Interrogating My Bookshelves

by Kim on June 25, 2014 · 30 comments

Earlier this month, fellow Book Riot contributor Peter Damien shared this great comic from Tom Gauld:

tom gauld comic my library

Peter went on to use it as a jumping off point to explore his own bookshelves. It was such a great idea that I’m shamelessly borrowing it for this post. Here’s how my shelves stack up:

Read: There are a lot of these — more than 300 if my LibraryThing count can be trusted. The most recent book I added on LT was Nine Years Under by Sheri Booker.

Intending to Read: There are also a lot of these. One particular group is a stack of fiction (modern classics, mostly) on the shelf above my desk that I thought I was going to read this year but, so far, haven’t started yet. The pile includes Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, My Antonia by Willa Cather, Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and The Group by Mary McCarthy.

Half Read: I read a good chunk of Going Clear by Lawrence Wright before I got distracted and put it down. I’m also in the middle of The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara, which I started before BEA and haven’t gotten back to yet. It’s silly, too, because I really was enjoying it!

Pretend I’ve Read:  I have my shelves pretty well separated by read and unread books. The one unread book hiding on a “read” shelf is The Illiad by Homer. I’ve read The Odyssey and wanted them shelved together… just haven’t gotten to finishing it yet.

Saving For When I Have More Time: I bought Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and read part of it… but then it was taking too long. I need like a month for that one — it’s like 950 pages!

Will Never Read: I’ve carried a copy of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand around with me since I was like 14 years old. I want to think I’ll read it, but I’m not sure I actually will.

Purely For Show: I’ve got one shelf of classics, most that I read in college. I probably won’t reread Wuthering Heights or Great Expectations or Robinson Crusoe or As I Lay Dying, but I like having them around.

Read But Can’t Remember A Single Thing About It: I know that I read We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates when I was in high school, but I can’t remember the plot. I think there’s a rape that tears the family apart, but I can’t be sure.

Wish I Hadn’t Read: I’m pretty good about getting rid of books that I don’t like — I couldn’t find one on my shelves. But I do sort of wish that I hadn’t bothered to read Nicole Richie’s novel Priceless, even on a dare.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandy June 25, 2014 at 5:46 am

That is a funny (and pretty accurate) cartoon! It amazes me when I think of how many books I have up on my shelves that I WANT to read, but realistically probably won’t ever touch. I just get so distracted by new shiny things. Then there is the Kindle…

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Kim June 26, 2014 at 7:29 pm

My “want to read” shelves are totally out of control. Every time I think I have them managed I buy new books or check something out from the library!

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Jeane June 25, 2014 at 8:03 am

That’s fun. I could count books in any one of those categories, except maybe the “just for show”- all the books I acquire I do intend to read some day, after all!

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Leah @ Books Speak Volumes June 25, 2014 at 9:48 am

Hah, what a fun idea! Now I can’t help but looking for these categories in my own shelves :P

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Meg June 25, 2014 at 9:54 am

What fun! Love the cartoon and can definitely relate, as I’m sure most of us happy readers can. :) I have a few books “just for show” — a painful point as I just packed all of them up, and books are so HEAVY — but most are ones I plan to read in the near future or loved so much I couldn’t part with them. I’m pretty good about regularly purging my shelves and donating to the library what I don’t think I’ll get around to, but there are still a ridiculous number of novels on my shelves! I just like to look at them. (And pet them sometimes. I can’t help it.)

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Kim June 26, 2014 at 7:30 pm

I love to look at all the books on my shelves. It makes me happy, even though I also hate to lug them when we move :)

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rooth June 25, 2014 at 3:05 pm

This is so very true – my “half read” stack includes not a few DFW books, Atlas Shrugged and Under the Dome, which I completely intend to finish. You know, whenever I have a spare 10 hours to sit and read it. I swear I’ve made it 2/3rds of the way through Atlas Shrugged about 5 times and given up at the same spot every time – I’m writing that one off

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Kim June 26, 2014 at 7:31 pm

I could ad War and Peace to that pile too. I got part of the way through and then just couldn’t do it anymore. Maybe someday!

