Shelf Evaluation: Don’t Judge a Reader by Her Shelves

RVFull (2)

In this new feature, we’re asking Booklisters to give themselves a “shelf evaluation.” The rules are simple: pick any shelf in your home library, take a picture of it as is (no alphabetizing, no dusting), and then . . . explain your shelf!

I think librarians fall into one of two camps: those who have hundreds, if not thousands, of books at home, because they want to own a copy of everything they’ve read and loved; and those who have relatively few books, because they feel anything they might want to read again can be found at the library.

I fall into the latter camp. After years of hauling boxes of books around every time I moved, I finally realized that I could get pretty much every book I would ever want to read again from my workplace—so why was I keeping them all? (On a related note, this may have been the genesis of my talent for weeding.) I stopped buying books cold turkey, and weeded out my boxes. What stands is one single bookcase.

I refer to myself as the “Booklist slattern” because I shy away
from most literary fiction in favor of sheer entertainment.

Being a women’s fiction maven, you might think that most of what I would keep would be chick lit, right? Nope. I actually have a fairly eclectic group of books that I’ve deemed worthy of spending my own money on. I do indeed have one shelf full of some of my favorite women’s fiction, pictured below, but on the shelf above it, which is the one I’m writing about today, you’ll find some fairly unexpected titles.


One library book that I checked out to take on my honeymoon, of all things, turned out to be something I purchased as soon as we got home: Erasure (2001), by Percival Everett. ErasureIn this novel, a black author, frustrated that no one is reading his über-literary historical novels—he reaches his breaking point when he discovers his books, including his latest novel incorporating Greek philosophers, on the “African American Studies” shelves at Borders—writes a ridiculous spoof of contemporary street lit. He submits it to his agent as a joke, and is then shocked when it becomes the focus of a multi-million-dollar bidding war among publishers. It gets even worse when, in an attempt to stop it from being released, he changes the title to a four-letter word . . . which garners it a National Book Award nomination. Readers are treated to chapters from the fake book (terrifically funny and horrifying at the same time), and an interesting look at what goes on behind the best-seller lists.

2ndGreatestThere’s also a hardcover copy of Gorman Bechard’s The Second Greatest Story Ever Told (1991), which has probably been weeded from your library, seeing as though Bechard is more famous for his rock-music documentaries than his debut novel. But this is a very smart and very funny tale about how God sends Jesus’s Gen-X, teenaged half-sister, Ilona, to attempt to save us all yet again (since the first one didn’t quite take the way He thought it would).

Finally, I’ll bring your attention to Paullina Simons’ marvelous bildungsroman, Tully (1994). This debut novel had a large print run and garnered positive reviews, but quickly hit the remainder table (which is exactly where I bought my copy). That may have been partly due to its doorstop length (594 pages) Tullyand the fact that the cover doesn’t tell you a thing about what to expect inside. It doesn’t help that Simons went on to write all over the map, from historical Russian fiction to twisty thrillers to college-set noir. But if you can get this book into a reader’s hands, they just might fall for tough-girl Tully. Her lower-class Kansas adolescence is made tougher by her abusive mother and the suicide of a close friend. Things don’t get much better when she begins an affair to escape her reality. (Looking back, I can’t understand why this wasn’t an Oprah’s Book Club selection!) It sounds bleak and depressing, but it’s really an honest and well-spun story with great characters.

WeinerAutographBill Ott finds it amusing that if you ask me what I like to read, my top three categories are chick lit, zombie apocalypse stories (hey, I want to be prepared), and serial-killer novels. I refer to myself as the “Booklist slattern” because I shy away from most literary fiction in favor of sheer entertainment. I’d like to think that my home shelves show that you can’t always pigeonhole readers. But never fear, my autographed galley copy of Jennifer Weiner’s first novel, Good in Bed (2001), should earn me my chick-lit street cred.

After all, according to Weiner, I RULE.




About the Author:

Rebecca Vnuk is the editor for Collection Management and Library Outreach at Booklist. She is also the author of 3 reader’s-advisory nonfiction books: Read On…Women’s Fiction (2009), Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (2014), and Women’s Fiction Authors: A Research Guide (2009). Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_RVnuk.

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