Bookshelf Ogling

Yesterday (was it yesterday?) we talked about “book porn”. It was so fun to hear everyone’s responses to those celebrity libraries, and also to commiserate with other “bookshelf oglers” (as Jason funnily put it). This then started a whole thing on Facebook with a couple of people putting up pictures of their own bookshelves (Bill really started it!) I put up a couple pics, my friend Emily put up a pic, and we all scanned one another’s bookshelves in a virtual manner and had a great time.

I have this thing with taking pictures of my bookshelves (but good to know I am not alone in this strange hobby). One of the reasons I have all of these pictures was for my own “cataloging” purposes: when I got renter’s insurance, I realized I didn’t even know what I had. These meticulous crazy pictures were a way to keep my collection not only straight in my own head, but to have a record of what I have just in case I am wiped out temporarily by flood/fire/famine/meteor/StayPufMarshmallowMan and need to replace stuff.

Here are some of my books. I think I have things under control, but as you can see it is a situation that needs constant monitoring, and seasonal purging.

Some Of My Books

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48 Responses to Bookshelf Ogling

  1. Lisa says:

    I need to post a picture of my True Crime shelf, just so y’all can go, “Oooooh, she CRAZY.” :)

  2. Ceci says:

    Lovely, Sheila… I share in your love of “ogling” others’ bookshelves, I am drawn to them like a moth to the light! I’ve seen a couple books in your gorgeous shelves that I own myself, others that I would like very much to read (looking at bookshelves is inspiring!), and others of which I have different editions but envy yours shamefully (say, Ulysses, Paris 1924?? Wow! Beautiful book!).

    I am currently in the process of furnishing my own home, and one of the first pieces of furniture I had made were the bookshelves. They are now done (I finished paying for them yesterday, yay!!!) and ready to receive all my books. That will be interesting, moving all the books to their new home… I hope I can post decent pictures of them once I am done. But I am so excited already!!!

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures!!

  3. sheila says:

    Oh Ceci – can’t wait to see the new bookshelf – I’d love to see pics up on FB or wherever.

  4. sheila says:

    Lisa – I did not post a picture of my literally-taped-together (due to overreading) copy of Helter Skelter.

    I’d love to see evidence of your craziness.

  5. Another Sheila says:

    That first pic is magical.

  6. David says:

    Jumped out at me: Smartest Guys In The Room — that’s going to upset someone!

  7. Melissa Sutherland says:

    And I thought I had BOOKS!!! Yours are amazing. And sectioned AND alphabetized. Oh my. Envious. Was thrilled to see a couple of books I either researched, edited or proofread. Great pix. Thanks, Sheila.

  8. sheila says:

    David – if anyone is honestly “upset” about any book found on someone else’s bookshelf, then that person is clearly too sensitive to be out on the Internet.

  9. sheila says:

    Melissa – really? Some of “your” books are on here?? That’s so cool!!

  10. sheila says:

    Oh and Melissa – I am constantly rethinking my organization. The whole thing for me is ease in locating whatever I want. I give SERIOUS thought to where things are! Even scarier: within the books by particular authors, books are organized by publication date.

  11. sheila says:

    Yay!!! I could never have a book written in 1983 filed before a book written in 1968. It gives me shivers.

    Then again, I’m a librarian’s daughter.

  12. Dan says:

    Experiencing some shelf envy here – two of my bookcases are rather shabby and sadly lacking in organization for a librarian-in-training.

    • sheila says:

      Dan – I totally relate. I will get the urge to reorganize/clean up at the weirdest times. Like suddenly I’ve taken every book out of one shelf, and it seems like I suddenly have filled 2 bags with books to bring to the second-hand bookstore I donate to – and I’m dusting and 409-ing …. I never can tell when that urge will strike me.

      Sometimes other things just have to take priority – I don’t mind a bit of clutter, I don’t even mind piles of books on the floor or on my desk – as long as I can find things!

