Shelfies: The Bibliophile’s Selfie
by Nancy Chick, CFT Assistant Director
Oxford Dictionaries recently selected “selfie” as 2013’s word of the year, acknowledging the ubiquitous self-portraits snapped, then filtered, tinted, or boosted with a smartphone app, and then shared on social media. I look forward to my spring WGS 200: Women in Popular Culture class for a discussion of these photos (largely by young women) and the common criticism of them as self-indulgent and narcissistic. In the meantime, I want to help The Guardian’s alternative campaign to promote the “shelfie”:
“We want your shelfie. Share your photos of your bookshelf, or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, film yourself giving a guided tour of it, explaining your categorising methods. We’ll feature a selection of our favourite images on Guardian books.”
Their call lit the internet on fire with gleeful bibliophiles sharing snapshots of their beloved books with their online social communities. Much to my excitement, my Facebook feed was full of this book porn for a few days.
Tobar (2013) likens seeing someone’s bookshelves to “peering into their brain,” but I think it’s more than that. As an English PhD and a library groupie, I confess to being surrounded by more book-lovers than most people, but I think our shelves represent more than our brains. Our hearts, our souls, our identities–yes, our selves–are illustrated in these stacks.
In the emerging era of the e-book, the books we actually house on our shelves are meaningful. Do we keep the bound worlds of fiction, nonfiction, or reference? Novels of American or English literature, cookbooks, poetry, texts on teaching and learning?
How we organize them (by author, subject, size, color, publication date) also says something about us. Do we value most the authors (our version of rock stars), or group the books into subject areas for easy access and intertextuality? Or are our shelves arranged for the sheer aesthetics, seeking symmetry, carefully crafted disorganization, or complementarity to our furnishings?
Are our shelves just for books, or do we allow knick-knacks, toys, and photographs to keep them company? If we do include the mementos, how do they relate to the books around them?
And finally, which shelf should we choose for the shelfie? I find myself nearly paralyzed at the decision. Which shelf? Which books? How many? A closeup to showcase the authors and titles, or a panorama to capture the breadth? Should I clean it up first? Do I leave my Edgar Allan Poe, Moby Dick, Rosie the Riveter, Donnie Darko, and Darth Vader toys as they are, or do I keep my playfulness to myself?
While we’re not being forced to pick our favorite child, the Shelfie’s Choice is no easy matter.
I requested shelfies from old friends, colleagues, and students to share here. (I’d love to collect some from Vanderbilt and Nashville colleagues, friends, and students, but it’s almost Christmas, so just about the only folks I’m interacting with are on Facebook.) I enjoyed those sent to me (featured on this page) so much that I don’t want to take up any of their real estate, so I’m going to ask for an extension. I’ll post mine in the New Year.
Of course, the shelfie of a stranger isn’t as meaningful as one from a friend or loved one, so I encourage you to snap and share your own with your online social communities. What are you revealing about yourself, and what are you learning about those around you?
Tobar, Hector. (Dec 18, 2013). Hey, everybody, let’s ‘shelfie!’ Los Angeles Times.