Anti-Bookshelving Movement

Ok, it’s not really a movement, it’s just me, to my knowledge. But I’ve been harboring feelings of anti-bookshelves for a while and wanted to get my thoughts out in the open. Thanks to Indiependent books’ post ( inquiring about readers’ bookshelving processes, I offered a contrarian opinion (go figure). Here it is.

when i released my first book, i released it for free online and in all electronic versions, and priced it at a very cute, ironic price in print, and event that was still a little steep for a first time author releasing an independent book that was uncategorizable (read: not a genre novel). so all i asked as i started giving it away to everyone on the street i could find who would take a copy was that their payment was to pass it on to someone else to read.

i cringe every time i hear someone say that my book is sitting on their coffee table, or on their nightstand, or proudly in their stack of unread or read books. I DON’T WANT MY BOOK TO SIT ANYWHERE. i want it to be read and read and read again. why would i have written a book, then, to have it sit on a shelf somewhere?

and that’s when i realized that all of the books i own and sit on my own shelves have authors, too, who have poured their guts and passion into writing them and want the same for their own works. so i’ve started to pass on my books on the condition that people do the same.

books should be an ever revolving product that can be used and re-used and re-re-used. ban bookshelves. bookshelves should be re-named thingshelves, so that they don’t carry books. they should be re-sized so that they can’t carry books. they should be a deterrent to holding books. books should have timers and alarms on them to remind the owner to pass it on.

the problem with book pricing is that when someone pays $24.95 plus tax and shipping, you want to get some bang for your buck. so you read it, you gingerly protect the cover, and you place it proudly on your shelf for all to see.

ew. we must get away from that mentality and pass books around because it faciliates more discussion about the book itself when you suggest someone read it and then you actually give them the thing. it makes recommendations real and that is what all authors want. and i do suppose readers do, too.



Filed under commentary, essay, Uncategorized

19 responses to “Anti-Bookshelving Movement

  1. Sean Hoade

    This is EXACTLY how I feel! I’m so glad someone else is saying it, too!

    • ah, good deal. let’s start a netflix for books, but consumer run! someone’s got to have done that before somehow, right?

      • Nicole

        There are some bookswapping sites out there like and where you can swap your old books for new ones. I am a firm believer in bookswapping, “one mans trash is another man’s treasure” applies for almost anything in life. There is also another site called bookcrossings, you leave any unwanted books out in the open and put a tracking number on them. Then if somebody picks it up and logs onto the site you can keeps tabs on where the book has been. The point is to get a book circulating through as many hands as possible and you never know where your book might end up.

  2. Hmm. I see what you mean. But I love seeing the books I have on the bookshelves. Many times I do lend them to friends who must promise to return them after reading.

    I love to reread books so they really don’t get lonely. :)
    Plus, since I take very good care of the books, I can pass them along as gifts (telling the person that it was my book first). They don’t mind at all.

    I reread what you wrote and see that the point I was trying to make was made by you! All I can say is that I was stuck in traffic for a billion hours and my brain in fried by this 100 degree heat. :(

    • …plus, I’ve never received a book that I’ve “lent” back. Not that that’s bad, but I’d rather to have heard someone read it and passed it along.

  3. You might like what Concord Free Press is doing. They give books away but ask you to make a donation (to any charity or person in need, in whatever amount you choose) and then pass the book along. Info is here:
    One cool thing is that they try to track the books. You write your name in the back of the book before you pass it along, and each book has a number.

    I’m also a “releaser” of books. My husband wrote a book (The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri, by David Bajo) that involves books and odd little libraries around the world, so I sometimes leave a copy when I find a funny library (such as in a cafe or hotel or train station).

    • concorde books IS doing amazing things, so yes, ups to those folks and to anyone participating. I should have mentioned that in my post, so thanks a lot for bringing it up here!

      And feel free to post the link to your book and your husband’s books! I’m all about self-promo here so feel free.

      Sometimes I feel like I’m guerilla marketing leaving my book in big bookstores, and then sneaking around to see if anyone picks it up. Hasn’t happened yet, but it will and I can’t wait to film the moment someone brings it to the counter for purchase. Ha.

  4. I love my bookshelves and will probably never let them go. I love them so much I had some custom built for the room. I am intoxicated by the idea that I can get a book I had read and re-read it quickly. Now before you ask, yes, I actually do refer back to books a lot. And yes, I loan out my private collection quite often. There’s a running joke among my friends that I am a private library. But as much as I loan out my books, I demand and insist that they be returned in pristine condition.

    That being said, Lenox, you have brought up a good point. I know many people who have home libraries that I envy. But when it comes down to it, the books are there as display items. They are rarely looked at again. So I see your point. If an author is going to spend years perfecting their words, it can seem an insult to find out they are just collecting dust on someone’s shelf.

    • I won’t be a radical about this. I won’t die on the mountain for this cause (as I tend to do for everything). Perhaps it is my own issues with retaining books that have signified different times in my life; or the notion that I need to be shedding some of the stuff I’ve lugged along with me through life that I just don’t need to lug any longer…I have two little maniac boys whose growing pile of stuff is slowly taking over our home.

