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“What’s On, er, In My Bookcase” With Author Michael D. Beil

October 1, 2012

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?

Today Michael Beil, author of  The Red Blazer Girls and Summer at Forsaken Lake, gives us a look at his bookcases, the books on his nightstand and bonus, his pets!

Mike Beil Bookshelf 1

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.)

Mike Beil Cat & Dog

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. 

Mike Beil Two Dogs

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 CopperfieldJane EyreThe Hotel New HampshireThe Meaning of NightNever Let Me Go. AtonementPride and PrejudiceThe Phantom Tollbooth. The Maltese Falcon.  Anything by P.D. James or Henning Mankell.  A Novel BookstoreWonder Boys.

Category 2: How Dare Someone So Young Write Something So Freaking Good:

Special Topics in Calamity PhysicsThe Book Thief.   Everything is Illuminated.


Category 3: I Hate You For Writing This Book (Because I Should Have): The Hunger Games, Every Day, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie


Category 4: Books I’ve Read a Million Times for School (and Still Love): Tom Sawyer, Great Expectations, Things Fall Apart, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill a Mockingbird


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

Mike Beil Nightstand

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.

Mike Beil Bookshelf Travel Books

 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.

Please share your thoughts in our comments section.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2012 10:31 am

    As I’ve read through, I made mental notes right and left.
    – Looking through people’s bookshelves is the first thing I do when invited over
    – Long live PD James!
    – The Phantom Tollbooth — best book ever for middle graders
    – Francie Nolan and I were meant to be friends…if she were a real person, and all
    – I take regular pictures of the books on my nightstand to post on my blog
    – Snobs has been on my want to read list forever!

    We don’t know each other, and yet we’ve bonded today. Thanks!

    • Mike Beil permalink
      October 1, 2012 6:04 pm

      Totally with about The Phantom Tollbooth. I still have my original paperback that I bought in Miss Hall’s class back in 19– well, let’s just say a long time ago.

  2. October 1, 2012 11:54 am

    Well, the first thing I noticed was The Penderwicks. Followed closely by the entire City of Ember quartet AND The Phantom Tollbooth! All my favorites. I’d be your friend, for sure, Michael. The vast majority of my books are fiction (though skewed toward children’s books and classics like Dickens).

    Sadly, I’ve gone to a few houses for the first time and realized there were no bookshelves whatsoever (or the shelves were filled with framed photos and knickknacks). Maybe they’re in a bedroom or a spare room used as a library, but no books displayed in the living room/family room/great room means I’ll have little in common with that person.

  3. October 2, 2012 4:30 pm

    Love the fiction/nonfiction ratio. Will have to go calculate mine.

  4. Rachel Groff permalink
    October 13, 2014 6:33 pm

    You should really consider writing more Lantern Sam books. Me and my dad really enjoy reading them. We just finished Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits. Hope you write more Lantern Sam books.:)

  5. diane funk permalink
    August 14, 2015 10:36 am

    Discovered TRBG:TROR while in local library recently and loved it for my kids. Will now read all yours and appreciated your craft…and an animal lover – fantastic! will give for gifts for children’s friends.

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