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What Your Bookshelves Say About You

books-reading-pages-436933-hI love to know what people are reading. By “people” I mean people out in the world, usually people I don’t know, people who would most likely be somewhat startled if I just randomly interrupted to ask what book they’re reading. (This is especially true because I don’t really have a follow up question. I mean, I might, based on their answer, but in general I just want to know. I don’t necessarily want to have a conversation about it; I’m just curious.) I’m talking about the guy at the gym or the college student at the mechanic or the kid waiting outside his sister’s dance class. There are always mothers sitting out there too, with books, and I spend a lot of time trying to surreptitiously figure out what everyone is reading, without actually asking.

I also love to look at bookshelves. There’s something endearingly personal about a bookshelf — a real one at least; if a bookcase and its contents are mostly for show, that’s less interesting (though still interesting). But a real bookcase … a real bookcase is like a shorthand conversation, a flash of insight, a page out of a diary. You can learn an awful lot about someone by checking out their bookshelves. There was an article in the Guardian awhile back that talked about this, and the author of that article even created a Tumblr called Share Your Shelf) that is ridiculously addicting (like, I feel I should apologize now if you haven’t seen this site yet). I suspect a lot of people focus mostly on the design elements of the photos submitted, and I do like to see the ingenious shelving solutions, but I love looking at the titles even more. So I got to thinking, what about the other Hub bloggers? I (sadly) haven’t met most of them in person, but I would dearly love to see (and hear about) their bookshelves. Some of them were kind enough to share:

My bookshelf is an example of the Three S’s: Star Trek, Spanish, and Shakespeare. Four S’s if you also count Sloppiness.
Maria Kramer


At work I have stacks of books I requested to read for the Nevada Young Reader Award committee on my lone book shelf and that’s about it. At home I have six book cases packed with everything from a few titles I’ve held onto from childhood to an entire collection of Disney-related tomes to almost every book I read in college. Mixed in with all of my things are my husband’s books, and between the two of us we have three different editions of The Lord of the Rings. I have our books separated into fiction, nonfiction, and children’s/YA titles. I have them in alphabetical order by author and then title, or I have them in order by their LC call numbers. I guess my bookshelves say I’m a librarian!
Carla Land


Faythe's Bookcase
Faythe’s Bookcase

This is what I call my “current” bookcase. It has all the books I feel like I should have read a month ago. A lot of them have been there a while, and the bookcase taunts me every day as it sits next to my TV. I have a mix of young adult and adult books in there. One shelf (with Hawkeye, an AT-AT, and a pissed off Donald Duck) is only organized so there is room for the aforementioned toys. I don’t know what that says about me…
Faythe Arredondo


Allison’s Bookcase

What does my bookshelf say about me? I think it says … I need more bookshelves! Note how the shelves are filled to capacity — and, um, maybe a little beyond. Once upon a time, my husband and I had two tall bookshelves and one short one. (The Ikea Billy model, to be exact. Is there anyone who doesn’t have a Billy?) We had quite a nice library in our home office, but we gave it up when our second baby came along and we needed a nursery. We consolidated two bookshelves into one, and now my husband’s books and my own are mingled together with very little rhyme or reason. We’ve got a bit of everything: parenting, computer programming, picture books, military sci-fi, YA lit … and, apparently, a tiny teddy bear that sneaked in there, courtesy of one of our kids.

When we downsized to one bookshelf, I had to be ruthless about weeding my collection. I kept only signed books (nearly all the YA books pictured are signed), particularly prized ARCs, picture books I am saving for our children, and copies of books that are now out of print and hard to find — oh, and all my Betsy-Tacy books. I will never part with Betsy-Tacy. Everything else was donated to my library. With only one bookshelf for all our books, I’m very restrained about what I keep. Good thing I work in a library where I can be surrounded by lots of books all day!
Allison Tran


Jessica's Bookcase
Jessica’s Bookcase

This is a shot of my favorite bookshelf. I own four, but this is my favorite actual bookcase and as such it holds a lot of my favorite series and knick-knacks. My collection of Harry Potter books and movies, my Hunger Games trilogy, my giraffes, and my little glass flying pig.
Jessica Miller


