Books

This Bookshelf Turned My Dusty Pile of Cookbooks into a Tidy Collection

An ode to my spine bookcase.

April  8, 2021
Photo by Ty Mecham

Welcome to Your No-Sweat Guide to Spring Cleaning, a monthlong series that puts the fun (yep, for real!) back into cleaning. We’re talking spruce-ups that take less than 5 minutes, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that hacks, and hands-off cleaning tasks that basically…do themselves—plus our trustiest tools and helpers. The goal: Clean less, go outside more.


I own too many cookbooks, probably (definitely). Between decades of gifts, working as a food editor, and, well, simply loving cookbooks, I’ve amassed quite a collection of the thick hardcovers. Every so often I comb through for some I rarely use that could stand to be donated; for the most part, I can’t bear to part with these heavyweights. Storing them all in one place in one-bedroom apartments has been, shall we say, an adventure.

At one point, I bought the best bookshelf that could fit in my living room, but found the load was too much for the slender wood. (Aren’t we all in a love-hate relationship with IKEA furniture?) Which eventually meant there was really only one “cute” way to store my cookbooks in the space: I piled them on the floor. Grumbling this looks weird, but whatever, I left up the dinky bookshelf, middle two shelves sagging from the weight of the load, and set up a four-foot-tall pile next to the couch with the rest of the collection, right on the living room floor.

Stacks of books on the floor is absolutely a decor trend—and I like the look of it so much more than a classic bookshelf—but I swiftly realized this option has a major accessibility problem for those who actually want to use the books in said piles. If I wanted to cook a recipe from something in the middle of the pile, I had to pick up half the stack (perhaps an exaggeration, but I’d say it weighs in at no less than 900 pounds), slide out the book, then return the pile. But mostly I just let the pile collect dust. I’d look between the boring, dinky bookshelf and the designy yet unmanageable pile, complain for a while, then move on with my day.

My solution came via hours of looking at other peoples’ homes on Instagram: a spine bookcase (I found one on sale at Wayfair). Though it looks just like my cute-but-impractical floor pile, each (invisible!) shelf holds about six books, so it’s simple to grab whichever one I want to cook from without toppling the whole collection.

I bought a white shelf, as the wall it’s set up in front of is the same color (only further adding to the “this is still a laissez-faire pile” illusion), but it also comes in black. I now sometimes just sit and admire the shelf from the couch, even when I’m ordering takeout. This is a real cookbook collection. Just don’t ask me if I organized them by color.

How do you organize your cookbooks? Let us know in the comments!

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Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. Her writing has appeared in TASTE, The Strategist, Eater, and Bon Appetit's Healthyish and Basically. She contributed recipes and words to the book "Breakfast: The Most Important Book About the Best Meal of the Day." Once upon a time, she studied theatre design and art history at Smith College, so if you need a last-minute avocado costume or want to talk about Wayne Thiebaud's cakes, she's your girl. She tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. You can follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.

2 Comments

cinamibun April 12, 2021
When you accumulate enough books, that you can't part with it is time to invest in some form of shelving to display them while silently shouting your treasure troves. A good shelving investment is very decorative and stylish.
 
Vivian K. April 12, 2021
I've been collecting cookbooks since the 1960s and still have most of the ones I acquired early on along with a few hierloom books inherited from my mother. I try to organize by type although this is sometimes difficult because of different sizes. Some of the categories are vegetarian, fish/seafood, pasta/grains/beans, Mexican/Latin American, Italian, French, Jewish, Greek, other Mediterranean, Hungarian/Polish, low-carb/South Beach, compendiums (Joy of Cooking, Claiborne's NY Times Cookbooks, Silver Palate, etc.). All together this takes up about 24 feet of shelving!