      Their books are everywhere. But they can read and re-read them. They crave the re-reading. How many times after an Eric Carle book does my 2 year old shout, “AGAIN!” I can’t even count.

      I’ve only read The Myth of Sisyphus several times, and The Autobiography of Johnny Cash twice. Those are most definitely two books I would have a hard time parting with.

  5. yearzerowriters

    Jenn, this is pretty much the first of your posts where I disagree with you diametrically.

    1) I have very few possessions in the world. Not even my record collection has prevailed down the years. One collection I do retain is my books. They are the only thing I hoard. 1 book I have is a signed author copy of… yes yours and very proud and possessive I am of it too…
    2) I’m a print Luddite. I haven’t even published my own book in e-format. I like print. Therefore I’m keeping mine. You want your book read, well you’ve given me the option of I recommending people to e-versions of “29 Jobs” rather than parting with my print copy.
    3) As a fellow writer, I am always ferreting out a book I’ve read to check up a reference or a passage as part of my own work process. They are my library.
    4) You know when I can content myself that I’ve made it as a writer? When I can have a study of my own, lined wall to wall with books on shelves. At the moment since our house is so small, they exist in flat-packed shelves out in a garden summer house. Okay in the summer to go & reference or put recent reads away. Less enticing in the winter…

    You might have a point about the only way to ensure your book gets into people’s hands is to give it away, but what does that say about us as artists and the value placed on our work? But that’s a whole different debate.

    marc nash

    • ok, points taken. I knew what I was getting in to when I posted this, and I can’t necessarily disagree. It takes a lot for me to disavow material things. I like things. I like having books. I haven’t truly made much of a dent in giving away my book collection, but I plan to continue.

      Part of what I’ve had to shed is the notion that someone is defined by the books they store on their shelves. To Melissa’s point about people displaying books to portray, well, possibly an image, I find myself judging (judging, really? maybe it’s the wrong word) people by the books they keep in their home. C’mon, you do it, too.

      The first thing I like to do when in someone’s home is look at their books, as if their books constitute the puzzle to the person. Do they?

      • Like I say mine aren’t on display, not even in the house!

        Yeah books say something about the person. If they’re displaying them openly, then that’s what they want people to see of them I guess.


  6. I have to say, I really, very much like this idea. I’ve been wondering what to do with a lot of my books lately. First, I came home from college with a box full of books, only to realize I had no where on my shelf to put them. Second, I got a B&N Nook, pretty much making me not want to pick up any “real” book I own and read it. Which kind of stinks because I own a LOT of unread books. (Mostly literature on my “to read” list.) Some of them I’ve given to used books stores, but the store won’t take everything. I’m thinking of donating to the library. I could just mail them to friends.

    The only interesting thing about this is that it encourages people not to buy books but to share them. Now, I am not the kind of writer that’s in it for all the money, but money and books sold and all that is the way people judge a “good work”. If you’re a self published author and you have lots of sales, you might be considered for a contract with a publishing house. This concept of book sharing, instead of giving money/credit to the creator, is a lot more like the downloading music, movies, etc world of the internet. (Oh, internet pirates!) To be honest though – I like that a lot. I completely believe in the idea of sharing, especially when it comes to books! Like you say, giving it to someone when you tell them to read it is a lot more effective.

    But then how can writers make a living, to keep on doing what they love? And how would we judge whether a writer is successful or not? Best-seller wouldn’t work anymore.

    With all that said, I think I’ll work harder to find new homes for my books.

    • Hooray, Suzanne!

      Summer’s a good time for a personal revolution (and to give books new homes through yard sales!)

      I just learned that my little town has a library (shocking, since the idiot mayor “tea party approved” refuses to invest at all in public works, so the library was developed with private money and of course the town claims credit. That’s another story altogether…) and I may offer some books there as well.

      Good luck and stay in touch!

  7. About judging people based on what books they have on their shelves, I don’t do that a lot. What I tend to judge them on is the condition of the books on their shelves. I love pristine books but I also love dog eared books which have been evidently read and re read with love

    • Right, judging is the wrong word. It’s more like trying to learn about someone by piecing together what they’ve read (or what they’ve not read–maybe that’s where the judging comes in). I try not to do it.
      What’s interesting about books is that a reader is more invested in a book than in, say, a TV show or a political party.

      If someone has a Peggy Noonan book on their shelf, I wouldn’t be standoffish as if they might be some raving maniac right winger, rather, I’d be interested in what they think of her writing and her fantastic ability to pull off a great biography of someone I might hate, for example. So reading a book on a topic or person or by a particular novelist says more about a readers’ intellectual curiosity than it does about their personality.

      I’m sure I haven’t articulated that as well as I would have liked. Like Marisa I’m chalking it up to the heat.

  8. Lenox, you really must check out which is absolutely fantastic.

    In my own habits I’m with Marc 100% – the last time i gave away a book because I was desperate for someone else to read it was a cherished copy of Daisy’s The Dead Beat, now on marcella’s shelf – and look what happened there. Never again

  9. Pingback: BOOK SALE « Eat My Book by lenox parker

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