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.
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.