By Caitlin Kelly

Loved this idea, from The Guardian — photos of readers’ bookshelves.

No FOMO here. Just a peek into others’ habits and interests.

So — intellectual striptease! — here are some close-ups of my bookshelves, unedited!


I haven’t yet read the top book; Jose did, and loved it. The thin book below is one of my journals. The Sea is a gorgeous book of photos. Gibson’s book is on my “to read” list. Jones’ book is amazing! I picked this one off the table at Posman’s, one of my fave indie NYC bookstores. I won’t give any of it away but it’s a quirky tale and wonderful. I rarely read fiction, so this was a great surprise.


I’m old-school enough to relish owning reference books I can dip into — pre-Internet behavior! — when I want a visual treat or need to better understand something. I’m a fan of the Secessionists, of which Klimt was possibly the most famous, but also a huge fan of Egon Schiele and Kokoschka. Cliff’s photo/story book, “Home,” is one of my absolute favorites, one I love re-reading over and over. It includes homes belonging to a wide range of people, including British runner Sebastian Coe. In true British fashion, it’s more interested in coziness or individuality than wealth or fashionable choices. Decorating With Paint is an oldie, possibly from the 1980s even, but offers great practical tips for sponging, dragging and other faux finishes. Perfect English is truly delicious, most of it shot in natural light, of weathered interiors, as it the book next to it, both offering patina-ed surfaces of all sorts.


More reference books! I have a whole sub-section (sigh, unread, guilty!) on Islam and Islamic thought. The little green book on the end is a personal finance book, a subject that interests me and one I write about from time to time. Jose works in the business section of The New York Times, which receives a positive Niagara Falls of new business books every day. He brings a few home and some of them even get read!


This mix is fairly typical. I treated myself to the top book as I love Paris and have lived there and visited often. (Not yet read!) The Chinese book below it is the translation of my book “Malled” — re-named “The Greatest Saleswoman in the World” (so not true!), and given a wholly new cover treatment when it was published in July 2013 there by Citic Press. Since I castigate Foxconn and Apple for abusive labor practices in Chinese factories, I suspect the manuscript has been censored, which I will only know after a friend reads it for me in Mandarin and compares it to my original. The Viesturs book was sent to me as a review copy. (Unread so far.) The Fergusons’ book is pretty funny — and helpful to my American husband when we visit my home and native land. The Swan book is a novel both weird and dark and…dark. I bought it on a recent visit to Toronto. I enjoyed it, I think, but it’s not an easy read. Have no idea what Inside is. The Johns book is a new book about abortion by a San Francisco friend, Fran Johns. The bottom book? No idea.

What you’ll find lots of on my shelves:

Reference, photo books, natural history, European history (18th-20th century), Canadian and American history, economics, music history, art, travel, cookbooks, a few self-help books, feminist thought, women’s history, biography and autobiography, memoir, criminal justice and criminology, some business, some classics (Moby Dick, Lawrence Durrell, Virginia Woolf.)

What you won’t find:

Chick lit, beach reads, romance, mystery, sci-fi. fantasy, graphic novels, true-crime, politics, sports. Not much fiction.

Want to share a shelfie with us?

Or recommend your favorite book of 2013?

44 thoughts on “Shelfies!

  1. I don’t really have a shelf full of books, let alone one to take a shelfie with (I have a feeling that word might be part of our everyday lingo in 1-5 years). However, I will say that my favorite book this year was definitely Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. Not a wasted word in the 600-page novel, the plotting is thrilling, the characters pull at your heart, and the social commentary is deep and powerful. Perfect story for anyone who thought the Hunger Games trilogy was less than what they expected.

  2. I recently sold all of my books (I dislike collecting things)….but majority were modern classics (with sprinklings of Atwood). I’m currently reading The Luminaries…which is impeccably written. I sold every one of the books apart from a field guide to Australian birds because it was useful and War and Peace because I’ve yet to finish the darn thing.

  3. i love this concept, what a great coffee table book you could make of these book looks. ) mine is a range of humor, travel, memoir, children’s lit, poetry, king arthur legends, love stories, art, buddhism, film, and crime. now what does that say about me? )

    1. That — as we knew — you’re an eclectic, creative seeker? πŸ™‚ I didn’t show my kids’ books — still have my Winnie the Pooh and Narnia series.

      Jose’s shelves are a mix of politics, Buddhism, golf and humor. That’s a fair summary!

  4. art

    For her next column, she will take pictures of the shelves in her bathroom medicine cabinet and comment on them….can hardly wait….

  5. There’s nothing like having a shelf full of books. E-books just don’t have the same gravitas, somehow… Apropos books I’ve read this year; I was both intrigued – and impressed – with ‘Churchill’s Cigar’ by Stephen McGinty. Who’d have thought it would be possible to sustain a (short) book on Churchill and his smoking habit? Brilliantly well written and thoroughly entertaining.

  6. I nearly stopped buying physical books when I started to use Kindle in 2010 – so Amazon should give us an app for creating artificial shelfies from the content of the virtual library. I am pondering about favorite books read in 2013, too. My favorite favorite ones are “The Black Swan” and “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb.

  7. I glanced at my shelf and it surprised me how much the variety has grown over the last few years while I’ve been in school.

    The majority of my bookshelves is still filled with fantasy novels, but now there are textbooks that I just couldn’t stand to part with, a spattering of writers that I never would have touched before (Poe, Anne Bradstreet, and a few others), a stack of Writer’s Digest, some of which I still haven’t read yet, and some geek books (Nerd do Well by Simon Pegg and Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton). Then a smidge of health stuff about cooking gluten free because wheat is evil.

