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  • Writer's pictureKara C White

If These Shelves Could Talk...

What Would They Say About Us?

Many readers will tell you that some books seem to speak directly to them, appearing in their lives at just the right moment to help them celebrate a season of life or heal through a hardship. Books command our attention, captivate our minds, and inspire our hearts. But in addition to what books say to us, what do the books we love say about us?

It's a question that came to me as I read Matt Haig's best-selling 2020 novel, The Midnight Library. In the book (without giving too much away), the main character Nora experiences different lives she might have led if she had made different choices along the way. She drops into one life after another. However, each time she slides into another life, she has to find her bearings. She doesn't immediately know where she is or what kind of life she's leading. Often her phone is a great source of information, but in one memorable instance, she turns to the bookshelves in her otherwise unfamiliar home. Looking at the books lining the shelves gives Nora a crash course in her own existence.

Can our home library do the same for us?

The books we own, the books we keep and display, reveal a bit about who we are, how we live, and who we want to be. Sure, they show us our interests and favorite genres. An avid gardener will have gardening books, and a lover of historical fiction or true crime novels will have those books on their shelves. My own shelves will show a mix of classic literature, contemporary fiction, and many childhood favorites I've never been able to part with.


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Yet I think our shelves communicate more than our reading lists. They also suggest something of our attitudes about our reading lives. Are the shelves arranged by color, genre, or alphabetical order? Are the shelves minimal or do we have so many books stacked and wedged in that we can barely pull one out? [If this is the case for you, check out my post on weeding your collection!] Are the pages of well-loved titles highlighted and dog-eared (gasp!) or are the pages pristine?

As voracious readers, we tend to view our bookish natures as part of our identities because reading plays such a vital role in our lives. Do our bookshelves reflect this? Have we cared for and curated our collections? Whether our shelves stretch from floor to ceiling or take up a tiny space in the corner, we can give our books, and our love of reading, the respect they deserve with decent lighting and the occasional dusting.

So if like Nora in The Midnight Library, you were dropped into your current life with only your books for clues about who you are, what would your shelves say about you? Do you think it would be an accurate illustration? If not, what could you add or take away to bring the picture of you into better focus? I know I'll be taking a close look at my bookshelves this week, and I invite you to do the same. Let me know what you discover. You can even post a picture of your bookshelves in the comments below!

Best wishes for further reading!


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