My bookshelves

Now before I lose my nerve (and put it off for some more perfect time), here are my bookshelves! This is my favourite shelf (my dad made it) and as it sits near the tv, I look at it from the couch quite often. So all my favourite books (and movies) that I most like to look at go here, naturally! I’ve tried various schemes of organizing by time period, country, and small press, but right now I’m just going with alphabetical. And there also is our cat, Edgar (since Edgar Allan Poe has written a short story called The Black Cat), who wanted to pose in all his nearly invisible majesty for you.

And here’s my second shelf, that I can look at from the computer desk, with my mostly more serious books, the ones I do want to read, but get overwhelmed looking at all the time! I’ve also got a few tea cups, nostalgic Nancy Drews, small poetry books and reading guide/list books up there, plus my catch-all for wandering papers, packets of flower seeds that have never been planted and bookmarks.

The rest of my books are somewhat haphazardly organized in our front hall closet (pictures below) and a few may already be packed away. I’ve spent a fair bit of time this year trying to thin out my books somewhat, to get rid of those I thought I ‘should’ read and only keep what I actually treasure and truly want to read. (Well, I’m still debating if I actually want to read Balzac and Henry James, but I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of them yet either! They’re classics I keep saying to myself, you’ll want them someday. That logic didn’t work for D.H. Lawrence though… I guess there are more reasons than that they are simply classics: Balzac is part of my 19th century French collection, along with Zola, Flaubert, Stendhal and sort of Proust, and annoyed as I might get with their pessimism, I still want to read them all someday. And I had an English professor who read out the first few sentences of The Golden Bowl, to compare Henry James’s style with Hemingway’s and James won for me by a long shot. And I’ve been trying to finish that book ever since!)

And here are the rest of the front hall closet books, mysteries, history books, writing guides, memoirs, extra copies of some of the classics that I’m planning to pass on to my mom, poetry, anthologies, some kids books, and so on and so forth. This space used to be double packed and stacked with many more books, before I took so many to used bookstores and got a few in exchange that I liked better. I would love to own more books (but only ones I really like, not just books for the sake of books), but the ones I really want to collect, like Persephones and Viragos, are expensive to order and/or not widely available in Canadian bookshops. And since I do work in a library, I’m always saying it’s cheaper just to get it at the library. (sigh) Somehow I have this reasoning that it’s better to invest in a classic book than one I might read once in passing, be momentarily entertained by, but then have no interest in rereading or even in thinking very deeply about. I have trouble collecting fun books sometimes (or even in finding many books I consider fun!)

In contrast, my husband has a much larger collection of books than I do (here’s his reading nook, which usually has a comfy chair too) because he’s been working in bookstores and getting that wonderful deadly 30% off books for longer than I did and he’s not as picky about what he buys either, he makes endless lists of authors to try and if he likes them, he’ll collect all their books. Our tastes overlap mostly in mystery, we’ve both read and enjoyed Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, and Sherlock Holmes, but also in a bit of sci-fi, as I share his interest in William Gibson, and also old fashioned spooky horror writers H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. He’s also stolen my copies of Madame Bovary, Lolita and Lady Chatterley’s Lover so there’s some bookish cross-pollination going on here! We’ve tried putting our books all together in the past (after reading, book blogging and book shopping, reorganizing books is a favourite hobby of mine), but we each prefer our own separate styles of organization and to look at a nice comforting shelf of books that’s all our own.

On the actual reading of books front, a nice stack of Virago books came in for me at the library, so I’ve put Trollope aside and am already halfway through A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor. How nice a short book is sometimes for my very easily distracted mind!

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28 thoughts on “My bookshelves

  1. Penny says:

    I LOVE seeing people’s bookcases! Sadly, when I peer through lighted windows when I walk round town, there are far too few bookcases to be seen – though often the flickering light of a TV screen…
    Thank you for sharing yours. I’d love to pop over to Canada and browse in them!

    • Carolyn says:

      Good to know. I think I may have read A Simple Heart in an anthology once. I sometimes think of trying Les Miserables but then… well, even Zola is shorter than that!

  2. Erin says:

    I love that you have books all over your house–even in the closets! My husband and I keep our books separate as well. He double stacks his; I can’t stand it! Plus, we have pretty opposite tastes. I’d estimate there are maybe five books we’ve both read, if that, in the whole house!

    • Carolyn says:

      I’ve even kept books in the bathroom in our old apartment, but only secondhand doubles of books I already had, I thought it might motivate me to finally read them…! Closets are wonderful when you don’t have enough bookshelves.