    And I’ve still got a copy of the Narnia books up there too. They’re the first books I ever read that I enjoyed, and I think they saved my life in many ways.

    1. Interesting mix…You might find a few articles I wrote in your copies of “Writer’s Digest.”

      The Narnia books are amazing. I remember so many details from them and I loved the illustrations in my Penguin versions. They are all together in a slipcase on the shelf near my bed, almost like a talisman. I get it!

      1. I’ll have to dig through. I think I remember seeing your name in the mix somewhere. I always enjoy the opening comments from the editor in WD, and how they give each issue a coherent theme. If only I had more time to read it. I’m sadly behind on reading the issues toward the top of the stack.

        I will never forget how HARD life was during the time that I first read the Narnia books, and the stunning way that stepping through that wardrobe made everything feel so easy. The bullies, the family issues, the poor grades (because I didn’t turn the completed work in, which would have gotten me A’s had I done so…as an adult, even I don’t understand that behavior) and everything else just faded away and I was happy as long as I was allowed to hang out in Cair Paravel.

      2. No big deal…The irony is how very poorly they pay the writers who offer advice in their own articles.

        I think everyone longs for a wardrobe with a magical forest and a fawn named Tumnus waiting on the other side. πŸ™‚ Even the names were so lovely…sigh. May have to re-read them over the holidays now.

      3. Sadly, I think their low pay is a sign of the times. They’ve almost gone out of business a few times during the time I’ve had a subscription. Hopefully they’ll be able to increase pay over time.

      4. I’ve been writing for them for years — and even with a different publisher. The pay has always been shockingly low and the only reason seasoned writers write for it is to keep our names out there to sell our books or teaching. Sad but true. As for raising their rates….not going to happen. Every publisher I contact — including the NYT is cutting their rates (as our costs keep rising) or keeping them stagnant. I was recently offered 50 cents a word by Harvard’s alumni magazine — while Yale offers me four times that. Really? Yes, really. There is no rhyme or reason to any of it.

  8. Love the shelfies, really fascinating to see different mixes of interests. Ours include a mix of nature guides and books, mostly on mushrooms, wildflowers, different animals and bugs. Also, local New England and Vermont nature/reference guides….My husband has a section on History and Classical Music, his interests. I have a small section on music and musicians I love and of course foods and cooking and a few on parenting. We just ran out of room a few years ago, so the only fiction still on our shelves are all our favorite authors: Haruki Murakami, Kate Atkinson, Richard Russo, Jim Harrison–we will always keep that collection and add to them as they continue to write. I have been known to buy new books of our favorites when they come out but I still download it on my kindle too because I can’t stand holding books anymore, more used to the lightness and ease of the kindle where I can also increase the type when I’m tired and reading before bed.

    1. Thanks!

      I love your mix as well…Of the four authors you name, I’ve read the last two. I really enjoyed Empire Falls and Sundog. I tried a few pages of Atkinson’s and it wasn’t for me, although people love her. (I’ve tried 3 or 4 times to start Bel Canto. Can’t do it.)

  9. Pingback: Just Takin’ Some #Shelfies | Journalitico

  10. I have shared photos of some of my “shelfies” in blog posts. Yours was fun–found some new ideas for future reading. But I love fiction and poetry as well as non-fiction; my stacks are slowly taking over my room. No favorite exactly–several I’ve enjoyed.Just finished Isabel Allende’s novel Maya’s Notebook and that was quite a good story; I enjoy her work. This one had a potent mix of painful travails, Chilean culture and history, a young woman discovering herself/the beauties of life after the foggy hell of addiction and sexual assault. The beauty of the language and the strength of the young woman and her grandparents’ guiding light all recommend it.

    1. Thanks for the recommendations..I have an Allende book in my to-read pile, but have not gotten there yet. I tend to read probably 75% non-fiction but need to read more fiction and poetry. Have you read anything by Ian McEwan? He can very dark, but amazing. I’m finishing two books right now that both (!) have the same theme…moving by water through nature. One is a classic, Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, about boating through the Grand Canyon and Voyageur about a years-long canoe trip across Canada.

      1. Both sound excellent. I received three good, I believe, non-fiction books for Christmas: Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg, and A Field Guide to American Houses. Oh dear, where to begin?! Sigh…happiness.

  11. I purged about 50% of my library before a big move, and what I thought was worth the packing makes for an intriguing list: Biographies of Teddy Roosevelt, Lord Kinross’s works on the Ottoman Empire, everything by Bill Bryson and Ben Schott, some Martin Amis and EL Doctorow. I brought all of my choral scores (those often re-sell for what you paid for them) from my choir days, museum exhibition books for the coffee table, the holy books (all of them), and a few rare ones–a copy of the US constitution from 1802, a McGuffey Reader, and last but not least, the complete Calvin and Hobbes.

  12. Fun post! I’d actually love to see a pic of your full bookshelves so we can get a sense of the sections above in the context of the whole collection.
    It’s funny to me that when I (rarely) have meetings on Google hangout, everyone’s office looks more or less the same. Usually everyone is seated in front of a wall of books. πŸ™‚
    Alas, I’m sorry to say that most of the books on my shelf I’ve never read, or at least not all the way through. Granted, a lot of the books are my husband’s, but even of my books, I haven’t read many of them cover to cover. I have a lot of musical theatre and dance reference and history books, television and pop culture books, and some fiction. And a ton more books (including period dance manuals) in storage…

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