  13. Jason Bellamy says:


    You read faaaaaaaaaar more than I do, so if your library reminds of books at a Barnes & Noble, mine reminds of books at a 7-11. As in, not that many of them, by comparison.

    But considering how many times I’ve moved significant distances, I’m proud (?) of the number of books I’ve contintued to tote around with me.

  14. sheila says:

    Jason – Moving the books is always a big challenge (and also a good excuse to get rid of stuff). I have to admit that a lot of the books here I keep because I like to have a reference-library at my fingertips. Yes, I know I could look up stuff online, but for me it’s not the same thrill as wanting to look up something that Alexander Hamilton wrote, and having that damn Library of America book RIGHT THERE for me to find it. Same with all the film reference books. I love reference books, in general. Dictionaries, bibliographies, thesaureses … give me an index page and I’m a happy woman.

  15. sheila says:

    That last comment from me is NERDY, man.

    Side note: There’s one picture up there of what is a very strange shelf that appears to have been organized via SIZE of book. There’s the Eminem book, alongside a book showing Gibson Girls, then there’s a picture book about Fenway Park, and the “Ultimate Guide to Rocky” – and then my giant book of photographs taken by New Yorkers on 9/11. That shelf makes zero sense as it is. I have since fixed it.

  16. sheila says:

    If I recall correctly, the Ultimate Guide to Rocky was a HUGE disappointment, not “ultimate” at all. I was hoping for something more in-depth. Maybe it’s time to let that one go.

  17. Charles J. Sperling says:


    Men without women are low, sloppy beasts, according to Norman Mailer, and the sight of those beautiful shelves makes me feel especially low and exceedingly sloppy.

    But it also makes me curious about your order of several authors’s works. I don’t mean L.M. Montgomery’s *Anne* books, where it’d be proper to follow the fictional chronology and have *Anne of Windy Poplars* fourth instead of seventh, *Anne’s House of Dreams* fifth instead of fourth and “Anne of Ingleside” sixth instead of eighth (and the publishers have: I think they’re using the internal order of *The Chronicles of Narnia* now instead of the publication one, too), but your shelving of George Eliot and Joseph Heller.

    Chronologically, it should be *Middlemarch* last, behind *Adam Bede,* *The Mill on the Floss* and *Romola,* but you have it first. It is her best work, to my mind, and one of those few things which is not only as good as its reputation and even better, but it is her penultimate novel.

    With Heller, his first novel is second (a tip of the hat to Evelyn Waugh, who wouldn’t give a blurb to *Catch-22″? I think Heller’s review of the last of his World War II trilogy rankled — you know how touchy that Evelyn Wow woman could be!) and his second novel is last. Is this intentional? Do you get the willies when you see Slocums ahead of the pack?

    The edition I read of *Middlemarch* had a preface from Margaret Drabble, in which she quoted Virginia Woolf (one of the few novels written for grown-ups), which was only fitting because while two professors at college had drawn my attention to it, they weren’t why I finally read it. That was P.D. James’s doing.

    In her *Innocent Blood,* Philippa Rose Palfrey visits her biological mother Rose in prison. Rose rationed herself to two chapters of *Middlemarch* a day, so it would last longer, and I learned that it had eighty-six chapters, and that Philippa didn’t think she could have done the same, because “it’s a marvelous novel.”

    If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what it is.

  18. sheila says:

    Charles: I make many exceptions. With LM Montgomery and Madeleine L’Engle, I put the books in order of the series. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 – which is more challenging with L’Engle because her series overlap. Like I said: it’s really about ease of finding things. With George Eliot, I must have effed up. I’m not THAT OCD. With any series of books, I go in order of the series.

    And shelves that I dip into a lot (plays/film) – I give up on strict order.

