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Fragments and Shrapnel: We are what we read

A recent article in the NY Times asking are we what read? got me thinking about the state of my bookshelf.

When famous people die or someone does something horribly evil (like the shooter in AZ) the authorities immediately raid their bookshelf looking for clues. The AZ shooter, whose name I can’t remember, claimed to have read The Communist Manifesto and the works of Plato. A recent book detailing the contents of Hitler’s library suggests he read Don Quixote and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Loners read Catcher in the Rye and Anarchists read their own cookbook. Right?

My husband’s bookcase sits to my immediate left and hosts a variety of well-read books written by old school science fiction authors. Robert Heinlein, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Piers Anthony and H. Beam Piper sit quietly on the shelves planning their revolutions and revenge. Another bookshelf in our hallway contains his “geek books” (aren’t science fiction books geeky?) by authors like Stephen Pinker, Matt Ridley and Jared Diamond. If Ian were to buy the farm and go to the big bookstore in the sky (and it better have a Powell’s!) people could glean a few things by looking at his books: he’s a geek, he likes science fiction, and has way too many comic books. One could consider him a Gnerd.

I, on the other hand, am the oddball in the household. My bookshelf is old and tilting and needs to be replaced. I have a designated “To Read” shelf so the newer books don’t get lost and I move books around easily. Many of the “to read” books have been on that shelf for years and I keep promising them I will take the time to read them. Someday. These are dense works from such authors as Joseph Campbell, Cervantes, Beat Writers and masters of Russian Literature. I’ve started most of them and then put them aside for other less-dense works and picked them up and put them aside again. The cynic in me says these books are highly overrated and I should just give up on them. But I can’t. They are a part of me. They represent my quest to keep learning and exploring and finding new things. I might not read the books right now, but I will keep charging toward those bookish windmills until they are moved to the “read” shelf. Or until I give in to my inner cynic and agree the books aren’t that great.

The rest of my bookshelf case is a mix of, well, everything. Literature, classics, self-published books, comfort books, conspiracy theories, books written by Native American activists, African American radicals, and even Socialists. I have some curious titles on my bookshelf with radical ideas in them but that doesn’t mean I want to overthrow the government. I guess you could say I’m a well-rounded and curious reader.

How many times have you gone over to someone’s house and immediately looked at their bookshelf and judged them by the titles on their shelves? Am I a snob? Probably but then some could look at some of the fluffy books on my shelf and judge me, too.

That all being said, if the sky were to fall on you tomorrow, what could people learn from you by the titles on your bookshelf? Romantic? Adventurous? Predictable? Do you think you are what you read?

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About Anna Alexander

I am a freelance writer and producer living in the Pacific Northwest. My husband and I live with our cat Grendel who lets us pay his mortgage.

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