Inner Shelf Life – S, T and Part of U

My husband sent me this link to Shelf-Conscious and my head exploded. Did you know that people used to shelve their books spine-in and then draw a picture to represent the book on the exposed pages opposite the spine? Click on the link to see what I mean.

The article goes through some favorite writers who can’t stand to have books around them purging as they go, and those whose books are a vision in all of their spine-y glory.

Oh, yeah, book geeks rejoice.

After forwarding this link to Sarah, my favorite librarian, we decided to pick a random shelf and see what it says about us.

The alphabetizing shows that I am married. Prior to meeting my husband, my shelves were by category. He is an unrepentant alphabetizer. I knew that he would be lost without it, so our compromise was that they would be alphabetized but there would also be large categories. There are two Hunter Thompson books here, but the majority are in non-fiction, separate section.

The stacking shows that we ran out of room, and wait. What is Michael Chabon doing in there? That’s a book of essays. Wrong letter, wrong category. That is an example of my chaos on my husband’s at-one-time organized life.

On the far left stacked above is The Sonora Review, David Foster Wallace Tribute Issue. That should be in the literary journal section. Above that, a book of essays writers writing about other writers. Say that three times fast. I don’t know whose that is. I never thought I’d be able to say that, and yet after all this time our lives and our tastes have merged in some places.

I see Tristram Shandy, one of my husband’s all time favorites and a book that I have begun a handful of times and never been able to get into, or understand. He wanted to name our first son Tristram because of that book. Like the book, I have trouble saying it. The “str” sound in the middle of a name is too much for my mouth.

There’s Amy Tan, and Donna Tartt, two books I adore. Hunter Thompson, a man whose voice is like none I have ever read. On to Thoreau, now you know the poets are not mine, and then we have Tolkien. I had just finished reading Harry Potter when I began Tolkien and read them one after the other, loving every minute. I recall wondering why no one mentioned Harry Potter was a retelling of The Lord of the Rings. Why is that rarely said?

Tolstoy and Turgenev, some of the best short story writers on the planet. And in a bit of synchronicity A Confederacy of Dunces is on the same shelf as my husband’s favorite, although he does love Confederacy. Our second son, came within a hair’s breadth of being named Ignatius after that main character. In my opinion, there has never been a greater comic character in literary fiction.

Oh boy, but now we get my heart, Colm Toibin. The Master…this book may very well have changed my life if I can pull off what I’m trying to pull off with my novel. Brooklyn and his latest which I have yet to read, The Empty Family. I see these and my heart beats faster. The promise of an unread book by a favorite author, oh yes.

I have a horrible recollection about specifics in books. But I do have a sensory overload of the way a book made me feel. I’m that way with friends too, come to think of it. I may need to be reminded of a story that you told me, but I will never forget the look on your face, the sound of your voice, whether I am outraged for you, or in love with the person who loves you for you.

Tolkien- A complete fantastical world.

Updike-A small world, bitterness.

Tolstoy and Turgenev- Looking through a keyhole into a study where two people are having a conversation. Nothing is ever as it appears.

Toibin- Small decisions effecting the lives of families. A writer with astute care.

Thompson- Raw and crisp.

Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist- Sadness

And The Confederacy of Dunces-Sadness turned into humor in the best way possible. Over-the-top situations and the human condition as just that, human.

There’s a few that are mine that I haven’t read. Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, one I’ve tried numerous times to no avail, and oddly, Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, a book for a college class in which I argued so much with the professor he ended up having me teach a section. Still haven’t read that book.

There’s an old book in the far right stack, The History of King Arthur and Arthurian Romances by Chretien De Troyes in its proper place. I recall nothing other than those were for a class.

And lucky for me, there are three at the end I never noticed before, the advantage of being married to a fellow book lover. Letting Loose the Hounds- Udall, Before You Sleep- Ullmann, and The Palm-Wine Drunkard- Tutuola. As for those I think what I usually do, I must read those.

Oh, yes, and the big fat one in the center, War and Peace. Never read it and doubt I’ll ever have that much to prove again.

After all, in the time I read that, I could have read all of the books on these shelves I have yet to read.



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45 responses to “Inner Shelf Life – S, T and Part of U

  1. Beautiful! I’m still working on my post—it’s difficult to pick just one shelf . . . which might be a post right there . . .

    (plus Averil knocked my socks off, so I’m regrouping)

  2. Swoon. I love looking at other people’s bookshelves. Most of my books are still in boxes – you’re making me miss them even more.

    • The first time I went to my husband’s apartment, I spent an hour looking through his bookshelves. He kept trying to talk to me, but as he tells it, I ignored him lost in the books, pulling out those I hadn’t read. I learned more about him then than I ever could have from talking to him. He learned that he would eventually marry me.

  3. Rest assured, I think Mrs. Sontag would approve of you. I fear what would be said about me if anyone saw my book shelves. The dust is so heavy you can write your name in it.

    • Having read Sontag, she wouldn’t have approved. I have too much fun reading anything and everything! I imagine the same could be said of you, my friend.

