The Shame Shelf …

Some of you might remember when I posted a link to Kirby Field’s fantastic article about file-sharing.1 Well, clear your schedules because Mr. Fields has struck out on his own!  He recently launched a site called Reading Remainders, in which he will slowly tackle all the unread books on his shelf.

This is a noble pursuit.  Pretty much every reader I know is plagued by stacks and stacks of unread books.  For years, I had a personal rule that I could not put a book on a shelf unless I had read it in its entirety.  I considered a shelved book no different than the mounted head of a deer — it was a trophy.

Of course, this all got ruined when I met Mary.   All of a sudden there were somebody else’s books cluttering up my shelf.  The horror!2  I eventually managed to convince her to at least allow me the “no unread books on the shelf” rule.  Those books can be broken up into two basic categories:

1) the one book Mary is about to actually read

2) the many books Jonathan swears he will read so can he pretty-please buy them all?

These books are strategically-placed above Mary’s desk, where they can inspire maximum guilt.  My old pal Kirby, however, has elected to display his shame shelf before the whole world.  And it’s not just a bunch of classics that everybody knows of and hasn’t read — he’s also reading all the crappy books that have somehow ended up in his possession.  Consider this week’s piece, which is an extended, thoughtful meditation on an Anthony Robins self-help book from the 80s.

These are less book reviews than platforms for reflection on a lifetime of reading and thinking. (The above Anthony Robins piece, for example, is set against Kirby’s first-ever brush with unemployment.)  In his NFQs page3, he refers to the blog as an “online manuscript.”  Whatever you call it, it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon.

  1. I also encourage you to check out his great Popmatters article about his favorite childhood used bookstore.
  2. One of our first real arguments was about how to organize said books … during which I was informed that my longtime sorting method (“grouped conversations”) is nothing short of insane.
  3. Which I can only assume stands for “Never Asked Questions”

4 Comments Leave a Comment

  • lisa says:

    There are currently 31 books on my “unread shelf”. That doesn’t include books that I bought without ever intending to read them, or the books that belong to my better half. As it takes about 2 weeks to finish a book, it’ll take me just over a year to finish them all.

    Which would actually be an attainable goal if I didn’t also have the habit of buying new books at the same rate–one every two weeks.

    Just out of curiosity, how does your ‘shame shelf’ stack up to your Amazon (or other) wish list?

  • Lisa,
    My shame shelf and my wish list are directly related in so far as my complete lack of self-control leads to me just buying books (instead of putting them on a wish list and waiting for someone to give them to me). It’s like a kid who instead of trick-or-treating just shows up at the grocery store with a $20 bill and stuffs his pillow case with king-size Twix.

  • Kirby says:

    Hey, Jonathan.

    First of all, just wanted to say thanks for the shoutout (and thanks to the readers of The Scop who have clicked on over).

    Your definition of the site as “platforms for reflection on a lifetime of reading and thinking” captures the idea better than I could even do so myself. And, yeah, “NAQ” means “Never Asked Questions.” What can I say? It was spur-of-the-moment….

    I’m curious about Lisa’s note regarding “books that [she] bought without ever intending to read.” Like a cookbook? A coffee-table book? I’m not sure I even count those as unread. Maybe I should post about The Sopranos Cookbook? If Julie & Julia was made into a movie….



  • Angela Soutar says:

    I’m sure you know how to cure this addiction…….. reserve books online from your local library. If you request about 8 titles in the system I’m in you will always have a few ready to read. If you don’t finish them before the due date then they weren’t that good anyway so – no loss and lots of gain. If they are really good and you don’t finish them you can reserve them again or even buy them! I am trying to make a rule that I only buy books I will want to look at later – art, cookery [altho actually I have enough of those and many recipes are on the internet].

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