      I have to say I’m the one who’s read a few books my husband likes, he’s picked up a few of mine but never got far with them.

  3. Eva says:

    It’s fun to see how you organise your books! Especially that you and your husband keep your collections separate. 🙂 There’s a really fun Anne Fadiman essay about combining libraries after marriage.

    The only Balzac I’ve read is Cousin Bette, but I really enjoyed it! I’m also a huge Henry James fan, but I realise he’s not for everyone. Maybe start with Portrait of a Lady (although it’s not exactly a happy book, lol)?

    • Carolyn says:

      Yes, I’ve read that Anne Fadiman essay and we have tried combining our books (with Anne Rice next to Marcel Proust!) but for now we like them separate. We’ve combined our poetry books though!

      I have read Portrait of a Lady and really liked it, as well as Daisy Miller, which I’m sure I could reread to get more out of it and The Turn of the Screw, which I didn’t find that spooky. It’s just his difficult books, like Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl, that I want to read and am eternally stuck on!

      • Eva says:

        I haven’t gotten to Dove or Golden Bowl yet! I’m parsing his books out so that they last. 🙂 I wasn’t a big fan of Turn of the Screw the first time I read it, but when I reread it I suddenly loved it. I think I had different expectations, which helped! Daisy Miller is my least favourite of the James stuff I’ve read…it felt almost like Wharton would have written it better. So I think I prefer his longer stuff. The very first book I read by him was The Ambassadors: it was such fun!

  4. Jenny says:

    I am always excited to see other people’s bookcases, and hear about their bookcase organizing systems. My organizing system is nonexistent at the moment, but I can’t wait to have all my books in one place again so I can decide how to configure them.

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks for coming by Jenny! I foolishly lent some of my Jane Austens to my mom earlier this year (although my purpose in that direction worked, she did read and enjoy them!) and missed them sorely. I hope you get all your books back together soon.

  5. Joan Hunter Dunn says:

    Lovely to peep into your bookshelf world… Your comment about you and your husband storing your books made me smile. In our rented flat we each have one side of a wall. Mine are sorted by colour which he thinks is hilarious and I quite like.

    • Carolyn says:

      I’ve seen some colour coded bookshelves that look quite lovely although the librarian in me would find it maddening not to have all an author’s works together I’m sure!

  6. Iris says:

    I love looking at bookshelves of other people. That is why these posts are always great in my eyes. I always stare and go through people’s bookshelves when I am over. I don’t know, I guess it is a little stalkerish, but I cannot help myself!

    I currently have non-organised bookshelves, because I have too little shelf-space to organise my books in a way that I want. I have a few shelves dedicated to certain themes (children, teen, Jane Austen) and had the rest in alphabetical order and then a few shelves in the living room for “good looking and favourite” books as well as shelves in my bedroom for study-related books. But sadly, I now have stacks of books packed in between and in front of them everywhere.

  7. Nan says:

    I loved looking at your books. Wonderful shelves. I saw an old Masterpiece Theatre production of The Golden Bowl years ago, and it was fascinating. I haven’t read the book version, but would like to. Though I haven’t read a lot of James, I do like him.

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks Nan and it’s nice to meet you. 🙂 It was actually Wings of the Dove my professor read us, not The Golden Bowl, but I’d like to read both someday.

  8. Bina says:

    Your shelves are lovely, and I really wish I could browse your books! 🙂
    I keep changing my system, at the moment my books are organized according to themes or region. I guess I’m the only one who knows whats where 😉

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks, Bina. You can enlarge the pictures, I always do that when looking at blogger’s bookshelves lately. I can usually find my husband’s books for him before he does, while I don’t think he could say the same for me!

  9. merilyn says:

    Your bookshelves look like mine even in closets. Any house and garden Mag or book I’m always peering trying to read the titles.Just love bookshelves. Have you noticed the photos are often quite blurred.I have never found a Peresphone book here in new or used bookshops. The green Virago ones I come across have nice covers but not ones I fancy reading proably why they.re for sale!

    • Carolyn says:

      Not even Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day? That seems the most common to find, even in Canadian shops, out of the Persephone catalogue. I haven’t had a lot of luck reading the used Viragos I’ve bought either, but hopefully someday!

  10. merilyn says:

    Carolyn, you won’t belive this. I can buy the Movie no problem. The book is a different story. I ordered it from a local internet supplier I can pick it up from. First after 6 weeks it arrived . Then they lost it!. I still wating for the replacement. May be it will turn up in time for Christmas.

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