The hidden message in the bookshelf

If you’re like me (ie, more than a little weird and introspective), you’ve probably spent some time thinking about the books on your bookshelves.  Actually, if you’ve ever pondered buying a coffee table book just because you think it will look impressive on your coffee table, we’re more kindred of spirit than you’d probably be comfortable with. However, I think it’s safe to say that my introspection (or obsession, for the more judgmental among you) with my books goes a little deeper. For example, I used to keep a copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (Unabridged) hanging around, just so I could answer pompously “why yes, I have” when asked if I’d read it.  

I love books.  Or I guess, to be fair, I love to read.  I like books.  If I truly LOVED books, I wouldn’t have a Kindle.  But that’s a blog entry for another time.

But what I do love about books is how they look.  They’re aesthetically pleasing, or most of them are.  All those colors and typefaces on the spines, lined up so neatly one next to the other, but often, at least in my bookcase, different sizes and heights.  They are a bitch to haul around when you’re moving, and once you’ve gotten a Kindle, there’s that whole moral dilemma about which books to buy in digital form and which to buy in real book form, but they add character and dimension to a room.  And, they offer a little insight into the psyche of their owner, if you care to look.

The bookshelf across from me, right now, for example, has a clear method to it’s madness.  On the top shelf?  Books I have read that make me look intellectually curious. Stuff like Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, investment books, the much-maligned Three Cups of Tea.  What probably distinguishes these books is the lack of memory I have for most of them.  So much for intellectual curiosity.

Next shelf, speaking of bragging about intellectualism, my diplomas from Colby and UW Madison.  And a few yearbooks, and a couple of anthologies, my graduate thesis and a research report I helped create.  Sensing a trend?  Yes, I really want you to think I’m smart.

Moving on, we have the “I want you to think I’m a theater person” shelf, featuring probably about 50 scripts or books of plays, scrupulously arranged by order of the author.  Also a couple of musical scores thrown in there.  This shelf makes me a little gloomy, because I was in many of those plays and sang most of those scores a long time ago.  Now though, I say things like “I used to be an actor/singer.”  How depressing.  Let’s move on.

The next shelf reveals my somewhat embarrassing love for youth fiction.  This is where the Harry Potter, Twilight and the House of Night series live, along with a few dog-eared copies of books I actually read when I was a youth, like Shel Silverstein and Island of the Blue Dolphins.  The Hunger Games Book 1 lives here (books 2 and 3 are on the Kindle as is an entire series of really fun books about “bird-kids” by thriller writer James Patterson).

Below this is my sci-fi/fantasy shelf.  Robert Jordan, Tolkien, books about dragons…yep, I admit it.  I’m a geek.   I’ve also read all of the Game of Thrones and Outlander books, but these are on my Kindle, too.  I’d display them if I could. Proudly.

And hiding on the bottom is the first of many shelves of my extensive romance novel collection.  These spill over into the other bookcase, and I’m sure it expresses some lack of self-confidence that I hide these books on the bottom shelf.  After all, it’s not very intellectual to admit that you love Nora Roberts or Sandra Brown, but I do. THIS is where having a Kindle is a bonus; it’s super easy to buy trashy novels on the Kindle, and no one needs to see them but you. 

In my other bookcase I have what I call “random fiction”; the various John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, Tom Clancy and assorted “literatures” like A Prayer for Owen Meany or Lonesome Dove (you know, those books that your smart friends tell you you’ll be sure to LOVE).   I’ve yet to find the deeper meaning hidden on these shelves.

The shelves I’m obsessing about these days, however, are the ones full of books I haven’t read.  There are dozens of them.  I’m trying to convince myself not to buy any more books until I’ve read them, but yeesh.  That’s going to be tough.  Because, to be honest, I’m not sure I actually want to read a full tome of nature poetry given to me by a colleague, or the rantings of a conservative author that my dad happened to leave in the guest room.  Honestly, I just bought that Malcolm Gladwell book because it made me feel trendy, and I have no desire to read a highly-recommended “moving” story about immigration that will just make me depressed and guilt-stricken.  I’m currently reading The Inside of a Dog, which is at least practical to my life, and I have been trying for three years to finish Seth Godin’s The Purple Cow, which I have an entry in, for Pete’s sake!  Clearly, I’m not as intellectual as my other bookshelves would have you believe.

Even with all these great books just dying to be read, I just downloaded the 2nd of Stephen King’s Dark Tower books onto my Kindle.  I think this means I’m not destined to be a great thinker or thought leader, because for all the reading I’ve done, I can’t proclaim to be expert in much but the structure of an epic fantasy (here’s a hint; if you’ve written few than 5000 pages, you’re not allowed in the club). 

Ah well.  Life’s too short to read books you’re not enjoying, I say.  Dark Tower, here I come!  Purple Cow, you’ll just have to wait until I’m feeling more virtuous and in touch with my willpower.

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