  19. sheila says:

    No, don’t read too much into it, Charles, in terms of Heller. I really don’t have enough books by him for me to worry about it. It’s when I have a ton of books by a certain author (say, Byatt, or Atwood or Annie Proulx or Michael Chabon), that I start to think about how best to organize them. But even there there are exceptions. (I like the books to line up – if I have a hardcover book in the middle of a bunch of paperbacks – in general, I don’t like how that looks. So I’ll reorganize the books so they look more aligned on the shelves. I have a hard-cover copy of Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, and all the rest of her books are small-sized paperbacks. I cannot stand seeing Robber Bride jutting up out of the middle of those smaller books like an iceberg, so I move it to the edge of the Atwood section, like a hardcover bookend).

    Idiosyncratic. But makes sense to me.

    And I’ve only read Middlemarch by Eliot but I loved it.

  20. Lisa says:

    See how your Heller books all have the same sort of binding? When I started reading the Mitford books (series about an Episcopal priest), I borrowed the first one. I was on vacation, I forgot to bring a book, my mom gave me her copy, I loved it, blah blah blah. So I went and BOUGHT the other forty-‘leven, and they all have the same cover. They look so pretty.

    BUT, when I decided I needed to go buy the first one (“At Home In Mitford”) they don’t FECKING PUBLISH THEM IN THE SAME COVER OMG. So instead of having the entire series, I only have from #2 on. Because I refuse to buy the first one without that same cover. They HAVE to match.

    • sheila says:

      This is agonizing. Can you find it secondhand??

      Totally relate. I do not have the entire Master Commander series – although I will someday! – – and I am afraid that THAT edition of the book will be discontinued and the rest of the books won’t match the others.

      • sheila says:

        Oh wait – so you’re saying that they didn’t publish the first one at ALL with that similar-type cover??

        • Lisa says:

          No, they did. It’s just that I didn’t read the first one until it had been out about four or five years. I bought the rest of them in one fell swoop, and the store didn’t have the first one then. But I’d already read IT, and I was too intent on getting all the others that I forgot about it. When I went back, they had it, but with a different cover. WOE.

      • Lisa says:

        You know, I haven’t tried. I need to look on Ebay or something.

        I love those how those Master and Commander books look. How many are you missing?

        • sheila says:

          Oh God – 20 or something like that! Those are the only ones I have in the picture. Barnes & Noble/Amazon carry that edition of the series – or that design – so once I bought the first one, I had to keep buying the same design. But … if I have to switch designs mid-series? My soul shivers with revulsion.

          I haven’t been able to pick them up again because they remind me of Dad. But I would like to read the rest of the series someday.

  21. sheila says:

    And yes, I also tried to stretch out the last 20 pages of Middlemarch. I was so sad to leave that book behind.

    Catch 22 is probably my favorite book ever written, if I had to make such a shocking statement.

  22. JessicaR says:

    Right now I have just one bookshelf as there is a constant war going on in me between wanting to be a collector and a morbid fear of clutter. I love looking at other people’s bookshelves. I should try to get a picture of mine.

  23. sheila says:

    Jessica – I’d love to see. I’m pretty okay with a low-level of clutter – but I totally know what you mean. It is important that everything has a specific place. At least that’s what I’ve learned after years of living in small apartments. But it’s a real challenge. I have almost zero storage space in my current apartment (only one small closet) – so generally everything I own has to be in plain view. Which is SERIOUSLY not ideal. Trying to work with it, though, because I do love the apartment.

  24. Kate says:

    How many books we share! I am actually reading—no, I stopped because I don’t want the series to end, and if I don’t read the last, it never will—the 20th of the Master and Commander books right now. And, even better, earlier this week when I went to the ALA Midwinter meeting in San Diego, I visited the Maritime Museum where the Surprise is docked. (At least the ship they used in the movie. But it did have the beautiful stern windows.)

    As a librarian’s daughter myself, I do feel the need for a certain amount of organization on the shelves, but if my boys are interested in reading Terry Pratchett, for example, I’m fine with them putting them back any old how. At least they’re reading.

