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Bookshelves Talk: What Do Your Bookshelves Say About YOU?

One of MY fiction shelves!
By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I counted the number of bookshelves in our house. We have at least 14. And almost all of them are bursting with books.

After running out of wall space for more bookshelves, I've started collecting ebooks and audio books. So of course, now I have "bookshelves" on my Kindle.

So what do all my bookshelves say about me? If you were to walk through my house and browse my shelves, here are a few of the types of books you'd see in great abundance:

In the family room you'd see books about marriage and parenting, spiritual formation, theology, and other self-help types of books.

Lining the walls of our basement you'd find tons of history books along with science, nature, music, art, and poetry books.

Heading upstairs to the kids' bedrooms you'd discover hundreds of picture books, easy readers, and children's classics. Each of the kid's bedrooms is packed full of their favorites.

And then in the master bedroom (aka my office) you'd finally find my shelves, mainly stocked with historical fiction and of course my writing how-to library.

As you browse, what impression would you glean from the various books you find? You'd probably gather that my husband is not only a licensed professional counselor, but that he also went to seminary and acquired a Master of Divinity. From the variety of books in the basement you'd likely suspect that we homeschooled and that someone in the house was slightly obsessed with history (me!). And then from all the books upstairs, you'd get the feeling that we read a wide range of fiction.

Our bookshelves really do say something about our work, lifestyles, and our values, don't they?

What I'm realizing is that my VIRTUAL bookshelves can say a lot about me too. This wasn't something I thought a lot about when I first started my Goodreads account several years ago.

At first I didn't keep track of any books I was reading. I viewed Goodreads through my author eyes and was mostly looking at what was happening there with MY published books.

But then I realized Goodreads is designed for readers. If fellow readers clicked on my account, sure they'd find out about the books I've written. But more even more than that, they'd get to walk around my Goodreads home and browse my shelves there.

If I have nothing on my shelves would they assume that I didn't read anything?

On the other hand, do I really want the whole world to see every novel I read? If I listed everything, what impression would I give?

These are the kinds of questions I've been grappling with. And I think they're the kinds of questions we should all be asking ourselves in our social media culture that has made so much of our private lives public.

The fact is, whether real or virtual our shelves DO say something about us. 

If a boss from work, a neighbor, or one of our kids stumbled across our Goodreads shelves, would we be embarrassed to have them see what we're reading? After all, if I put a book there, in a way, I'm giving my stamp of approval to read it.

As an author with a large readership, what will my readers think if they browse my Goodreads shelves? If I add a book that's different or isn't quite as sweet as what I write, will they think I'm recommending it? I certainly wouldn't want to mislead any of my readers to pick up something they might find offensive.

And as an author, can I really leave terrible ratings about other author's books on Goodreads? What will that say about me as a person AND a professional—that I'm overly critical? But should I only add books that I can positively review? What would that say about me—that I'm unreliable because I only say positive things all the time?

Sorry for the barrage of questions. But as you can see, I'm sorting through the issue of how public we should be with our bookshelves.

Here are just a couple of conclusions I've drawn:

One, we need to take into consideration how what we leave on our shelves can impact others. When we're in a position of influence (i.e. parent, professional, teacher, author, etc), we have a greater responsibility. People are watching us, they're looking at our reading and reviewing habits, and they may even model us.

And two, we need to consider how what we leave on our shelves can affect our reputations. If what we put out there (on our virtual bookshelves or with reviews) could harm how people view us, then it's probably best to keep it private. Discretion is always the key, and if in doubt, leave it out.

So you tell me! What do your bookshelves say about YOU (both at home and virtually)? How do you decide what to add to your virtual shelves?

*********************************************************

The WINNER of the advanced copy of A NOBLE GROOM (from the Valentine's Giveaway):

Karen Fallot! Congratulations, Karen! I'll be emailing you soon!

Thank you ALL for sharing your romantic stories! I was blown away by all of the sweetness! Some of your stories even brought me to tears! :-)

And I'm sorry for announcing the winner of the giveaway late. I had a terrible, horrible, awful case of the stomach flu at the end of last week and have had a difficult time functioning and catching up!

