Do your bookshelves contain the roadmap of the journey of your life? Do the titles tell a story of where have you been and where are you going? You may be surprised by what your books reveal about you.
The Books You Keep
Bookworms will show you pictures of their books the way other people show off their children. “Look at these!” we post on Instagram and Twitter. “I couldn’t resist. Aren’t they lovely?” These words are accompanied by images of new shelving arrangements, bookstore visits, and stacks of new books arranged on tables beside cups of tea.
The problem with books is that you must make hard choices—the kind of choices people don’t have to make with their children. Books keep coming in. There’s too many.
Despite fervent rearranging and squeezing, there’s not enough room. Some must go—either to boxes and storage or… Purge.
What do you keep? What do you let go? And why?
The Books You Purge
Obviously, I purged all of my college textbooks immediately. In fact, I dropped off my calculus textbook at the bookstore on my way back to the dorm following my final exam.
I kept my poetry chapbooks and fiction anthologies for decades, until last year’s purge when I ran out of room and had to make deep cuts.
The last college novel to survive is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s one of those unexpected titles that has lingered with me and haunted me, much like Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 and George Orwell’s 1984.
Now you know something more about me.
The Books You Miss
Speaking of the books you purged, what titles slipped through your fingers that you miss? Have you ever re-purchased a book because once you gave it away, you realized you loved it too much?
Or maybe you’ve bought it a second time because you forgot you have it.
As a girl, I owned every horse book ever written: The Black Stallion, The Island Stallion, The Black Stallion and the Girl, and all the other derivatives, as well as Misty of the Chincoteague, King of the Wind, and Black Beauty. Those books transported me to worlds where I ran with wild horses.
Unfortunately I lost everything in the great purge that was my parents’ divorce and my subsequent exit to college. It was time to give up childhood. Hello Aldus Huxley and Brave New World.
The Places You Keep Books
Where do you keep your books?
In our house, literary fiction resides in the living room. Young adult is located in the hallway. My office includes horror, self-help, religion, and writing reference. None of my books are boxed or stored away. Either they reside on shelves, or they’re purged.
I tried using a Kindle for awhile, but I like seeing the books in a physical space. Holding them and smelling them is part of the relationship. I always keep one close on the bedside table for reading at night. Two or three are scattered across the surface of my writing desk at any given time.
The Times You Found Books
Some say that the books you read are related to your personality. I don’t know about you, but my reading tastes have seen different phases. When I discovered Jodi Piccoult, I bought and read everything she’d published to date. During the Oprah’s Book Club phase, I read every selection faithfully—and often continued to read subsequent titles by those authors.
I had an Anne Rice phase after Interview with a Vampire, and I still remember the co-worker who introduced me to Patricia Highsmith and The Talented Mr. Ripley. And I’ve had a love affair with Stephen King books since the early 1980s.
Many books on the shelves came at life-changing pivot points in my life. I’m immensely grateful to so many authors for their work and the impact it had on my own journey. A few of the top ones include:
When I look at their books now and think about the time when I was reading them, I am transported to another decade and my younger self for a second. I remember rainy afternoons reading them on my screened porch. I remember long conversations with my friend over dinner and writing poetry. I am transported to another time and place, to another self.
What do your books reveal about you? What were you reading in your teens versus your twenties? What are you reading today? Have your reading tastes changed dramatically?
The Books That Change a Life
I’ve offered several authors and titles without naming my favorite books. As I write this blog, I’ve realized that that this simple question can be deeply personal and revealing. What I read says a lot about who I am.
Do I list the self-help books that have been so transformative? What about the books about my faith? I’m a writer, so perhaps I should talk about the great books on writing that line my shelves. There have been so many books along the journey of my life that it’s hard stop with a handful of titles that are my very most favorite of all time, but here goes:
The Stand by Stephen King – I began reading King as a young teen, and this one was quite an accomplishment to plow through—a thick book. Unlike the other somewhat-silly monsters books, The Stand tapped into real fears that people might cause an accident of catastrophic proportions. Reading Stephen King made me want to be a writer. I’ve read this book many times.
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott – There is so much grace and kindness in her books. I ate this one up during a time in my life when I was discovering and developing my own faith, before I really understood what those words meant.
Drinking: A Love Story by Carline Knapp – Her tragic death to lung cancer in her early forties really shook me. She was a smart young professional, like me, and she died. I read all of her books, but this memoir was especially poignant.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – This was the first YA novel I read as an adult, and I was pleasantly surprised that it changed all my misconceptions about the genre as “children’s” literature. After reading it, I picked up several other titles and ultimately stopped writing literary fiction and began writing YA novels instead.
What about you? Are you surprised by what your books reveal about you? Are there some unexpected books that touched your life and why? I’d love to hear from you.