  4. I’m not sure it’s possible to express in this tiny little box how much I love this post! I enlarged the photo — of course I did — and scanned through your shelf before I read your words about it. I would have said you love literary fiction (Colm Toibin and Michael Chabon being the first give-a-ways) and the books look like they’ve been read, meaning many of their spines are rubbed or cracked. My husband never cracks a spine (the sacrilege!) but I can’t read anything without cracking it. Tomato, to-mah-to. I can almost feel him watching me, cringing, as I splay open a brand new book. Ha.

    We started running out of room last year and I donated about 150 books to Friends of the Library. It was hard to do. Emotionally hard, choosing which books to heave-ho. Physically hard, lugging them to the car, then to our old library where the parking lot was a long walk away. But I felt so much better when it was done.

    Now, what shelf would I pick? I’ll need to try this over at my place for sure.

    • I take this partially back —- the ones of the bottom shelf look more “read” and the ones on the shelve above look brand spanking new and shiny. Interesting!

      • Funny how the Harry Potter books are above the Tolkien books whose spines are nothing but flecks of yellowed paper and string. Goes to prove, the never judge a book theory.

        Oh! And there’s Russo! So fun, and right next to Rushdie…ha! Odd dinner companions those. That shelf is remarkably younger than the folks below. Strange.

    • I can just see it.
      Friends of the Library- “Oh, um, thanks then. I thought because the box was so huge there’d be more than just…Presumed Innocent, in here. But, uhm, yeah so thanks.”
      Me -”There were more, but…yeah, so you can have THAT one!”

      I look forward to seeing your shelf with it’s pretty spines. (Show Rex this picture and he’ll have a whole new appreciation for his wife!)

  5. Have you read “Marrying Libraries” by Anne Fadiman (it’s in Ex Libris, and I may have the title wrong)? I think my young man married me because I was the only woman he had ever met who had read Breece D’J Pancake. But I married him for his pie safe. (Seriously, it’s beautiful.)

    • “Trilobites” is one of my favorite stories of all time. I’d have married you for having heard of him, much less read him.

      I said to a woman this week (a woman my age) that I’d seen John Steinbeck’s son speak at the library. She said, “Who’s John Steinbeck?”

      I kid you not.

    • Ex Libris, a lovely little volume and an anniversary gift. Loved it.
      Breece D’J Pancake? How have I never heard of him/her? I would read based on that perfect name alone.

      But now we’re getting down to business…a pie safe? Surely you have pictures?

      • Trying this again, I crashed it the first time. The pie safe looks like this:, only newer and less red.

        Here is the nifty quote from Mr. Pancake. It is the beginning of “Trilobites,” according to The Atlantic Online:

        “I open the truck’s door, step onto the brick side street. I look at Company Hill again, all sort of worn down and round. A long time ago it was real craggy and stood like an island in the Teays River. It took over a million years to make that smooth little hill, and I’ve looked all over it for trilobites. I think how it has always been there and always will be, at least for as long as it matters. The air is smoky with summertime. A bunch of starlings swim over me. I was born in this country and I have never very much wanted to leave. I remember Pop’s dead eyes looking at me. They were real dry, and that took something out of me. I shut the door, head for the cafĂ©.”

      • Where have I been? I love pie safes. I’m fascinated with painted boxes, the older the better, and that cabinet with the pie tin windows?? I need to find one of these…

  6. Sensory overload of the way a book made me feel. I so get that. Thank you for sharing your shelf. I’m a librarian by trade and love the look of stacked book.

    • And isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? Leave behind a feeling that stays long after the details have dissipated. Oh, yes.

      (And you do know of my adoration of librarians…)

  7. I love this! All of it! My head indeed did explode at the spine art. And I love your bookshelf and hearing your stories about the books on it. What a great idea — I will do the same “assignment” this weekend. Even if, truthfully, I never feel very proud of my book displays

    I only have two regular-sized bookcases, which is not nearly enough, and lately I’ve taken to stacking the books horizontally (I can fit more that way, and it’s easier to read the spines) but of course end up cramming in additional books any which way in front of others. And my secondary bookshelf is a total mess with things stacked all over each other. I also have stacks of books on the floor in various parts of the apartment. It’s one of my biggest shames 1) to not have enough room for my books and 2) that I donate/give away books freely. While I love books more than anything, I also try to let go of my heavy material stuff whenever possible. I figure if I definitely won’t re-read a book, it’s best to let it live on in my mind and send its physical body out into the world.

    • I look forward to seeing your shelf!

      I don’t think of the shelves as a judgment the way MSB and now you mentioned. I think of it as a view into all things amazing.
      Some things that look like clutter to others (on the edges of other shelves) include: numerous jars of half-empty small, beautiful bottles of ink; and curled up ultrasound of a baby the nurse said wasn’t viable; a stamp embosser with my husband’s initials (he stamps his books); a vial used to transport ink for refills (still in the box); notecards that I didn’t want to lose…essentially, the books and clutter together form a life.