Gretchen's (and her husband's) library
Gretchen’s (and her husband’s) library

When my husband and I moved in together, we combined our libraries. We have nonfiction (with categories arranged not by any official system, but to have our very specific interests flow logically from one topic to another), biographies and humor writing, poetry and plays, classics, graphic novels, sci-fi and fantasy, general adult fiction, and YA and children’s titles — plus Magic: the Gathering cards, CDs, photo albums, a smattering of audiobooks (the stacks and boxes of audios I’ve acquired during my tenure on Amazing Audios aren’t shown), and some miscellaneous other things. We seem to acquire a Billy’s worth of shelves every two years or so.

I really like that we have such a relatively large, well-organized collection, and I’m worried that when we downsize and move into New York City this spring that we’ll have to give up a lot of our books or that we’ll have them less optimally organized and displays. I guess I feel very defined by my library and I’m worried that a change in the library means a change in who I am!
Gretchen Kolderup


Julie's Bookcase
Julie’s Bookcase
Julie Bookshelf 2
Julie’s Other Bookcase

As for me, most of my books and shelves got packed up over the summer and put in storage pending a move. In addition to shelves scattered around the house, I still have three shelves in my office (at home) full of books I couldn’t bear to part with, even temporarily. The shelves are crazy neat, since they have to look nice when the realtor shows up, and therefore do not in any way resemble the double rows and haphazard stacking usually on display. Anyway, one shelf is full of books and files that I use for writing projects and professional librarian-y books. The other two are for fiction, picture books, and graphic novels that just couldn’t — for various reasons — get boxed up, including books I haven’t read yet but intend to read soon, a small stack of library books (the rest are by the bed), and The Books I Can’t Live Without.

I packed up box after box of unread titles, and I was okay with that, anticipating a sort of birthday-like celebration when I unpacked them some months from now. It was the books I’ve read, probably more than once, that had to stay on the shelves. These are books that I feel I might need at Any Moment. For some reason. These are my “security blanket” books, and you could probably tell a lot about me just by looking at them.

And you?  What do your bookshelves say about you?

— Julie Bartel, currently reading Emma Bull’s Finder, Morris Award finalist Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

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Julie Bartel

Julie is a writer and librarian living in Salt Lake City, UT.


  1. Sara Ray Sara Ray

    Love it!

  2. I love peeking at other people’s bookshelves and at unfamiliar parties I’m always checking out shelves. I didn’t submit my own picture because I didn’t even know where to start. I’d say a solid 70% of what looks like mess or clutter in our home is simply books. Library books piled on the floors of our bedrooms, coffee tables covered with books we think we might read, bookshelves filled to capacity, plus our whole basement “library” which I have tried to weed, but found difficult. I want to apply my librarian organizational skills to it all, but it’s difficult!

  3. Allison Tran Allison Tran

    Love seeing everyone’s bookshelves! I am totally jealous of Gretchen’s army of Billys. But Gretchen, if you need empathy about downsizing, I’ve got you covered!

    Julie, are those Billys I spy in your pictures, too?

    • I like that Billys seem to be fairly universal. We’ve added to our army gradually over time as we’ve acquired more things and moved into bigger apartments. We have two more (black ones instead of the light color) in the living room with movies and television shows and video games! There’s no way we’re going to be able to keep all of that. Yikes.

  4. Julie Bartel Julie Bartel

    Sarah, on any other day my house would look exactly the way you describe your house. We boxed up 85% of the books (sigh) and put the remaining stacks on shelves so that it looks like we aren’t totally overrun…and boy does the house look weird! Allison, my office bookshelves are actually not Billys (though we do have a bunch in other rooms) though they do look almost exactly alike. TMI fact: I bought them at the big sale the tv show Touched by an Angel held when they went off the air. Also, if you squint really hard at the bottom row of books in my first picture you can see my set of Betsy-Tacys, which I would never, ever be without. (Maudlers unite!) Gretchen, our movies and video games live on black billys too!

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