My partner and I went about our relationship a little backwards. We moved in together as roommates and then started dating (oh my god, they were roommates). We still have separate rooms, because — if I might start another argument before even introducing my first one — having your own bed and your own bedroom is the best. Getting to sleep already takes me forever; I’m not adding more variables into that.
We met at a bookstore (I’m sorry, this is sounding much more like a romance novel than my real life is, I promise). We both worked there for many years, so it’s not surprising that we have amassed our own collections. Currently, while we each have bookcases in our rooms with the overflow, the majority of our books live on one wall of our living room, on floor to ceiling shelves that once stood in the bookstore. They’re divided down the middle: the left is his books, the right is mine.
Anyone walking into our house would know we love books, but they’d also likely be able to immediately identify whose books are whose. His are alphabetical by author and are dominated by sci fi, fantasy, and horror. Mine are split into subsections: read and unread, sapphic and not sapphic, fiction and nonfiction. I have one shelf devoted to lesbian literary criticism and lesbian pulp fiction.
We’ve been together 5 years, and while our book collections have shifted around (those shelves used to be in his room), there was never any question of merging them. In fact, I’m frankly puzzled by couples who do, unless you have almost identical reading taste. Here are my five reasons why it makes more sense to keep book collections separate.
1) Your Shelves are a Reflection of Your Personality.
Who among us has not snooped someone’s bookshelves? Not only are book lovers always looking for a new title to add to their TBR, but a person’s book collection says a lot about them. Glancing at their shelves, you can see which genres they gravitate towards, what tone and mood they prefer, which topics are top of mind for them.
Mixing two people’s books together muddies that, making it hard to discern anything from their shelves. Are you both Shakespeare fans, or is this just one person’s forgotten textbooks? Do you have two copies of Tipping the Velvet because you’re obsessed with it, or do you each have your own copy? (It’s me. I’m obsessed with it. And it’s three copies, actually.) Which one of you has a shelf just for books about conjoined twins, or is that a shared interest?
2) Book Sorting Systems are Personal.
We all have our own unique ways of sorting and understanding our books. For me, the idea of mixing read and unread books sends a chill down my spine. Those are completely different categories with their own considerations and connotations. For some people, sorting by color means they’re quicker to find a book, because they visualize book. For me, it would make my shelves impossible to navigate.
Merging books requires both of you to cleave to a single sorting system, which will probably end up being something very basic, so you can both navigate it successfully. But part of the fun of having a book collection is considering and rearranging them every once in a while. Maybe you suddenly decide you want to have them by genre, or have a shelf of your very favorite books, or group them by publisher — that’s made a lot harder to do if you’re sharing shelves.
3) Your Shelves Should Be Usable.
Unless you and your partner share the same interests in books, you’re likely pulling out your own books 90% of the time, which makes those shelves very inefficient. Instead of having all the books you’re interested in reading in one place, they’re interspersed with books you have no interest in.
Even if you have similar taste, it can make things a little more complicated. I have some friends who are married and both collect lesbian SFF books — so it makes sense to combine them. But then they had to enact a color coded post it flag system to keep track of who had read each book — a problem I never have with my individual read and unread shelves.
4) Relationships End. Books are Forever.
Tragic stories about the post break up aftermath of merged book collections are all too common. Sometimes, it’s because duplicate copies were gotten rid of — a risk of having overlapping taste. There can also be custody disputes over individual titles. Sadly, the whole ordeal can be so overwhelming and time-intensive that a reader may choose to walk away from the collection rather than go through the painful dividing of the books process.
We all like to enter relationships believing they’ll last forever, but there’s only one constant in life: books. Books will always be there for you. Your books will outlive you, and they’ll certainly outlive your relationship, no matter how charmed. So make the right call: prioritize your books. You’ll thank me later.