What Tale Does Your Shelf Tell?

I was brushing my wet hair on the couch this morning and noticed a pile of books sitting on top of the printer in front of me. They were Kirk's books -- he'd placed them there to clear a space on the coffee table at the end of our bed, no doubt -- and I suddenly realized: our books say so much about us.

First, they say so much about our habits. Kirk and I live in a studio apartment. It's about 800 square feet and houses a full kitchen, bathroom, living space, and sleeping area, surprisingly. We love it. We call it Ashford Cottage, after Ashford Castle, where we spent the first night of our honeymoon.

I mention this because, for two bibliophiles like us, we can't fit all of the books we own into this house. Kirk gave three-fourths of the books he owned away when he sold his house last year, yet he still owns probably two hundred books. I gave away bunches to students before I moved, too, though not nearly as many, partly because I've never owned near the number of books he has, and partly because I'm just plain stingy when it comes to keeping my books. Yet even after all that charity, we've had to make good use of storage. And despite our best efforts to pare down our collections, the collections keep growing, almost of their own accord.

When we first started living here, we appointed the main kitchen cabinet as our bookshelf. We don't do much cooking, so it's not like we needed the space for normal kitcken purposes. Plus, the cabinet has two sides with two shelves each, so it made for a perfect "his" and "hers" delineation. Yet without our even realizing it -- which is to say, without our thinking much about it, since we both understand the need to keep books close by -- new homes for books sprung up all over the interior life of this house. My books have landed in droves on, under, and beside my nightstand, plus I can pull handfuls out of the different bags I cart with me to work or the nearest coffee shop on weekends. Kirk's books end up on his nightstand, too, but it's safe to say he has officially taken over the kitchen. Two crates full of books have ended up next to the kitchen table we never use, and they seem intent on staying there, it seems, for good.

Let's make this personal: Given this challenge for space in your own house, which books would you choose to keep close by? That is a question I find very interesting, as it's really what struck me this morning when I was brushing my hair on the couch. The books on top of the printer were a hodge-podge of titles, but they were so . . . well . . . so Kirk. There was a David Whyte book on finding the soul in business. There was a book called The Tao of Writing. There was an Excel for Dummies book, the discarded remnant of his latest class, which was a horrifically difficult class on statistics.

I started thinking about the books covering the kitchen table and his side of the makeshift bookshelf we've created in the cabinet. He's got tons of spiritual classics in there, plus books on Zen Buddhism, books by Thomas Merton, and contemporary books about the spiritual journey. He's got books on entrepreneurial business, terrifically creative books about creativity, and books that combine the spiritual life with enterpreneurial ventures in the creative arts. All of these these speak so much of who Kirk is, the unique heart implanted inside his body that's moving every day toward the wondrously courageous life God created him to lead.

Which got me thinking about what my books might say about my own heart. What do I value? What do I choose to own or not own, when it comes to books? I guess the titles I own -- which can be catalogued into the four categories of books on writing, travel narratives, spiritual memoir, and literary novels -- would say that I value the well-written word, the life of the heart, and quirky, reflective adventures.

What does your shelf say about you?