Stay tuned for more giveaways in the coming month!

26 comments:

  1. You know, I struggle with a related, but slightly different question re writer's reputation: how to be honest about the books I review on Goodreads. If I express weaknesses of a particular book as well as the strengths, doesn't that make me someone other authors aren't going to like? :/ But the thing I think is most valuable about Goodreads is the access to thoughtful, detailed reviews. Over time you learn whose opinions you find most in line with your own, and your eyes perk up when you see they've written a review. You can make those kinds of clarifications (i.e., "Here's what I liked about the book, but I was a uncomfortable with ____."

    I also think it's good for us as writers to read beyond the narrow slice of the fiction world we write ourselves. It helps keep us from getting myopic.

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    1. Kathleen,
      Thanks for sharing. I too appreciate reviews that have a balance of tactfully put thoughts. In fact, just recently I read a review that had various categories that it graded the book on, very objectively (almost like what I've seen done for movie reviews), and I was really impressed by that review. I felt the review was trustworthy and that I'd love to read reviews by that person again.

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  2. Mine would say that I need more room! I look at the overflowing shelves in my apartment and realize that the books are stacked two deep on them. There's a collection of Christian Fiction, fantasy, and everything between. Wouldn't find too many nonfiction books though.

    My virtual ones show that I like to read historical fiction and most of my shelves on goodreads are set up for the various reading challenges.

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  3. This is a really interesting question. So far, I've been hesitant to use Goodreads, even though I have a list of the books I've read on my blog. Some of the students from my school do check my blog to see what I've been reading, and now I think twice before listing a book that could be very controversial.

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    1. I'm even careful about what books I keep on my shelves at home now that I have teenage children. I have very open dialogue with my older kids about books that I read that I don't like for one reason or another. I really try to stock my shelves with books that I wouldn't be embarrassed to have them read, because let's face it, they might pick up a book and try it. And I don't want to subject them to adult content before they're ready.

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  4. Here I am bright and early again, Jody! Enjoy your thoughts on these topics so much, it's always a great way to start out the day.

    So what does my bookshelf say about me (actual bookshelf because I don't really have a virtual one)? It would say I'm a christian (lots of religious/inspirational books) with a BA in psychology/family studies (family/marriage/self-help books) with an interest in health (healthy lifestyle/exercise books) who loves history, romance, and the classics.

    Also I would note my book collection is rather small right now because I don't have the physical space but also because of my favorite resource - my public library! I could spend all day there and just have the best day ever!

    Thanks for another thought provoking post! What we read really does say a lot about us. Something to think about...

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  5. Mine say we move a lot... haha. We hardly have any books anymore, we seriously had to cut down and keep only the very special ones. We have two bookshelves that aren't even full anymore. It makes me sad, but when I look at the books we've kept I know those are the ones that we hold the most dear.

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  6. Great topic, and it's served its purpose in getting me thinking about what I read, and how little of it I note on Goodreads - mostly, I admit, because I forget to. :-)

    If I remembered to note everything I read, it would say one of two things about me: 1) I have eclectic interests, or 2) I have multiple-personality disorder. The former is absolutely true. The latter, given my stage performance history, contains grains of truth. ;-)

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  7. Interesting question. My bookshelves would say I prefer nonfiction to fiction. I tend to like books that are more literary in content and avoid pop genres (YA, paranormal, romance). Darn... nothing juicy in the revelations.

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  8. YES! Good point. I actually have two accounts on Goodreads. One author one where I have a special "bookshelf" listing books by blogging buddies. Then I have second account that list all my various reads.

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    1. I like your idea about having two bookshelves! That might be a good idea for authors who have especially diverse reading habits from their readers. I often get readers asking me for other recommendations or books similar to what I write. So I do need to be careful about what I put on my shelves, especially since I write for the CBA audience who expect sweet, inspirational romances! :-)

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  9. YES! Good point. I actually have two accounts on Goodreads. One author one where I have a special "bookshelf" listing books by blogging buddies. Then I have second account that list all my various reads.