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Nupur June 25, 2014 at 7:48 pm

Great post! I’ve read and loved Empire Falls by Richard Russo and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

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Diane@BibliophilebytheSea June 26, 2014 at 5:55 am

The visual was so cute – you sound very organized Kim. I am not a saver and donate any book I’ve read. I still have about 500 unread books on shelves that I really, really want to read and another 1,000 eBooks (those I don’t delete as there don’t take up physical space:)

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Kim June 26, 2014 at 7:37 pm

I’m not sure if it’s organized or just needing to feel like I have control over the books. It helps me to see all the unread books in one place, the finished books in another place.

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Finley Jayne June 26, 2014 at 7:02 am

Fun topic! I don’t own any books, but the comic cracked me up :)

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Jeanne June 26, 2014 at 7:22 am

As I Lay Dying is a really easy Faulkner, just in case you reconsider.

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Vasilly June 26, 2014 at 10:57 am

I love this idea! I have a feeling that most of the books on my shelves are ‘intending to read’ than ‘read’. You have the plot of We Were the Mulvaneys exactly right.

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Kim June 26, 2014 at 7:37 pm

I absolutely have more “intending to read” than “read” — the perils of being a book hoarder :)

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Katie @ Words For Worms June 26, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Ha! I love this. Love the comic, love your shelves, love it all. Brilliant.

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Jenny @ Reading the End June 26, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Love it! I’ve been slowing getting rid of my “Purely for Show” books. At this point most of them are gone — Wuthering Heights was one! I’ll never reread it!

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Kim June 26, 2014 at 7:38 pm

I read that one in a class I really liked, so I have some fond memories of it :) I’m not sure I’ll read it again, but I do think someday I’ll have fun reading the notes I took in the margins.

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Andi @ Estella's Revenge June 26, 2014 at 2:30 pm

I get anxiety feelings when I see these categories. LOL I definitely have tons of “intending to read” and probably more “half read” than I’d like to admit. I’m also good at getting rid of books, so the keeper shelves are tiny in comparison to the hulking TBR.

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Kim June 26, 2014 at 7:38 pm

I haven’t finished a catalog of the keeper shelves, but they’re definitely smaller than the unread shelves.

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Jennine G. June 26, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Cool! Tons of my books would go on the Read But I Forget It pile. I don’t hold onto detail very well at all. You are right on We Were the Mulvaneys…I remember it because it seemed like a boring book for such a big topic. And I’ve read Atlas Shrugged and liked it from a story perspective, but a friend who reread it said that rereading was a bad idea…it didn’t hit him well in any way the second time around.

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Kim June 26, 2014 at 7:39 pm

If I can finish Atlas Shrugged once I will call it a victory :)

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Jennine G. June 26, 2014 at 11:27 pm

There’s a sixty some page speech near the end, where a certain character gets on a soap box and spouts everything on the author’s mind. Honestly, even if you agreed with everything the author thinks, it’s just bad writing at that part because it’s obviously the author using the character to preach to her reader.

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Kim June 28, 2014 at 9:16 am

Ah, yes, I’ve heard of that part… sounds awesome (or something!).

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Jennifer July 13, 2014 at 8:13 pm

This is an interesting exercise. My bookshelves are mostly filled with books I have yet to read (whether or not I’ll get around to it is a mystery. I buy way too many books and now that I have an iPad I buy a lot of ebooks on whim. They are definitely staking up in there but keeping my book shelves from overflowing.

I don’t usually NOT finish books until recently. I started Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese last summer and got distracted by the beginning of the school year. I also never finished reading Black Boy by Richard Wright since I only teach the first half of the book. I think those are the only two unfinished books I have lying around.

Besides books from college, I don’t really keep many of the books I finish reading. If I don’t close read the book, I find myself either donating the book or selling it to a used book store. I’m in such a small space that I can’t manage all the books. Even more, my boyfriend has a lot of chunky text books that fill up our bookshelves.

This is a really interesting exercise that makes me think it might be time to go through those shelves a little more closely.

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