Here's an interesting article on the Rules of Library Management, by some jag-off at TIME Magazine's website. His "Prime Directive" is:
RULE #1: THE PRIME DIRECTIVE -- It is unacceptable to display any book in a public space of your home if you have not read it. Therefore, to be placed on Matt Selman's living room bookshelves, a book must have been read cover to cover, every word, by Matt Selman. If you are in the home of Matt Selman and see a book on the living room shelves, you know FOR SURE it has been read by Matt Selman.
The first thing this article tells us is that Matt Selman, whoever he is, is a fucking dork. The second thing it tells us is that Matt Selman doesn't really understand what shelves are for. Or maybe he just has a different idea of what shelves should be for than I do.
I view the books that I own as having two functions. We'll call them the "primary function" and the "secondary function." The primary function, is of course, providing information to me, the owner/reader. The secondary function is providing information to people that might observe what books are on my shelves and form conclusions about what kind of person I am based on said books. We'll call these people "chicks that come over to my apartment."
I have four book shelves. The first is located in my bedroom. It contains approximately 15 books (and a plant, some candles, this sculpture thing and some book-ends). I have read 100% of the books on this shelf. The books on this self are mostly my favorites. All of them are newish hardcovers or decently kept up, newer paperbacks. In other words, I've read them and they look pretty nice. They include Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" and "The Baroque Cycle," Michael Lewis's "Moneyball" and "The Blind Side," Carl Sagan's "The Demonhaunted World," Scott Adams's "God's Debris" Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" and the entire Harry Potter series.
The second shelf is located in my living room. It is in an area of the room that can be seen by anyone sitting in any of the chairs in said living room. There are about 30 books on this shelf. I've read approximately 25% of these books. They are all thick hardcovers, from which I've removed the nerdy book-jackets. I obtained most of them from my grandparents' place after they passed away. They include many biographies and historical accounts of wars and things. I'm interested in all of the topics covered in them, but haven't gotten around to reading all of them yet. I think that even though I haven't read all of these books, they still convey something about who I am. They tell visitors that I'm well-read and interested in history. And I am pretty well-read and interested in history. So I don't really think that makes me a poser.
The third shelf is also in my living room. It is a "barrister's cabinet," which means it has doors on it. They're glass, so you can still see what books are inside, but not as well. And it's in a place in the room where it's harder to see unless you're looking right at it. There are about 100 books on this shelf and I've read approximately 95% of them. Some of the books on this shelf are my favorites, but the copies I have of them kinda look like shit. They're mostly beat up old paperbacks I bought at used books stores during college.
The final shelf is in my spare bedroom. I got this shelf at Wal*Mart in like 1999 and it's a piece of garbage that is falling apart. The books on this shelf are mostly textbooks from college and law school, coffee table books I got on sale at Borders and a few miscellaneous others. I'd say there are about 200 books on this shelf... and a small collection of Milwaukee Brewers bobble-head dolls. I read most of most of these books, and they look alright, but one message I'm most definitely not trying to convey is "I went to law school." That's why they're in a room where nobody really goes.
Basically, my system involves accepting the idea that books that I'm interested in, but haven't read, say something about me too. So the books that are the most prominently displayed are the ones that look the nicest. I didn't really do that on purpose, that's just how it ended up. But I like that system, and I'm sticking to it.
How are your books displayed?