Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Keeper Shelf

I have too many books.  I buy them compulsively and can’t let them go, and all attempts to clear them out end with me sitting cross-legged on the floor, reading.  The Enabler will walk in and ask, “Didn’t you start going through those two hours ago?”  Me: “Shh!  This is the best part!”  Deep-down, I know I can’t keep them all.  We live in San Francisco.  Our apartment isn’t that big.

When it gets really out of control—as in, stacked two-deep on the shelf and taking over the floor—I have to buckle down and clear them out, but some of them are eternally safe: the keeper shelf always has immunity.  (Actually, I have a “keeper-bookcase,” but who’s counting.)  Here’s a random sampling from my keeper shelf, as of this weekend:

     1)  Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey  
This was the first science fiction book I ever read.  I think I was fourteen.  My mother brought me on a book-buying trip to our town's only used bookstore, and I found it in the woefully understocked science fiction corner.  It was already beat-up when I made it mine, and now it’s in critical condition, but I could never trade it in.  

    2)  My college copy of Pride and Prejudice

It’s still marked up with all the notes I took in class, with important scenes indicated by dog-eared pages.  For my British Lit. class, I wrote a paper on how Austen uses laughter and smiles to differentiate the characters of Lizzy and Jane, so every time I go back and read it, I encounter underlines everywhere they do either one of these things.  (Note: It’s often.)

     3)  A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
I think my mother bought me this book before I was born.  I certainly don’t remember a time when I didn’t have it.  Every so often, I go back and open it at random, just for fun.

     4)  Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
I loved this book so much, I read it cover to cover two times in a row.  It’s funny and sexy and perfect escapism.  Ironically, I don't have a picture because I lent it to a friend.  (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!)

     5)  Moo by Jane Smiley
I found this hardcover first edition in a Salvation Army store for one dollar.  I was in my senior year of college at the time, and the whole book cracked me up (It follows a handful of people on a college campus: students, professors, secretaries).  Years later, I read A Thousand Acres, and I was blown away by how equally brilliant and totally different it was.

     6)  The entire Harry Potter Series.
Honestly, who could get rid of these?  (Number Six is out on loan, but this time I'm not sure who I gave it to. Anybody want to confess?)

There are more, of course, but that’s a cross-section.  What’s on your keeper shelf?


  1. I've got way too many things on my keeper shelf. At this point, I'm pretty much out of shelf space even after purging a lot of books. I've mostly switched to e-books because of this, so now, I can keep everything on my "shelf" and feel okay about it :)

    Of course, some things are better to have in print. I can't put my finger on why. Like you, I've got the entire Harry Potter series (with one book on loan, strangely enough). I've got an anniversary edition of "The Neverending Story" that's got text printed in two colors that I'd carry out of the house during a fire, I love it so much. Oh, and a signed copy of "Fight Club" that will have to pried from my cold, dead hands.

  2. Ooo, an anniversary edition of The Neverending Story! I'm jealous--it sounds beautiful. I have a hard time getting rid of signed books, too, though I hear people are signing Kindles now.

  3. It's so hard to pick, but the two that came immediately to mind are "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Tom Sawyer". I guess those selections say alot about me. I agree with the Potter books-they will never leave my shelf. In fact, we have more than one set since there is usually at least one out on loan at any given time and I want to make sure we always have all of them around. My bookshelves are filled with many old friends that I re-read when inclined.

    As a lover of print, how can you sign a Kindle????

  4. I have a vision of Kindles covered with author signatures on every available space...

  5. Do you know I still have some "kid" books too! "30 ways to dump a sister" and "Are you there God, It's me Margaret." Crazy!

  6. I love having my kid books around. Like "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." I still read that one sometimes!

  7. OMG! Cali loves that book:) Meme bought it for her- its one of her favs!

  8. i've never heard of a "keeper" shelf, but i will have to set that in motion in our house. I go through the same excrutiation's a viscious cycle: Me: wow we have too many books...husband: well get rid of some. then i sit and try to decide what to abandon...and never make it. I just put them all back....
    I have yet to try Kindle and Nook...i am still revolting from the idea of an electronic book. for me, reading isn't just about the words, it's an entire experience: holding the book, feeling the pages, waiting to turn the page, seeing the bookmark in the book and how it's getting closer to the end....i guess you find your own little rituals with nooks...i'm just not ready

  9. I love the whole "holding a book" experience, too. And the smell of the paper! I swear, you could blindfold me and drop me into a used bookstore, and I'd know it right away.

  10. Sooo many books. Everything from Don't Let Pigeon Drive the Bus to the complete volume of Jane Austen. Some old books to class things up, like my great-grandpa's Mark Twain set and a collection of old-school Robin Hood books from antique stores, that live next to the Hunger Games series :)

    My husband and I are still in newlywed mode, so he hasn't made me clear many out yet, but it's coming...

  11. Ooooo, that Mark Twain set sounds beautiful. I haven't got very many "legacy" books (most of them are at my folks' place), but I did find a gorgeous copy of the Decameron at the San Francisco library book fair last year. It has this amazing cover: black and gold with embossed lions.