    When I recently visited my friends in Seattle and Iowa, I took pictures of their bookshelves so that I could scan them at my leisure later, taking the titles of unfamiliar or previously overlooked books as hearty recommendations from these friends.

    Also, is there anything worse than seeing a piece of “book art” someone has created: gilding a book, for example, to use in a centerpiece? (Unless it is a Reader’s Digest condensed book, because gilding is absolutely appropriate for those. It means no one will have to read them.)

    Thank you for sharing your photos!

    • Lisa says:

      Kate – ha! For some unknown reason, I ended up with a couple of Reader’s Digest Condensed books. I use them as “decoration,” i.e., as a stand for a lamp that wasn’t quite tall enough for a chair-side table. At first I was leery of using books as props, but hey, THEY’RE CONDENSED.

      • Kate says:

        Okay, books as “decoration” (or props, clandestine hiding places, artifacts used as things other than books . . . ) reminded me of this true story:

        Several years ago when my children were still young and impressionable, I think my oldest was ten, two things happened at my house simultaneously. It was night and the kids were tired but resisting bed, and the stone from one of my favorite necklaces fell out in my hand. I sat down with the boys to tell them a story, and my fingers stroked the piece of lapis lazuli I had put in my pocket for lack of a safer place. Somehow an idea came to mind and I spun a tale for them about how each of the supervisors in the library was put in charge of a special “library jewel” bequeathed to the library by Andrew Carnegie when the library was built 100 years before. As Children’s Supervisor, I was given a piece of lapis lazuli to guard and always keep safe. Other stones were a tiny diamond in a tie pin, a piece of topaz crystal, and a tourmaline, and others.

        I must have woven quite a tale because the boys were very interested and wanted to see my semiprecious stone the next time they came to work with me. I remembered their desire and the next day I found an old, torn, falling apart, duplicate copy of Caddie Woodlawn in one of the discard boxes. So, with a gleam in my eye I took out the X-acto knife and cut a hole right in the middle of the pages, deep enough to hold the piece of lapis. Remember, the book was virtually unreadable when I began. By the time I finished, it was a perfect repository for the treasure. I affixed the stone in the hole with a bit of double-sided tape, then put the book on the shelf with the other copies of Caddie Woodlawn. When the boys came to the library next, they begged me to show them my jewel, so I carefully led them over to the bookshelf and asked them to guess which of all the books on that particular shelf would be least likely to circulate. They finally zeroed in on the tattered copy (although I have sometimes chosen a tattered copy on purpose because it has more character). I had Ben, my oldest, take the book down and look inside. Imagine their amazement and wonder when they found the hidden chamber with the lapis inside!

        For a year or more I left the book on the shelf, and then Will, my youngest, persuaded me that it would be safer if I brought the book home. So I did, then promptly forgot about it after putting it on a shelf in the basement.

        Then this past Thanksgiving, my youngest brother and his wife had a baby. She is absolutely beautiful, so sweet and tender, and she happens also to have Down Syndrome. That was quite a surprise as my sister-in-law is still in her twenties. But we will just love little Lazuli all the more. When Adam and Robin announced her name, I knew what I must do.

        I tried to tell the boys I had just made up the whole story about the treasure, but they wouldn’t believe me (or maybe they were just humoring me). Besides, my librarian father, when the boys asked him what library treasure he had guarded at his university library just shook his head and said, “Oh the stories I could tell . . .” Actually at the time of this writing, it just happens that not only are we getting a new library director in a couple of weeks after a year of no one at the helm, but two of our longest-working librarians retired at the end of 2010. I told the boys that the Board of Trustees had decided to dissolve the treasure guarding responsibility with so many key people leaving and retiring and a new director coming.

        So I explained my idea for the jewel to the boys and they enthusiastically agreed: just this afternoon I picked up the pendant I had made from my library treasure and will soon give the newly set piece of lapis lazuli to sweet Lazuli as a token of love from all of us.

