There are a ton of ways you can get to know someone: Observe how a man treats his mother; ask to use someone’s bathroom and peak behind the shower curtain to see if their tub is clean; bring up FICO scores on the first date and see if the person gets hot under the collar and begins to fidget in their seat.
Sure, those are all good suggestions, but I recommend a much easier solution: Peruse a person’s bookshelf and you’ll find out everything you need to know about them – and more.
Take my six-tier, dark brown bookcase from Ikea for instance. It’s a hodgepodge of juicy novels, self-help books, journalism and communication textbooks from college, classic plays I’ve performed in and even a few books that I never finished reading. Yep, my bookshelf is a direct reflection of me.
I used to be anal about the arrangement of the books. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing Suze Orman was mingling on the same shelf with Shakespeare. I would sit all of the taller books to the left and all of the smaller books to the right, making a nice, descending slope as you gazed the titles from left to right. I’ve since relaxed the requirement on size order. After I moved and unpacked all the books from the boxes, I was too lazy to reorganize them the way I had them before so I just mixed everything together.
On the top shelf you’ll find all of my favorite plays: A Raisin the Sun and the The Sign in Sidney Brunstein’s Window by Lorraine Hansberry, a tattered marked up copy of Fences by August Wilson, which I had the pleasure of performing on stage a few years ago and a collection of wonderful plays by African American women from the Harlem Renaissance to the present called Wines in the Wilderness.
There are also some Modern American classics on my shelf by Neil Simon, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller and a rare copy of the 1916 play Trifles by Susan Glaspell. And some contemporary classics like Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas and Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan who penned one of my favorite films You Can Count on Me. Many of these plays were required reading for an American Theatre course I took in college.
In fact, many of the books on my shelf are expensive textbooks I bought for college and the acting conservatory I attended: The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Reinventing the Museum, Understanding Art and my favorite TRIANGLE: The Fire that Changed America by David Von Drehle. Triangle is a study on social history in New York City during the early 20th century. Fantastic read!
Then there are my beloved novels: Middlesex, Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking?, Getting Mother’s Body, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. And staples by Bebe Moore Campbell, Omar Tyree, Walter Mosely and E. Lynn Harris that you’re bound to find on most black folks’ bookshelves.
I’ve also have a few books I’ve never finished: The Known World by Edward P. Jones, The Corrections by Jonathan Frazen and The Sidney Poitier memoir The Measure of a Man. All three are great reads, but for some inexplicable reason, I just never got through them.
Oh. And I love a good self-help book too. One Day My Eyes Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant changed my life when I was 19-years-old. I’ve also got copies of Dealing with People You Can’t Stand (self-explanatory), Fighting for Time (how to multitask and manage time – I need to reread this one *sigh*) and of course I’ve got The Secret up in there too.
By scanning the titles on my shelf, you’ll also learn that I’m passionate about my crafts: Writing and acting.
The Actor’s Way by Julia Cameron, The Power of the Actor, by Ivanna Chubbuck, Respect for Acting by famed acting teacher Uta Hagen, Sanford Meisner on Acting by Meisner and Dennis Longwell and The Camera Smart Actor by Richard Brestoff should be on every actor’s bookshelf.
I’ve also got The AP Stylebook, The Elements of Style, Keys for Writers, Making a Good Writer Great. And there’s evidence of my failed attempts at creating my own work: Making Short Films, Making a Winning Short and How to Write a Play and several books by famed screenwriting expert Syd Field.
There’s a complete shelf dedicated to magazines I’ve read over the years that have stories that have touched me in some kind of way or are so well-written that I just had to keep them as a reminder of how much growing I have left to do as a writer.
And finally, there’s an empty shelf just waiting to be stocked with books, but I’ve got the feeling it will be empty for a while. Lately, I’ve been listening to audio books and I’m probably going to buy an iPad within the next few months and I’ll just buy books on the Kindle app and read them from there.
So there you have it, my beloved bookshelf and all its artsy glory.
How about you?
Do our bookshelves share some of the same titles and writers?
Are you a history buff?
Do you love to read, hot steamy romance novels?
If I were to come over to your house and scan your bookshelf, what would it tell me about you?
Talk to me.
I’d love to hear about your thoughts.
PS. I love food too but I don’t keep my cookbooks on my bookshelf. They stay stored in the kitchen for easy access.