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The Globe and Mail

Dewey Decimal Redux: Should we organize books by colour?

Tanya Springer’s colour-coded bookshelf at home in Toronto.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Ever find yourself thinking, "I can't wait to pick up a copy of that new John Irving book today ... oh, what? It's a deep mauve? Forget it!"

If not, here's a trendlet that's kicking up dust on decor sites: grouping books on the shelf according to hue.

Design magazines and blogs have been capitalizing on the mesmerizing photo spreads devoted to this trend. And Random House will launch its "Books are Beautiful" series next month – 30 iconic titles each assigned a specific shade by colour specialist Pantone Inc. so that the collection forms a rainbow on your shelf. (The edges of the pages are spray-painted to match, ensuring that the book is a physical work of art from every conceivable angle – except if you open it.)

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Not everyone's happy about the trend: "I'm a librarian. This makes me want to cry and shake my fists," one commenter writes on the popular online site Apartment Therapy. "Arbitrary placement by colour makes NO SENSE unless you don't plan on finding most of the books ever again."

Most of us remember sitting on the dusty carpet of a school library as a 400-year-old woman explained the Dewey Decimal System. Such a thoughtful and complex organizational tool seems fitting for the literary world.

Equally, there's something reverent about organizing books by authors' last names on bookshelves at home. You quietly celebrate the writer by making his or her name the most pertinent piece of information. Reducing War and Peace to "turquoise" feels superficial.

The blog mob cry that books should be used: consulted, shared, pored over. The very things a book was meant for – lending it to a friend, rereading it, falling asleep with it under the covers – becomes discouraged in the name of disrupting the colour scheme. Then there's the lack of authenticity; using books as decor somehow suggests you've never read them.

For the defence, we have Tanya Springer, a television producer in Toronto.

Springer recently moved into an apartment and colour-coded the bookshelf in her bedroom. "It's a totally free and fun way to decorate," she says. "The best part – no trips to IKEA necessary." She's pleased with the impact on both her room and spirit. "I swear it has a calming effect," she says.

Erik Calhoun, an architectural designer in Toronto, stresses this is a light-hearted trend, and people needn't take it too seriously.

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He likes that the trend is slightly tongue-in-cheek – that the Bible and The God Delusion could end up snuggled on a shelf together because they happen to have black covers.

From a design standpoint, Calhoun says grouping books by colour brings a visual order to them that they don't inherently possess as individual objects. "It gives them a sense of being curated," he explains. "And that adds a sense of value."

As with any decor trend, the practicality question arises: Won't it take you 14 hours to find your copy of The Blind Assassin?

"I only know where a book is because I've gotten used to where it is, intuitively," Calhoun says.

That's true whether your books are organized by year, by author's last name, by number of goats in story, or by colour.

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