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  10. My bookshelf shows . . . that I need more bookshelves. I don't have 14, I have one. And that's stacked double thick with books. Plus has books piled on the top, and on the side, and well, I'd never want a picture of it posted on the internet! :-)

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  11. This was such a great post! Random note: apparently we have a bit of similar taste! I found 31 books on your shelf that I own too and quite a few that I want to get! But onto the actual topic! If someone were to look at my personal shelves their first opinion would be that I like to read a lot since I have almost 500 books. The second opinion would be that I read a wide variety of Christian fiction. I read a very small amount of non-Christian but only after I research it's cleanness level. As for my virtual shelves I'm sure they say practically the same thing since I don't read too many books that I don't own.

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    1. That's really cool that we have so many books in common, Abbi! I'm surprised you could see the books in that little picture! :-)

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    2. :) I went for a long period of time where I really needed glasses but didn't have them so I came to be able recognize books by their spines!

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  12. So true - we just moved and while I was unpacking all the boxes I was wondering just what my collection says about all of us!

    About the Goodreads shelf conundrum - I think that the best thing that we can do when we review books is to be honest. Just because I've loved something doesn't mean that everyone will and I know that there are more than a few top sellers that I could have cared less for.

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  13. I'm with Eliza O, it's important to be honest, but you can not like a book, without belittling the author. I really try to go on a book by book basis.

    We need to be as nuanced in our opinions as possible.

    Jody, I WISH I had the kind of bookshelves at your house!(LOL)

    I only have one at the moment. The rest have to be crammed into drawers and boxes, and makes it hard to find what I'm looking for, since I live in the basement(Please don't ask...), I can't fit tall bookshelves in my room.

    I hope to find some bookcases this month that don't require help to maneuver downstairs.

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  14. Thanks for commenting, everyone! I'm sure enjoying learning a little bit more about your bookshelves and how you handle Goodreads! :-)

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  15. I like that you can name your bookshelves on Goodreads. I have one that says "Books I've Written," which I don't rate, of course. You could have a shelf called "Books Written by Friends," "How-To Write Books," etc.

    I only rate/review a book that I can give 4-5 stars, but a really popular author said recently that she doesn't even rate them. She just moves them to her "Read" shelf and if it moves her and if she has time, she writes a short review, but, again, she never rates them. I might take that approach, because I can find something I like in most books. As an author, I'm not comfortable being critical of other's work.

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  16. I have co-authored two published books and am on Goodreads and Library Thing, and I post books I've read there, mostly ones that I like a lot, I rate them too so that helps others know what I think about books. My tastes are very wide ranging, as it sounds yours are.

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  17. I think that it's okay to post a review of a book that you don't like, as long as you are careful about how you word it. I've read negative reviews that were very well-written, partly because the reviewers explained in detail why the books didn't ring true for them. I've also read other negative reviews that were very nasty; those reviews often seemed to reveal more about the reviewer's personality than about the books themselves.
    My bookshelves include textbooks on writing and literature that I often get for free from publishers who want me to use the books in my classes. I also have stacks of library books that I need for my dissertation. But my favorite books are the funny/heartfelt memoirs and the chick lit novels; I read those when I want to escape my academic reading.

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  18. The first thing I always look at on someone's bookshelves is whether they're a front of the shelf filer, or a back pusher. Having spent my teens with a part-time job shelving books in a library I'm all pedantic about having the spines along the front. My husband however is all about having them pushed to the back. If you know that about us, you can tell just by looking at our bookcase whose books live on each shelf!

    Right now our bookcase says that we need to buy another one as there are books stacked everywhere around it!

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  19. Oh ... this post was so much fun to read!

    I'm one of those people who goes into a person's office or home and has to fight the urge to gaze at the bookshelves (looking at the titles, the angles of the books on the shelf, etc.) throughout our conversation! :)

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  20. Great post! :)

    I'm not sure how I feel about Goodreads either. I appreciate the reviews when I'm looking for books, but as an author, I cringe at many of the negative ones. It's a tough call but I do think, as a Christian, our words should always be tempered with love.

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    1. Completely agree, Natasha! I once got a scathing one-star review from another author that's represented by my agent. It was really disheartening. I shrugged it off like I try to do most of the time, but it sure got me thinking!

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