  8. Pingback: Inner Shelf Life: Bibliophibianism « Earful of Cider

  9. Your bookshelf looks like my bookshelf. (The actual shelf, I mean, not what’s on it. Except that I have all my Harry Potters lined up just like that, and I’m not even ashamed of them.)

    All these comments make me so happy. My people, my favorite group of book nerds.

    • I hope I didn’t come across as ashamed of the Harry Potter books. I assure you I’m not in the least, and man, how condescending would that sound??

      Nope, my books are like kids or lovers. I love them all but in different ways for different reasons.

      • No, you didn’t at all, but I always feel I should be. I love them, though, I can’t help myself. I’ve read a couple of them several times and always with a smile.

  10. my bookshelves (and office, by extension) are a freaking mess. i keep moving books between my bedroom nightstand and desk to my office bookshelves and desk. back and forth, up and down the stairs. the books in my office are aligned across one wall in no particular order, stacked on the floor, sitting on the tiny end table beside my big chair where i drink coffee and fall asleep reading whatever is on my lap.

    i need more order in my life.
    you have inspired me to start with my books.

    • Excuse me a moment. I just need to forward this to my husband…I have inspired someone to be more orderly…
      You should hear him laughing from Indiana.

      And that tiny end table with the big chair? That sounds fantastic. Don’t change a thing.

  11. I loved reading how each book lingered with you, and how you centred on the emotional core – it made me realise that I always remember novels (when I’m not remembering a particular scene I liked – memory being bad too) by the colour and texture they leave behind. Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, a yellowish colour with that dash of tragic sickness to one character’s face. Nabokov is usually clear, or white like a gallery.

    My shelf is fighting the tide of law textbooks, stationary. The rest of my books are hiding in my parents’ house, or have been cast to the winds, so I envy your variety and closeness to what you love.

    • Nabokov as a white gallery. Perfect.
      And Toibin would be grays, greens and the tans of cliffs.

      Speaking of Toibin, I’ve been trying to place what your photos and now that I’ve read the Kilea snippet remind me of, and it’s Toibin. The flow of your words reminds me of him, and your photos remind me of when he sets the stage in Ireland although it’s only a vision I have in my mind’s eye as I’ve never been there. It’s so interesting to me that although your photos are of Scotland, they are just the place I’ve pictured his words set in.

      • I really should read Toibin – he has a moving essay up on the guardian at ‘the moment, how I killed my mother , about writing through the ghosts in the room. I don’t agree with everything he says here, but he says it well. I will see what the library has of his.

      • You haven’t read Toibin! Oh boy oh boy oh boy.
        Okay, The Master is one of my all-time favorites, a fictionalized account of a moment in time of Henry James. It blew my mind.
        Brooklyn though…a quieter book, but such a telling.
        Oh, yes, the loneliness that he captures. You, YOU, would get so much out of it I think.

  12. Love, love, love!!! We’re book shelvers, stackers, pilers, leaners. I try to keep order with little success. They’re all over the house at this point. Which isn’t a bad thing, I guess. If you want something to read, there’s usually a book within reach.

    • I love being in a house where the books are stacked everywhere. Mine would be more like that but…well, you’ve met my husband. He’d slowly go insane.
      I used to love going to my ex’s mom’s house, because there were books stacked everywhere moved from place to place. If you wanted to eat, you’d move them to the island etc, etc. They’d be sitting watching TV and I’d never be far from a book I’d never heard of to pick up and flip through. The bathroom was the best because it was a virtual library.

  13. Fascinating subject, bookshelf, and excellent article. You make me want to look at my own bookshelf to gauge my own seriousness. My shelves are in the room we will soon convert to a bedroom for my youngest daughter so I better take a photo because soon, all my books will be in boxes. I still can’t quite grasp the heaviness of this. Denial is one of the stages of grief, right?

    • Thanks girl in the hat and welcome!
      Do you have a staircase? Check this cool idea out…

      At an old house, I didn’t have room for my books either so they had to be stored in the attic (the basement had water issues). They were in the boxes and it depressed me so I bought some cinder blocks and 2×4′s for some makeshift shelves and put them out anyway. It made me feel better knowing I could get one if I needed it. I didn’t have as many books then though as I do now. Now…well, let’s just say I have one too many books for that.

      In any group other than this one, I’d sound nuts, but among my fellow book nerds, I know this makes great sense…

      • Makes complete sense. I think I might have to keep some stuffed here and there– under the bed, in the corner, in the cupboard. Tank of the toilet? Under cushions? Foot of the bed? Maybe I could use them as tables/plates/sculpture? We’ll do anything in desperation, right?

  14. Pingback: My Inner Shelf | macdougalstreetbaby

  15. One of the best things I ever did was insist that the ex pay for a library unit covering a whole wall in my piano room. It is beautiful, full of books and sculptures, and my favourite room in the house. I have way too many books, lugged about from continent to continent, and I find them impossible to classify – Australian writers, American writers, the Russians, French books, my beloved African writers…

    How lovely to have an unread volume grinning down from time to time.

  16. And this is why I can’t imagine a world with only e-books.

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