well-versed in audio. I can tell you two are ready for greatness.

First of all, since you love Bill Bryson, I must put one of my all-time audio favorites out there:


Have you listened to One Summer yet? I am still astonished well after finishing this one that so much happened in the summer of 1927. There is truly something for everyone in this book- prohibition, mobsters, Babe Ruth’s home runs, boxing, the Lindberg flight. I found myself calling out in disbelief as I sat in gridlock on the 10 freeway toward Santa Monica. “No! That can’t be real!” At 17.5 hours, this one will take you all the way to the reunion  and home. And I assure you, you won’t be able to stop talking about it while you’re there. Bryson reads it himself and his slightly dry delivery was perfect for the extraordinary material.


Another humorous-but-fascinating option is A.J. Jacob’s The Know It All. Entertainment Weekly writer Jacobs fears that his brain is wasting away from writing about celebrity gossip and other light topics, so he decides to take a stand for intellectualism by reading the entire encyclopedia britannica. This book is both funny and clever as he chronicles the impact this mammoth project has on his life. I listened to this one on the drive from Maine to my parents’ house in Baltimore and it kept the miles moving right along.


And finally, because we don’t want to ignore fiction, G.M. Malliet’s Wicked Autumn, a cozy British mystery that takes place in a small village, is both hilarious and entertaining. The author’s observations on English village life as navigated by Max Tudor, an MI5 agent-turned-vicar, kept me giggling and sane for my horrible commute the entire time I listened to it. The first two installments of this series are definitely the best. I adore the characters, though and hope the next installment will come back strong.

Bonus recommendation for you when traveling alone on a future drive… I have loved listening to Pema Chodron’s books and talks, most of which are available on audio. I have seen just as many of these at the library as well as on audible. If you use the app Overdrive, you can download audio right to an iPhone if your local library system is connected. I shall do a post on digital library systems soon.

I do hope these treats get you safely to your reunion. Do let me know how you liked them if you choose any of these.

Happy road tripping!

The book dr.

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