My book shelf, my self

Ria Mirsa asked a question last week that will give bibliophiles nightmares: are bookshelves becoming obsolete? It's a valid question, of course. Ebooks haven't taken over entirely, but they have made it harder to see what people are reading in public. (People who read Fifty Shades of Gray and similar books are more than happy about this.) But as people start reading more and more books and buying fewer and fewer print books, we won't need nearly as many bookcases in the future. (Vinyl record listeners will keep IKEA in business, though.)

Some of the books I'm proud to admit I own.
Bookshelves are more than just furniture that keeps our books off the floor. It's a representation of a reader's inner life and aspirations. I shelve by genre, but I keep the books I want people to know I've read in the front rooms and my guilty pleasures (Terry Pratchett, Carrie Vaughn, Charlaine Harris, etc.) in the bedroom. When I invite people into my apartment, this is how I want to tell them about who I am. When I visit other people's homes, I immediately look for their bookshelves to find out who they are (and judge them*).

My bookshelves also hold books that I haven't gotten around to you. It's harder for me to ignore a book that stares me in the face every day, so I stock my shelves with classic works that I really want to read (after I get through the fun stuff). The problem with this system is that you don't always get around to those books and you have the problems that Jonathan O'Brien ran into in this blog post.

My digital "bookshelves" are a mess. I only have the option to sort books by author, title, or most recent on my kind. The collections are pointless. With iBooks, I can sort books however I want. But neither set is as browsable as my bookshelves. When I don't know what to read, I stand in front of one of the six cases, moving slowly as my eyes read the spines, until something jumps out at me. Skimming my digital shelves doesn't have the same languorous feeling. On the other hand, I love having my iPad with all those books preloaded when I travel. Oh well, that's modern reader life for you.

Getting back to my original point, how will we show people our inner lives without bookshelves?


* Just a little. I'm not a book snob. I'll tease you if you own a copy of Twilight before I start asking what you thought of the books on your shelves and which you'd recommend.


  1. I have hundreds of bookshelves, but that's mostly because I stopped buying books and started almost exclusively using the library. Now I have a few of my forever-keepers, currently boxed up at my parents' house, and about 6 knitting/sewing books.


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