I’ve had an interesting article open in a browser tab on my phone for months, waiting to be read. It was entitled, “Why ‘Shelfies,’ Not Selfies, Are a Better Snapshot of Who You Are” by David G. Allan. I finally got around to reading it yesterday.
A “shelfie”, as the name suggests, is a photo of your bookshelf, as it is now, or better yet, your “ideal bookshelf”.
As Allan puts it, “[Shelfies are] a fun and insightful exercise to ponder your ideal bookshelf. Which books have influenced you the most? Which volumes make your heart soar or brain buzz? Which do you reread because, at different stages of life, they reveal new insights? Or which ones do you find so enjoyable that you return to immerse yourself in the story again and again? And what do they collectively say about you?”
So, without further ado, here is my ideal bookshelf, and a description of why they are special to me. Post your own in the comments or on social media! Let’s get sharing!
- The Silmarillion by Tolkien: If some of Lord of the Rings didn’t make sense, this can really help to sort it out. Really interesting and realistic chronicles of the movements and differentiation of the Elven peoples. Tolkien was a linguist, so he understood this phenomenon. I considered being a linguistic anthropologist when applying to undergrad.
- Prayers by the Lake by St. Nikolai Velimirovich: The first time I encountered Orthodoxy was at a Fall retreat. On the flyer was St. Nikolai’s poem “Arise O Sons of the Sun of God”. It took me years to find out who wrote it, but when I did, I fell in love with Prayers by the Lake. I mean:
“Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do no curse them. Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have.”
- Life of St. Anthony the Great: One of my patron saints. I’ve always looked to emulate St. Anthony in seeking out the best teachers and taking what’s good from them.
- Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios: Required reading. Do all things with love.
- Holy Psalter: Contains the whole of human experience. Empathy and consolation for every situation one finds oneself in.
- Love Your Enemies by Hieromonk Gregorios: This is worth its weight in gold. Seriously.
- DSM-V: I guess I used this to try to make sense of myself. It sure gave me a lot of false starts! I don’t recommend trying to understand yourself through the DSM.
- Metamorphosis of Plants by Goethe (MIT Press edition): One of my favorites. I wrote my Senior Essay at St. John’s College (“Why Are Flower’s Beautiful?”) on this book. Goethe for me is the polymath par excellence. I especially admire and look to emulate his ability to incorporate a sense of beauty into his work. Not just to investigate the world and explain it, but to preserve a sense of transcendence. Scientists should be poets. What can I say? I’m an idealist.
- History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides: Another favorite of mine. Thucydides for me … I remember reading about an incident during a siege … we think we are very advanced nowadays, and people back then so primitive, but I don’t see it. Human nature has not changed in 2,500 years. Our material quality of life and understanding of material reality has improved, but human nature is the same.
- How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler: I recommend this to everyone. I find his techniques for getting the most out of a text with the minimal amount of effort to be very useful and effective. Like he says, if you want to know what a book has to say, you have to force it to give up its secrets. Books worth reading don’t give up their knowledge without some effort on the part of the reader.
- Pensees by Pascal: I wrote my Junior Essay at St. John’s College on a few of his Pensees. Pascal also represents something wonderful to me. He longed for something more. He gave up all his previous scientific work as nothing. He was a scientific genius, but he understood that Man’s work is so insignificant. That’s partly what I wrote my essay on. He says there’s an infinite distance between body and intellect. But also he says there’s an infinitely more infinite distance between intellect and Charity (Agape love). No man can comprehend Love with his intellect.
- The Works of John Donne: One of my favorite poets. He can write both the sacred and profane with equal virtuoso. I’m very partial to “A Valediction: Forbidding Morning” and “A Jet Ring Sent”.
- Plato’s Apology: Needs no apology.
- Hesiod’s Theogony: I am a big fan of cosmologies. I usually delve deeply into the cosmology of whatever fiction I am engaged in (Star Wars, The Elder Scrolls, LOTR, etc.). But it all started with “Theogony” some 2,800 years ago.
- The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester: People tease me when I tell them this was a page-turner. I couldn’t put it down! Best book I read in grad school.
- Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Edition: I learned how to birdwatch with this guide with help from my grandfather.
- Mparamu lu Sicilianu/Learn Sicilian by Gaetano Cipolla: I’ve always felt obligated to learn Italian. But to be honest, I find Italian dull compared to Sicilian. My ancestors spoke Sicilian, not (Tuscan) Italian. It’s a more beautiful language, to be sure. Unfortunately it’s also now partly seen as a dialect for the uneducated.
- Italian Pizza and Hearth Breads by Elizabeth Romer: Italian-American food for me is comfort food. My family didn’t do the Feast of the Seven Fishes at Christmas, but we did have lasagna or homemade sausage for Christmas dinner. When I need to feel “at home”, I make some good Italian food. Also, I took it upon myself to learn a lot of family recipes. I said to myself, “I can’t depend on someone else to cook these for me, so I had better learn how to do it before they die.” Feeling connected to my ancestors through our family recipes is a really precious memory for me. This book has some good recipes. I enjoy baking schiacciata.
- Forest Hills (PA) by Jodi Shapiro & Joel Bloom: I grew up listening to Pittsburgh history. My family has been here since at least 1875, maybe earlier. So the story of Pittsburgh is the story of my family. I love Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series. This one is written by two of my mom’s friends from high school. There’s a picture of my mom in here as a kid.
- The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa: The quintessential Sicilian novel. Set during the Risorgimento (Italian Unification- 1860s), it details a noble Sicilian family’s struggles to accept the changing times. That’s been a bitter lesson for me to learn, that things change. Maybe that’s the Sicilian in me. More importantly, I enjoyed seeing what it might have been like in my ancestral homeland before we emigrated.
There you have it: my idea booshelf. What’s yours?