THE BOOK RIOT 50: #36 How to Say “I Do” to Shared Bookshelves Without Ruining Your Relationship

Rebecca Joines Schinsky

Chief of Staff

Rebecca Joines Schinsky is the executive director of product and ecommerce at Riot New Media Group. She co-hosts All the Books! and the Book Riot Podcast. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccaschinsky.

Rebecca Joines Schinsky

Chief of Staff

Rebecca Joines Schinsky is the executive director of product and ecommerce at Riot New Media Group. She co-hosts All the Books! and the Book Riot Podcast. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccaschinsky.

To celebrate Book Riot’s  first birthday on Monday, we’re running our best 50 posts from our first year this week. Click here for the running list. This post originally ran January 17, 2012.


It wasn’t when we moved in together, or when we got engaged, or even when we merged bank accounts (because we’re crazy like that) and bought a house that I knew my husband was in it for the long haul. All of those choices were significant, sure, but the real clincher–the moment I knew we had committed to the whole “what’s mine is yours” thing for real–was when we decided to merge our bookshelves. The actual process of merging said bookshelves? That was the first test of our soon-to-be marriage.

While I would never consider partnering for life with a non-reader (I dated one once. Reader, he was boring!), I think it’s important to note that hitching your wagon to someone who values books as much as you do is not without its landmines, the Great Joining of the Bookshelves being the first and most perilous. We have to start talking about these things if we want them to get better! So, if you’re not living with a partner yet, or you and your partner haven’t taken the bookshelf-sharing plunge, a few words of advice:

Ditch your old organizational strategies and create a new one together.

This is akin to giving up your old apartments and moving into a fresh, new place where neither of you feels territorial or afraid of stepping on the other’s toes. Unless by a miracle of the universe you’ve met someone who organizes books exactly the same way you do, trust me–you’ll be happier arguing about a new system together than about whose previous system was superior.

Show ‘em what you’re working with.

Spread all the books out on the floor. Move them around. Make piles that comply with your newly-minted system. Introduce your books to each other. Talk about which ones go together and why. Make eyes at one another over the piles. Congratulate yourselves on how well you’re doing with this relationship milestone.

Leave your Judgy McJudgerton pants in the closet.

Better yet, leave ALL your pants in the closet. How could organizing bookshelves pantless NOT be a good thing for your relationship? Apply this rule to all potentially unpleasant household tasks.

Compromise and defer.

If you haven’t already been on the receiving end of myriad well-meaning speeches about the importance of compromise, allow me to be the first. You might not think THIS book belongs in THAT pile, but if it’s your partner’s book, then she’s the in-house expert on it, and she gets to make the final call. Besides, you’ll get her back later when you put That Book By The Politician She Hates and Is Embarrassed You Like in a prominent spot on the “favorites” shelf people first see when they walk into the room. Oh no, I’m not speaking from experience here. Not at all.

Silently remind yourself that you have better taste.

Okay, it’s impossible to resist all judgment, so the operative word here is “silently.” Do not, under any circumstances, suggest out loud that one of your partner’s books isn’t good enough to hang out next to one of your beloved tomes. I repeat: don’t go there. You know you have better taste, and you’ll have to resign yourself to a lifetime of smug–and unspoken–satisfaction about it. Better start now. Some things actually are better kept inside.

Exit strategy? Who needs an exit strategy?!

Like committing to a relationship, merging your bookshelves is an exercise in hope. If you go into the activity thinking about how you’ll separate your books someday in the future, you’re doing it wrong. If you really must have the bookish version of a prenup, write your name in your books so you’ll know whose is whose. Tell yourself you’re only doing this so you don’t accidentally make notes in your partner’s copy.

Know when to fold ‘em.

Don’t beat yourself up if the bookshelf merging gets hairy. This is one time when it’s okay to throw in the towel. Better to decide early on that you’re a “we share everything BUT books” couple than to learn it the hard way years later, right? Of course, those of us who have managed the merge will sit in silent, smug judgment of you, but you’ll be happier, so who cares? Sit back, enjoy the beauty of freshly organized shelves, and remember that even if your books aren’t snuggling, you can.

Now tell me: do your share bookshelves with your partner? Would you? What guidelines did I miss?