The Help Desk: Organized labor

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

Should home libraries always be alphabetized, so everyone can use them, or does someone who, say, prefers to arrange her personal books by color have a point in telling her husband to be quiet and leave her alone?

Esther, First Hill

Dear Esther,

Unless you are shackled to the corpse of Melvil Dewey, your husband has no authority to tell you how to arrange your books. Organizing a collection is very personal, like organizing a quinceañera party for your tortoise or, conversely, organizing your taxidermy leftovers.

And aside from the visual appeal of arranging books by color, there's an upside to leaving your shelves unalphabetized – if you are in search of something particular, it forces you to slow down and peruse each shelf, which sparks nice memories of past reads. And if someone asks to borrow a book – for instance, a friend who rarely reads or returns books that you lend him but leaves them scattered around his house before dates to look smarter – it gives you an excuse to say you can't find it.