Maybe a Writing Retreat Isn’t For Me

Writing All Over Again

What Do Your Books Say About You?


I once had a bunch of writer friends come for lunch and the first thing they did was swarm all over the bookcase in my living room. It was 6 feet tall, 3 1/2 feet wide and stuffed with books.

As they roamed the shelves, pulling out books and pointing to titles, I was completely unprepared to feel as naked as I did. I’d no idea how much my books showed who I was.

These days my bookcases are all in one space (not the living room), and I looked them over before sitting down to write this, wondering what they said about me now.


Some definitely speak of the past—the time I spent trying to write a thriller, for example. I kept the books on weapons and poisons and autopsy tales because I still enjoy dipping into them from time to time. (I remember being amused as I read one of those books while sitting on the train at rush hour. The train was packed with people but no one stood in front of me.)

Some are a mix of past and present. I love to reread books so there are many treasured favorites even while I’m always on the hunt for new ones. I have shelves stuffed with westerns, mysteries, scifi/fantasy, cookbooks, craft books, and a host of others. Each book, each category, adds another facet that reveals who I am.

And I wonder if, aesthetics aside, that’s another reason why my books are tucked away in a space people rarely get to see. Is it the reason house design magazines rarely, if ever, display books? Are they afraid they might inadvertently bare something personal about themselves or the home they’re showcasing?

I used to look at home decorating magazines and feel frustration. Where were the books? Where did they fit inside that beautiful décor? Aren’t books beautiful? Don’t they inspire interest and communication?

Maybe it’s time to show them off. A little at a time, just as we show different faces of ourselves to the world in different situations. Maybe I should leave a book or two in the living room—not just the coffee table book, but my battered paperback copies.

What do your books say about you?



  • Jeff • August 3, 2015 at 12:35 am

    You know on and off for the past 20 years I’ve seen magazines in doctors offices and the like that have articles about bringing a person’s book collection out front and center. Not just buying books to decorate with but for those with large collections *cough* I’m looking at you J.M. there has always been a thing in the design world for using books. I always dreamed of having a space with built in shelves from waist height to ceiling, so I could buy as many books as I want and KEEP them. Today’s advances are going to force people to ferret out where you hide your Kindle/Nook/KOBO to see what you read instead of just finding the bookcase.

    I personally enjoy browsing others libraries, though some have super restrictive lending policies. I personally have a dozen books out on loan that have never come back. I actually bought three copies of Aldous Huxley’s Island over the years and have “lent” out every copy. Same goes for Chiam Potok’s Book of Lights, though one of those “loans” was actually a swap for a Neil Simon book. I did learn to stop buying those books.

    • J. M. Levinton • August 3, 2015 at 12:47 am

      I like having a bookcase to look through but it’s very telling–perhaps more than I’d like to know about a person. 😉

    • melissa • August 4, 2015 at 7:04 pm

      I bought three copies of Harpo Speaks!. I still don’t own a copy.

      • J. M. Levinton • August 4, 2015 at 10:13 pm


  • jan • August 3, 2015 at 11:52 am

    My books would say that I don’t live in this century! I have a preference for the classics. There are a few beat up paperbacks that I’ve picked up at airports or from friends – pot-boiler mysteries for the most part. A lot of travel books (to places I’ve never been!) That’s about it!

    • J. M. Levinton • August 4, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      I admit to having two copies of Dracula (one comes with notes) as well as my favorite Jane Austen novels. And different versions of Shakespeare. 🙂 The classics are classics for a reason!

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