15 Nov 2011

What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You?

3 Comments Book Reviews, Personal Thoughts, What You Should Read

A shelf with many books on itLeah Price, a Harvard English professor, makes interesting observations in “The Subconscious Shelf”  in Sunday’s New York Times.

According to Price, what we display on our bookshelves reflects who we are and how we think, so much in fact that some readers may deliberately place books on their shelves to project a certain image. This triggered some curious thinking not only about what we buy to fill our bookcases but what we actually read and treasure–and, in this age of the e-reader, not only what we read but how we read. What does all of this say about us as smart women readers?

“To expose a bookshelf is to compose a self,” Price writes. Think about the books you keep and consider sacrosanct. Are they the books of your childhood, college years, or those you shared with your reading group? Are there books you feel you must buy as opposed to downloading on your Kindle or i-Pad? How do you make those distinctions? And what about the book snoop…the person who loves to see what someone else is reading on a plane, train, or bus? No longer can you start a conversation with a stranger by asking, “What are you reading?” How does the emergence of technology change who we are as a community of readers?

It’s hard for this writer to think of an electronic device as a book: Reading involves paper and pen and all the responses that are generated….a conversation that unfolds in the pages between the spine, the glue, and all the markings and dog ears that are part of claiming the work as your own. When you open a book, you learn about the reader and what she valued in that text.

So, in the end, what are some books that smart women read, keep, and display? A few titles that might meet this criteria and are worth your time are:

  • Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
  • Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins
  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaajte
  • Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons
  • The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
  • and anything by Ethan Canin….especially The Palace Thief and America, America

What books have earned a place on your bookshelf? Let us hear from you.

written by
Lisa Forman Rosen is an avid reader and facilitator of book clubs in Miami, Florida. She has worked at the University of Miami since 1986, first in the Department of English Composition as a lecturer and now at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as a writer. Lisa created this site to share her love of literature with others and expand the conversation into the virtual world.

3 Comments for“What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You?”

  1. joyce chadroff says:

    My friend Lois Greene taught me what to look for when I read.
    Every time I pick up a new book I think of her.

  2. Bobbi says:

    I recently moved into a smaller space. My home had a library, designed by me, and filled by me over the decades. So giving away a thousand or more books was traumatic. It also made me very conscious of why I was making the choice to either keep or eliminate a book. My decision-making paradigm shifted from one day to the next. Some books now gracing the shelves of my new home do reflect the “wished for” me, and may never be read. (I gave away “Ulysses” but kept “Remembrance of Things Past.” Proust was French, after all.) Many books were read once and provoked a deep response: They may not be read again, but keeping them, on the day the decision was made, seemed as important as keeping a body part. A few books have been read multiple times and are very old friends, but perhaps are not worthy of the shelf space. So, yes indeed, my books are a conscious choiceof who I believe — or wish — I am.

  3. Exploding Mary says:

    I defend my cookbook shelf in the kitchen as a literary area too, with witty and wonderful writers like Madhur Jaffrey, Nigella Lawson, Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso, and Alice Medrich perking up the space, not to mention Frank Stitt and Dale DeGroff.

    The other shelves hold mostly what is dearest to my heart or most recently reread(and if I’m not going to reread it a dozen times, I pass it on)– Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, Tales of EarthSea, and Middle Earth, and Discworld, and Watership Down, along with a lot of poetry, collected lyrics, and Isabel Allende, Anne Tyler or Alice Hoffman novels.