“What’s On, er, In My Bookcase” With Author Michael D. Beil
Periodically we ask an author to stop in and tell us “What’s on My Bookshelf”, a subject all of us booklovers are interested in–admit it, it’s the first place your eyes go when you visit a friend’s house for the first time, isn’t it?
When I go to someone’s house, the first thing I do is check out the bookcase. I don’t care what’s in their medicine cabinet, or about the art hanging on the refrigerator, or what great bottles they have in the wine cellar. Nope, I want to know what kind of reader lives there, so the first thing I do is assess the FNR. (That’s the Fiction to Nonfiction Ratio, for you beginning book snoops out there.) Personally, I like to see a ratio of 2:1 or better. 3:1 or 4:1? Excellent. 10:1? Hello, new best friend. For the record, some of my best friends have FNR’s of 1:1 or less. (I know: terrifying, right?) Of course, I don’t actually trust any of them, but I find that they’re very good to have around for important things, like figuring out how much to tip at a restaurant. Or when you absolutely need to know how many electoral votes Ohio has. (I’m just kidding. My wife reads a lot of nonfiction and I trust her . . . most of the time. And, she just told me that Ohio has 18 electoral votes. Good to know.)
The first thing that a booksnooping visitor to my apartment would notice is the crazy speckled dog ON the bookcase. That’s Maggie, and she sits up there for hours at a time, keeping watch for the Great Pigeon Invasion. The cat that is desperate to snuggle with her is Emma. (She couldn’t care less about the pigeons.) Because this is the political season, our other dog, Isabel (who is much too dignified to spend her time on pigeons) demanded equal time, so I helped her up.
If I read something new and like it, I will go out immediately and buy everything that person has written. I like to think of myself as a loyal reader. My wife probably prefers the word obsessive. Over the summer, I stumbled across the first of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels, and suddenly there were eleven new books on my shelf. (I’ll admit to being a little intimidated by Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, starting with Master and Commander, because there are more than twenty in the series. That’s got to be nearly three feet of shelf space – always an issue in a small apartment.)
As you can see from the shelves under the windows, there’s quite a mix in there. I read lots of mysteries; P.D. James (especially Inspector Dalgliesh), Laurie King, Henning Mankell (I’m completely obsessed with Wallander), and I’m a huge fan of Charles Finch and Alan Bradley. And then there are the classics. I am an English teacher, after all. Partial to the Brits, I’m afraid: Dickens. Austen. The Brontes. Eliot. Dumas. (Okay, he’s not a Brit, but he’s European. Close enough.) And then the modern fiction stuff: John Irving, Muriel Barbery, David Mitchell, etc.
All the books started out in alphabetical order, but I’m always messing it up by buying new books or randomly pulling things out to reread my favorite parts. So, here are some of the categories I might create if I were to actually sit down and try to organize:
Category 1: Books That I Love Unconditionally: Dickens’ David Copperfield. Jane Eyre. The Hotel New Hampshire. The Meaning of Night. Never Let Me Go. Atonement. Pride and Prejudice. The Phantom Tollbooth. The Maltese Falcon. Anything by P.D. James or Henning Mankell. A Novel Bookstore. Wonder Boys.
Category 2: How Dare Someone So Young Write Something So Freaking Good:
Category 5: The Book I’ve Read a Million Times for School (And HATE With a Burning Passion): Romeo and Juliet. By the time I get through Act II, I’m ready to stab myself with a dagger (maybe even dipped in poison, just to make sure).
And finally, there is
Category 6: The Nightstand Books For a real booksnoop, a peek at the nightstand is the Holy Grail. A sharp eye would notice, for example, that copy of The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England – nonfiction! – and denounce me as a hypocrite. In defense, I would point out that the other thirteen (count ‘em) are fiction. A couple of those are “school” books, the Hilary Mantel is my current read, and all the rest are “percolating” – bubbling their way to the top of the list.
Many Thanks to Michael Beil for joining us today and sharing his bookshelves with everyone at Random Acts of Reading—If you don’t already have them on your bookshelves, be sure to check out his novels Summer at Forsaken Lake and The Red Blazer Girls.
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