Our Bookshelves Our Selves


You can tell a lot about someone by what’s on their bookshelf.

That was something I learned from NPR’s Susan Stamberg while accompanying her as recording technician on one of her interviews in the early 1990s. While the subject was a rather famous author so the bookshelf was a ridiculously sophisticated knockout, I always remembered that bit of advice. It’s not about what one is reading now, but the books accumulated over a lifetime.

It also made me think- what does my bookshelf say about me? It’s a history of my interests, containing books on cinema history and its auteurs, the historical fiction of Gore Vidal, lots of biographies and oddly thick history texts, through to current reads on PR, marketing and social media. Oh right, and lots of baseball. By the way- I am, indeed, talking about tangible media, and those books are going nowhere.

Does that say anything about me? It must. What’s on your bookshelf? Feel free to let us all know in the comments.

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  1. I have a huge mishmash of books on my bookshelves.

    I have a whole bunch of books on sales, marketing and innovation, as well as many “how did they do it” books.

    There are quite a few historical books, as well as some Greek tragedies.

    I also have significantly more science fiction and fantasy books, as well as some interesting general fiction books.

    And, just to top off everything and make it all more confusing, I have a couple books in ancient Greek and Latin (my college major). Two versions of the Iliad, Herodotus’ Histories, some tragedies and some of Caesar’s writings. And the ancient Greek and Latin versions of Harry Potter (they do exist).

    What people would be able to tell about me by looking at my bookshelf is that I read… a lot! :-)

  2. I adore books and love to read. My bookshelf is predominantly fiction, cookbooks, and the occasional historical biography. My book habit started to threaten not only my bank account but my space, so I donated eight boxes of books to the local library when I moved in with the boyfriend last May. Off the top of my head, I know the following are on the bookshelf: Shantaram, Seabiscuit, Julia Child’s The Way To Cook, Beard on Bread, Katherine Neville’s The Eight, Mornings on Horseback, the complete Annotated Alice in Wonderland-Through the Looking Glass, and Mr. God This Is Anna, along with many others. I am limited to one bookshelf, and this is good for me. I’m in a book club so I get my ‘fix’ there without going overboard and purchasing!

    I agree that you can tell a lot from a person’s bookshelf; I have a somewhat related theory that you can tell what kind of writer (or really what kind of person) someone will be by the books they gravitated towards as a child.

    My bookshelf is a mess too Doug…!


  3. What a great post! Books saved me from the perils of childhood and I still have them around me at all times. My bookshelves are overflowing, but neatly, since I’m on the compulsive side. There are a couple of piles of to-be-read: business (Putting the Public Back in Public Relations by Brian Solis, Tribes by Seth Godin and Awake at Work by Michael Carroll); bookclub (The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga); food (The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn) and fiction (Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri). Then there are the illustrated children’s books I collect. There are books on random stuff that interests me, like color and kitchen design. There are books that reflect what I want to be (and am not), mostly on Buddhism. Books on writing. All my favorite “word” books, including at least four different editions of The Elements of Style.

    I have a recurring fantasy: someday I will be stuck for a time in someone else’s library and will have nothing else to do but read all the books in it. That way, I’ll read whatever is there and not what I would’ve necessarily chosen for myself.

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