Know Thy Shelf | 01

One of my favorite blogs is The [Blank] Garden, a reading journal slash book review website. Almost every review (or what its creator, Juliana Brina, wonderfully describes as “efforts of affection”) is written as a letter to the author of the novel or story in question, which I adore and, as a longtime letter-writer, I wish I’d thought of myself.

My reading life is a conversation made in silence with writers I most probably will never meet. I see the books I read (and the posts I write about them) as a letter exchange.  You are invited to open these letters I send to the void. Cor ad cor loquitur.

I highly recommend checking her out, and an excellent place to begin would be her wonderful post on the subject of whether or not the indie book blog is dead: And it seemed right, I mean rite, to me. (Spoiler alert: it is not.)

Recently, Juliana launched a series of posts–Know Thy Shelf–documenting her eclectic and enviable bookshelves. She also invited others to join her in posting a picture of their bookshelf, or part of their bookshelf, and answering (and, in one case, asking) the following questions:

(1) Book from this shelf you would save in an emergency.

(2) Book that has been in this shelf for the longest time.

(3) Newest edition to this shelf.

(4) Book from this shelf you are most excited to read or re-read.

(5) Any poetry books?

(6) Any non-fiction books?

(7) Most read author in this shelf?

(8) What does this shelf tell you about me as a reader?

We were two years in our new home before we finally got around to building some bookshelves and getting at least some of our collection out of cardboard boxes. A domino like line of books still snakes around the perimeter of our bedroom floor, and there are days when it seems as though the beige carpet is growing up around them like sun bleached blades of grass.

I love the combination of salvaged wood and industrial piping that Ian used to build these shelves into a small alcove between the kitchen and the living room. We’re still two shelves shy of making this the full-length bookshelf of my imagination (we’re good at starting projects in this house, but not so great at the finishing touches), and we’ll need at least two more book cases of the same size to house all the books that we own between us.

I love bookshelves as much for their aesthetic quality as I do for the actual books themselves, and in this rickety and drafty house of ours they have the added benefit of providing a smidgen more insulation in the winter time. I’m a compulsive book buyer so it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get around to reading every book I bring into this house, but simply being surrounded by them is pleasure enough for me most days. In the dreariest days of Oregon’s winter, they are the most colorful and promising things to be seen for miles around. And, if nothing else, they make wonderful look-out posts for the cats!

For my first ‘Know Thy Shelf’ post, here’s a close-up of one of the shelves.

(For those of you who can’t bear the secrecy, the books that are hidden by the candlestick are Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, which I have not yet read, and Final del Juego by Julio Cortázar, which I would like to read but my Spanish is nowhere near as good as my husband’s so I will need to get my hands on an English translation.)

Know Thy Shelf 01

And here are my answers to the questions posed by The [Blank] Garden:

(1) Book from this shelf you would save in an emergency:

  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

(2) Book that has been in this shelf for the longest time:

  • In Flander’s Field by Leon Wolff.

(3) Newest edition to this shelf:

(4) Book from this shelf you are most excited to read or re-read:

  • To read: Notable American Women by Ben Marcus. To re-read: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.

(5) Any poetry books?

  • Apart from Leaves of Grass which I already mentioned, American Primitive by Mary Oliver, and the selection of Aristotle’s most important works contains his book on The Art of Poetry among other delights.

(6) Any non-fiction books?

  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

(7) Most read author in this shelf?

  • Toni Morrison.

And, lastly, a question for you, should you have the inclination to answer:

(8) What does this shelf tell you about me as a reader?

I love snooping around other people’s bookshelves; it’s one of the first things I do when I walk into someone’s home. I’m not sure what this slice of my bookshelf tells you about me as a reader, but taking a fresh look at something I see every day is telling me that I need to shut down my laptop for the afternoon and open up a book instead.

6 thoughts on “Know Thy Shelf | 01”

  1. This sounds like a very ambitious blog you are reviewing, and I think it’s excellent as a way of motivating one to keep reading the books one has collected. Unfortunately, due to a major bookcase collapse two or three years ago, most of my books are packed away in boxes in the storage bin, so I’m doing a lot of reading on library websites. They have an extensive selection, and I can’t really think of a book I’ve looked for recently which they haven’t either had or offered to order for me to read, but somehow, I still like the feel and smell of books, even the old musty ones on non-acid-free yellowing paper, or ones falling apart because of cheap gluing techniques. Anyway, what I’m probably going to re-read next is “Waiting for Godot,” since every time I pass the small shelf of the three bookcases I have left I see it, and remember its dark humor, and want to hear the lines in my head again.

    1. I love “Waiting For Godot”. “Molloy” is excellent too, definitely on my re-read list. I wish we’d spent more time on Beckett and less time on Joyce when I did my degree in English. I didn’t start reading him until my thirties but maybe that’s for the best! I love buying books but I definitely use the library a lot too – I’d be completely broke if I bought every book I set my sights on!

  2. Love the shelves! I’m in a cramped place in Manhattan with roommates, so my books mostly live in boxes and under-bed storages at this point. Someday, though, I’d love to have my own place filled with huge bookshelves.

    1. I hear ya. For a long time, my books lived in boxes in my parent’s place as I was renting and traveling all over. I moved from Ireland to the US a few years ago and it was way too expensive to ship my books here, so every time my folks come to visit they bring a handful of my old books with them in their luggage. I was 36 before I had bookshelves of my own, but I had a lot of fun daydreaming about them before then 🙂

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