Inner Shelf Life: Bibliophibianism

Lyra sent me a terrific article from the Paris Review last week about Unpacking My Library, in which Harvard professor Leah Price takes a look at the bookshelves of successful writers and interviews them about what she found.

Lyra and I both wondered what our bookshelves said about us and decided to do a Friday shelf share—hers is here.

Mine . . . took a little longer.  I could blame Averil, who just yesterday sent my blog places it’s never been, but really, I couldn’t figure out which shelf represented me.

Which is clearly the wrong way to go about this.  We have at least one bookcase or shelf in every room in the house, and I include the bathrooms in that statement.*  The majority of books on those shelves—including fully half of the ones written for children—are, or were originally, mine.  So, in theory most of these shelves represent me.

As you probably know by now—possibly ad nauseam —I’m a librarian by profession.  I’m paid to find information and reading materials, which means I like it when they’re where they’re supposed to be and spend some time each day making sure they are or complaining if they aren’t.** So you might expect the books I own*** to have some kind of similar arrangement—if not actually by Dewey or Library of Congress, maybe alphabetical within genre, by title or author.

But in my private life, such as it is, I’m a bibliophibian.

Bibliophibians also like to have information and reading materials at hand, but in a much more literal way.  And we tend to read from place to place and set books down and come back and carry them off again in, I like to think, a sort of literary current pattern, driven by metaphorical  thermohaline circulation.^

Which makes this less of a shelf than a tidal pool:

Those plastic things in the upper left hand corner?^^  The Christmas-colored foam picture frame on the right?  Suburban seaweed.

As you can see, there’s no real rhyme or reason to the double-packed arrangement:

There are several mysteries in several subgenres—including a terrific noir I reviewed a year ago and two Robert B. Parkers, which empirically proves this is my stuff— sharing space with quest novels, science fiction, and high fantasy adventures—yeah, that’s Labyrinth—while Emma and Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea try to bracket things with a little class.

A well-loved copy of The Lonely Ones by Mary Brown is tucked next to Geek Wisdom, while on the other side, a patch of theology-themed C.S. Lewis bides its time behind  some paranormal YA.  Beowulf and Seventeenth Century Poetry and Prose are camouflaged amidst those serial romances for which an apology will not be forthcoming.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, an oddly shy Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Little Women are perched on top of a Destroyer serial,^^^ waiting for a couple of kids show some interest in books without pictures—though Greenwitch  gives me hope,  as it seems to have wandered from the herd of Susan Cooper two shelves over, and I didn’t move it.

So what does this shelf say about me?

I have questionable eclectic  taste?  I haven’t quite grown up yet?  I have trouble letting go?  I’m all about the escapism?  I’ll read anything that will hold still?


But the one thing I know about this shelf  is that I’ve read every item on it and liked them.  This shelf isn’t a show-shelf.  It’s a reader’s shelf.

So I guess, that makes me a reader.

Quelle suprise.

But several, if not all, of these books have had an influence on what I think a story is, or should be, or could be.  Some have taught me about dialogue, some about plot, about character interaction, strife, longing, or what makes a happy ending—or what can make an unhappy ending just as satisfying.  All by osmosis.

Which, I suppose, makes this a writer’s shelf as well?

Like there’s any difference.

Where are your tidal pools?  What’s in them?


Wondermark! is the brainchild of the ever brilliant David Malki !

* Toilet tank lids are wide and flat for a reason, and that reason, to my way of thinking, has nothing to do with toilet paper cozies.

** I also sort M&Ms into color piles before I eat them.  Don’t judge me.

***Which I will concede don’t actually, technically, include all the books in the library branches—but only under oath.

^If you consider fresh water influx to be new books constantly coming in and the big turnaround in the Oceanic Conveyor Belt near Greenland to be the bathroom off the master bedroom.

^^Remotes for the space heaters we bought when the furnace turned homicidal.  The instructions are on the other side.

^^^The Sky is Falling (#63, by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir), which is far better written than these kinds of things have any right to be.  If you haven’t embraced the cult of Remo Williams, I really can’t explain it.  Go find the movie and make sure your suspension of disbelief is well-secured.


26 thoughts on “Inner Shelf Life: Bibliophibianism

  1. My tidal pool is–embarrassingly–on my nightstand and on the floor next to it. I’m such a slob about books. Let’s see, I’ve got a couple of Stephen Kings there, a Palahniuk, a collection of Agatha Christies, some writing books, a Maeve Binchy and two Rosamunde Pilchers. An enormous book of photography, and a smaller one about the photographer. Etc, etc.

    I think what my tidal pool shows is loyalty. I’m a loyal person and especially a loyal reader. If I like one book by an author, and a second, I’m pretty much guaranteed to read them all. Repeatedly. My pool is fairly stagnant, as a matter of fact.

  2. you and lyra are doing your very best to force me to finally organize my bookshelves. it’s working…but first i need to go get jeanette winterson’s newest.

  3. Suburbab seaweed! This is the phrase I’ve been looking for. Where would we store all of these treasures if it wasn’t on top of the books?

    And tidal pools? Brilliant. Mine is located in the stacks wobbling precariously on top of the wall o’ books. Those are the TBR, and the just finished but whose slot was stolen by another book. Spaces never remain.

  4. Really it’s what you learned from your dad and me. You probable feel right at home. Sometimes we have a hard time finding our silverware on the table, but we can usually find the book we are looking for. Although as we age the location process seems to get harder.

    • Nature and nurture, then? Makes sense to me. I remember my friends being amazed we had bookcases in the kitchen. 😀

      (if you ever forget where you keep your stash of Harlequins, Mom, I know where they are. And don’t bother looking for your Star Trek novels—I’ve got ’em)

  5. What I’ve noticed about yours and Lyra’s shelves are that they lack that one something that is every present on mine. Dust. Tell me, girls, how do you do this?????

    I’m going to take a picture of my shelf this weekend. I dare you not to judge me.

    • I don’t know about Lyra, but in my case it’s probably trick photography.

      We would never judge you, MSB! Analyze and worry, maybe, but never judge. 😉

  6. So much fun! I love Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. I also sort my M&Ms into color piles before I eat them and there’s a special order by which to eat them. And I usually put five in my mouth at a time and suck the color off before chewing. And now you know way more than you needed to know about my weird eating habits. Someday I’ll share with you the way I debone a Milky Way.

  7. If I were responsible for a library, I would not be organizing books at home. Never! And I bet you really do know EXACTLY where every single book is when you want it.

    I’m amazed by the stack of books In Front Of! the other books! If I did this, the stacks would get so tall I’d never know there were other books behind them. (I used to do this, it wasn’t pretty, could never find anything.)

    I love how your mother takes the blame. The credit? 🙂 Somebody recently told me our personalities are completely formed by the time we’re 5 years old. My mother and I spent a lot of time moving, cleaning, and organizing. Ha! Go figure.

    • It’s kind of a busman’s holiday for me, yeah. And it never fails: I can usually find any book except the one I’m currently reading.

      Don’t be afraid of stacking books! It leads to some wonderful discoveries! 🙂

      My Mom and I spent a lot of time doing crafts and making little piles of things to clean up “later.” So the theory does seem to be sound! 😉

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