How to Build a Better Bookshelf

Let me ask you something: How many of the books on your bookshelf have you read more than once?

Do you have a book (or books) that you reach for when you’re feeling down, or motivated, or adventurous?

Side note: If you don’t have a bookshelf, GTFO. I refer you to this John Waters quote.

Here’s the Best Bookshelf for Me — What’s Yours?

Here's my much-loved shelf.
Books, whiskey, pictures of friends and family. Plus a gumball machine. What’s not to love?

I’ve been too focused on screens lately. Using RescueTime, I can tell exactly how long I’ve been on my computer–and it’s around 45-50 hours every week.

I’ve been forgetting to read. 

When this happens, I get a handle on my brain by standing in front of my bookshelf. I reach for the first title that speaks to me. Usually, it’s fiction. Usually, it’s something I’ve read before.

We overuse the word a lot, but I believe your bookshelf should be “curated”–so that when you make the conscious decision to read, you don’t grab something that sucks and spend a half-hour trying to believe the narrator.

Right now, I just have this one bookshelf. Space is at a premium. I regularly cull titles that I didn’t love, or that I know I just won’t read.

The result is a highly selective, tiny library of the ideas that move meMy shelves are loosely divided into categories: Fiction I Love, Fiction I Haven’t Gotten to Yet, Business/Grammar Nerd Stuff, and Creative Shit (where craft-making books and all of my favorite graphic novels from high school live).

Here’s the top shelf, where I keep some of my favorite fiction, and a few novels I haven’t read yet, so they’re on my eye level. (Also, whiskey is a plus.)

This is the top shelf of my bookshelf. It contains a lot of my favorite things.
That little blue car is a flask.

Every single book here is meaningful to me in some way, whether I love it, I hate it–but grudgingly respect its incredible craft–or I haven’t read it yet.

I’d say I’m saving the unread ones for a rainy day, but my inbox has nothing to do with the weather [click to tweet]. Working on that.

It’s Okay to Be a Creature of Habit…

…as long as you know that about yourself.

I’m a bit predictable sometimes. I like to know what I’m getting. I often order the same sandwich from the place down the street, because I know it’s good. It’s not that I don’t want to try new things; it’s that I search for familiar feelings because I’m still pinning down what, exactly, I love most.

I reach for Plainsong by Kent Haruf when I want to revel in the simple beauty of the English language. I pluck my well-worn copy of Burning Chrome, by William Gibson, when I want to be transported to other universes and times (actually, this one just lives on my bedside table).

I page through Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath when I want a no-nonsense reminder of what works in marketing psychology, and what doesn’t.

Sometimes, though, I grab a title I haven’t read yet. The last two books I ended up with were The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, and The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. Both were fan-fucking-tastic. I didn’t shut up about Devil in the White City for weeks.

Simply Put, Your Bookshelf Should Make You Want to Read.

It should fill you with joy, not aversion. It should make you pause. It should calm you.

I have nothing against Kindles; mine’s in a cute little red-leather case so I can pretend to use it for work. But nothing can replace the scent and heft of a book in your hand–and the sweet relief of giving your eyes a break from Netflix, texting, and obsessively refreshing Facebook.

What are you reading?


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