Twenty-First Day of Christmas: Shelfies

Allow me to begin by saying: “Selfies” annoy the crap out of me. There are a number of reasons for this annoyance, but fortunately, I think that enough people share this feeling that I don’t have to delve into overmuch detail explaining why it’s unfortunate that an entire generations seems to have no better outlet for self-expression than photographing themselves in bathroom mirrors with pouty-faced expressions. At the heart of my distaste is, I think, the fact that all of these photos look the same. There’s no artistry to the selfie. How could there be, when there’s no investment of thought or creativity? Hell, you could even make the argument that the selfie is just another step on our path toward complete self-reliance, that we’re so wrapped up in our technology that we can’t even bothered to ask another person to take a photo.

I’ve seen people take selfies in cemeteries. Cemeteries, for crying out loud! And no, there wasn’t a funeral taking place, but what possible use could a person have for a photo of herself making a duckface in a cemetery? I pride myself on being an imaginative person and I still haven’t solved that particular riddle.

So I was pretty stoked when a Facebook friend–technology ethicist Patrick Lin, who I met by writing an article about his book Nanoethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Nanotechnology–posted an article about “shelfies.” Though clearly riffing off the word for the other, distasteful tendency among people who like having blurry but not terribly accurate reflections of themselves in various bathroom mirrors, the shelfie is an idea that I think is a long time coming. The idea, which came from the Guardian,  is to photograph your bookshelves, which actually make a significant statement about your personality, belief systems, sense of humor, background. A bookshelf is a treasure trove of information about people. (As is the fact of not having one, in my opinion.) I’ll never forget the first time I visited a friend’s house as a little kid. As she was showing me her room, I kept looking for her stash of books and when I couldn’t find them I finally asked. “They’re right here,” she said, indicating a small stack of schoolbooks on her dresser. But I wanted to see the real books, the ones she read late into the night, that accompanied her through summers and winter vacations. They weren’t there. That’s when I learned that not everyone lives with books, and it horrified me.

I decided to take my own shelfie, which is not a depiction of my bookshelves, which are actually much better organized since Colin and I bought new bookshelves a week or so ago. (Of course, they’re nothing like the library I dream of having in my home someday, but the books are safe and roughly organized according to: writing reference, nonfiction, feminism, travel, fantasy, poetry, short stories, fiction, and children’s and young adult fare.

I cheated when taking my shelfie. I pulled all the books that meant the most to me, as many as I could squish into a single shelf. I did this because I wanted not just a portrait of my books, but a portrait of myself as well. And I must admit, that I feel better and more honestly reflected by my shelfie than I ever have been by any picture of this sad sack of bones and flesh and blood. There might be other women that look like me in the world–redheads with glasses are a dime a dozen–but I’ll bet no one else’s shelfie is exactly like mine.


Here’s a list of my selections, as well as a bit of an explanation of the thought process that went into them (l-r):

1. A compilation of Little Women and Little Men, which were childhood favorites (and I still read sometimes, for comfort). Sadly, Jo’s Boys is not included but never fear, I have a copy! 2. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. All English majors should understand the significance of this to my development as a reader. 3. A Confederacy of Dunces. Seriously funny stuff. I will never look at a hot dog cart the same way again. Also, I think we tend to underrate humor in literature. 4. Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics. This guy really blew through the barriers of what I considered a story, a character, a name, etc. 5. Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Beautiful writing. 6. A Writer’s Reference. The name says it all. 7. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Bold.  8. Scourge of the Righteous Haddock. I know that it looks bad including my own book, but a) my technology ethicist buddy includes his and he’s an ethicist so it must be alright, and b) few experiences have had as profound an influence on my life as writing a book. It’s amazing, and a central part of who I am now. 9. Cat’s Cradle. It’s funny, because Kurt Vonnegut is not at all my usual style of writer, but I adore him. I love playful writers who are clearly enjoying themselves as they write, and Vonnegut embodies this. 10. The Youngest Doll. Utterly gorgeous and creepy short stories. I’ve never been a huge fan of short stories, but I credit this book with helping me develop more of an interest. 11. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. Very nearly defeated Jane Eyre as my favorite book of all time. I don’t think I’ve ever read better writing. 12. Frankenstein. I walked away from UCLA with a deep and abiding love of Mary Shelley, and a great deal of respect for what she accomplished at such a young age and with such tremendous pressure. 13. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I didn’t get to this book until the last year, or perhaps the year before, but holy hell, it’s incredible. 14. Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. This book introduced me to the idea of alternative narratives, to the notion that a book is only one side of the story. 15. Tipping the Velvet. The first book I ever read with a lesbian protagonist. Why is that? It’s that discovery that helped inspire me to create a lesbian protagonist of my own in Scourge of the Righteous Haddock. 16. Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. I meant to only include Cosmicomics, and forgot this was still on the shelf. It’s a good read nonetheless. 17. The Eye of the World, the first book of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, which is a major reason I read and love fantasy novels. I have never encountered a literary world more complicated and thoughtful than Jordan’s. 18. Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal. I chose this book as a representative of the entire The Cat Who series, which are the only mysteries I’ve ever read and enjoyed. I appreciate the fact that this series opened my mind to an entire genre of literature. 19. Anne of Green Gables. Another childhood favorite who I have read more times than I can count, and who played a major role in shaping my views of what a young heroine ought to be. I like to think there’s a little Anne with an E in my own Emily. 20. Lonely Planet Peru. I have a rather large collection of Lonely Planet books now, and though I take pride in these books for an entirely different reason that I take pride in the rest of my books, I love them for what they represent: this new phase of my life that involves traveling. Also, it was while traveling that I indulged in a number of books that I probably would not have had time for otherwise (Middlemarch, Don Quixote, Moby Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow, Winter’s Tale, etc.). 21. Jane Eyre. My favorite book. 22. Edith Wharton’s Roman Fever and Other Stories. “Roman Fever” is my favorite short story and while I love all of Edith Wharton’s work (and have been told I take after her in terms of my writing style, which is about the greatest compliment I’ve ever received) but she’s the rare author who has better captured my imagination with her short stories. 23. The Poetry of Robert Frost. This is the first poetry I ever read, and I suspect we connected over a shared love and observation of nature. Mostly though, I love his choice of words. 24. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, chosen as a representation of the entire body of work. Yes, I’m an adult. Yes, I’ve read the series a number of times. It’s just that entertaining. 25. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I only started reading Neil Gaiman in the last year and I feel like a complete fool for missing out on his brilliance for so long. This is my favorite of his works, although I honestly recommend them all.


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