        True story.


  25. sheila says:

    Actually, on my friend Alex’s last visit to my place, she opened up a whole new world for me that I had been resistant to: “books as decoration”. I have been experimenting with it and am VERY pleased with the results. I’ll post some pics. Most of them have to do with my “coffee table books” – which is problematic since, yeah, I don’t have a coffee table. How do I display them? They’re so fun to look through and they look excellent displayed where they are. But Alex did some rearranging and I really love the results.

  26. Charles J. Sperling says:

    Be of good cheer! You only need thirteen more volumes of Patrick O’Brian to have the complete Aubrey/Maturin series, not twenty. Be warned that the War of 1812 is for him as the Korean War was for “M*A*S*H” on television: it lasts longer than you learned.

    (I confess to a certain irreverence for the series, not because my heart belongs to Horatio Hornblower, but because the volumes I read came from the public library, and someone had annotated them. Whoever did so took great glee in how often Stephen fell into the water, grew impatient with someone for not calling a snack a snack and countered Aubrey’s lament over how events had gone by writing: “Actually, considering the circumstances, you did very well.” I couldn’t have agreed more!)

    What I remember most about *Middlemarch* was getting caught up with one set of characters and resenting like crazy when George Eliot shifted to another…and, then, when we returned to those I’d hated to leave originally…resenting like crazy leaving the ones we’d left them for! After the second or third time that happened, I left myself in Eliot’s hands. She did not let me down.

    Gail Godwin makes very good use of George Eliot’s life and work in *The Odd Woman* (and good use of George Gissing’s *Odd Women,* too — though she — or her heroine Jane Clifford — doesn’t seem aware that the male George disliked the work of the female: see *The Whirlpool*). Jane is a college professor and will conclude her next semester course with Eliot’s final novel, *Daniel Deronda.* There are aspects of it, she admits, that she’s still trying to resolve. (Spoiler: it may be one of the few books where it’s a good thing that someone finds out that they’re Jewish!)

    Dimly recalled: a *New York Times Book Review* squib in which Yeats was hard on Eliot. He declared “her most famous character” (his description: my money would be on Silas Marner for that, although I wish Tertius Lydgate had that honor) Tito Melema, of *Romola,* as interesting as a cat on a dissecting table.

    Just think: had it not been for Leon Uris and *Mila 18,* we’d all be saying “yeah, that’s a real Catch-18.” Heller in an interview more than a decade later remembered being devastated by that: he thought 18 was the only number. (It’s an important one in Judaism, the number of life: Art Spiegelman’s father Vladek in the second part of *Maus* learns that his concentration camp tattoo number adds up to 18, which means, says the man who explains it, that whatever happens to him, Vladek will survive.) In that same conversation, the interviewer noted that Scheisskopf at one point was called “a real Shithead” and that “Scheisskopf” meant “shithead.” Was it an in-joke?

    Heller said yes, and that it was one of two in-jokes no one else had caught in the book. He didn’t say what the other one was. Has anyone determined it what it is, or did it die with Speed Vogel?

    One book in your library that I know I will be reading is the Williams’s *Notebooks.* I didn’t see a copy of his letters to Maria St. Just, the Five O’Clock Angel. Have you read them?

  27. sheila says:

    Charles – it lasts longer than you learned.


    The War of 1812 lasted TWENTY YEARS.

    I have read those letters to Maria St. Just – but do not have that copy. A lot of his letters to her are in my Selected Letters volumes (can’t wait for the third volume). The Notebooks are completely overwhelming, and great – and the editors/designers did a fantastic job with a MOUND of material. I am so glad they went the way they did, which is a rather radical approach: Best part of the layout of the giant book which makes it totally readable: The footnotes are on the facing pages. It’s like poetry which offers translation on the facing pages of each poem. So there’s no flipping back and forth, which can really get to be a drag, especially if there are something like 500 footnotes – or, no, there’s got to be more in the volume. There are footnotes, extensive ones, for each page – so it’s reaaaaallly in-depth, and I consider myself pretty well-versed in Williams, but this? Incredible. The work ethic is what really gets to me, and also how HE thought he was lazy.

  28. reba says:

    I have so enjoyed this post because I, too, am an inveterate bookshelf ogler (I prefer ‘literary voyeur’–sounds classier!) who has gotten many suggestions from Writer’s Rooms and from the Paris Review interviews summarized in your copy of Writers at Work! Due to a series of moves, a fondness for minimalism, and about 50 volumes I keep at work, I have winnowed the collection down to only those I *need* to have because a) I have read them more than twice, b) I could never find another copy if I let this one go and/or c) I might have a burning need to consult it at 2:00 AM. This asceticism is possible because I have privileges at 3 libraries and can walk to The Baltimore Book Thing. It has yielded a small library of about 150 books, including two copies of everything by Shakespeare, in case one set is lost (and four copies of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ in case one is lost, one loaned, and one stolen by marauding book thieves). It also includes the final volume of Narnia, which remains unread for the same reason that Kate can’t bear to finish the Master and Commander books. And a few duplicates of the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker, because I am holding out for a matched copy of ‘The Eye in the Door’ before I give up my single-volume edition. Ok, enough, I’m blithering–but among kindred spirits!

  29. Charles J. Sperling says:

    In the sixth volume of Anthony Powell’s *Dance to the Music of Time,* *The Kindly Ones,* Nick Jenkins and friends, on the eve of World War II, are at the home of Sir Magnus Donners, who photographs them as the Seven Deadly Sins. Nick poses as sloth.

    In one of the later volumes (most likely the final one, *Hearing Secret Harmonies*), one of those friends brings up the photos and is amused that Nick, a prolific novelist, was sloth. Nick isn’t: to his mind, there’s more than one type of laziness, and if he weren’t guilty of one type, he was probably guilty of another.

    Maybe that was what Wiliams thought of himself.

    “Look at the end of work, contrast
    The petty done, the undone vast…”
    — Robert Browning, “The Last Ride Together”

    Now I’m really looking forward to those *Notebooks.*

    O’Brian, to his credit, does confess to artistic license with his treatment of the War of 1812.

    Best hahahahahaha for me today: Kate Larson in *The Assassin’s Accomplice* calling John Wilkes Booth “one of the nation’s most dashing and famous entertainment superstars.” Roll over, Sondheim, and take it away, King Herod:

    “So you are the Booth, you’re the great Johnny Booth…”

  30. phil says:

    That’s a great library. I’m drooling here.

    Budd Schulberg’s Moving Pictures – I bet that’s a winner?

  31. sheila says:

    I just have to ask myself: WHAT is Brian Friel doing in the middle of that Tennessee Williams section? Thank God I got my act together and fixed that. The picture itself is driving me crazy.

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  33. Kappy Griffith says:

    … so well organized … I am dazed

  34. Kate F says:

    The terrorism/jihad shelf made me laugh out loud. Is that wrong? xo

  35. sheila says:

    Kate – hahahahahahahahaha Of course not. I included it HOPING people would laugh. Also, I positioned it very strategically to come right after the Twilight/Frog and Toad are Friends shelf to just highlight the comedy.

  36. Bob says:

    Sheila – I lost 90 % of my books in a flood. It was heartbreaking at the time, but I guess it is just a sad part of life. My father always had a lot of books on history and was smart enough to put them in a safe place. Despite the fact that he had to quit high-school to get a job to help feed his 9 brothers and sisters, he always loved books, and encouraged us to read. I learned all about the founding Fathers and Lincoln at an early age. He is now passing these books down to his grandchildren.
    P.S. – I love shows that ask what you would do if you won a million dollars. My answer – build a small house with a big Library !!!

  37. silvia says:


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