When you read a lot, you often have to ask: What do I keep? Which of these books do I love just a little bit more than the others? My rules for the keeper shelf are fluid and constantly changing. There are usually a few authors and series that enjoy “automatic keeper” status at any given time and there are those rare individual titles that are so swoon-worthy that I can’t bear to let them go. (And who are we kidding? The keeper shelf? Shelves, baby. Lots and lots of shelves.)
First, there are the handful of authors who automatically earn a spot. Some of the authors who are currently enjoying “automatic keeper” status: Neil Gaiman, Mary Robinette Kowal, Christopher Moore, Robin McKinley, Patrick Rothfuss, Libba Bray, and John Scalzi. This list is always in flux; occasionally an author will be demoted to book-by-book status, and new authors may rise to take their place.
Then there are the series that I keep, because someting about the series is worth sharing or re-reading or just treasuring. This list includes George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, because, duh. It’s also where you’ll find Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series with those lavish illustrations by Keith Thompson. (The physical books are so gorgeous, they’re almost objects of lust.) Here, too, are Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon series (though this is definitely a case where you shouldn’t judge the books by their covers) and Michael Grant’s novels of the FAYZ. I’ve also kept all of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel novels and Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy, but for some reason, most of my keeper series are YA.
There is one keeper shelf series, though, that is my not-so-guilty pleasure, and that’s Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy (and its spinoff, Bloodlines). What J.R. Ward or Laurell K. Hamilton or Janet Evanovich provide to some readers, Richelle Mead provides to me. Her novels of the moroi and dhampirs are my Book Crack–I will love them and defend them and foist them on the unwary until the last breath leaves my body. You will become as addicted and dependent as I, and I will cackle with glee at getting you hooked. I’ve enjoyed the novels she’s written for adults, but they never quite made me do a happy dance when a new one showed up, not like these have. (Read them. Now. I’ll loan you my copies.)
The rest of the keeper shelves are occupied by a hodge podge of individual titles. I never know what is going to inspire me to keep a book, and there are authors whose work I love and recommend avidly who don’t have a single title on my keeper shelves. There are a few, though that are standbys; they’re the books I turn to when I need the comfort of the familiar, when nothing in my TBR pile is inspiring me. The oldest of these old friends (at least in terms of how long it’s been a part of my life) is Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones. This was my first exposure to her work and remains, to this day, my favorite re-telling of the Tam Lin story. Close behind, though, in terms of how long I’ve loved it and how many re-reads it’s been subjected to (and how many copies I’ve had to buy to replace the falling-apart ones) is William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. I love the movie, too, and it’s a go-to when I’m feeling poorly, but the book has a magic all its own and I like its framing story better. I’ve also got Robin McKinley’s Sunshine on my re-read list because it has vampires and baked goods. Alongside these old stalwarts (each has been a favorite for a decade or sometimes two) are newer loves like John Scalzi’s Redshirts (in tandem with a double feature of Galaxy Quest and Real Genius you have what just may well be a perfect afternoon), Andy Weir’s The Martian (with an Abba soundtrack playing in the background), Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (via the Wil Wheaton-narrated audio) and, when I just need to revel in language, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus or Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child.
As I said, my keeper shelves are in a constant state of flux. Check in with me next week and who knows what may have been added or taken away. There are always going to be a lot of science fiction and fantasy and a ton of young adult series, but specific authors and titles are subject to change without notice.
Since you’ve had a peek into my reading brain via my keeper shelves, I feel it’s only fair to ask you what’s on your keeper shelves. To paraphrase Brillat-Savarin: “Tell me what you read, and I’ll tell you what you are”.
Billie Bloebaum is a blogger and bookseller with an immense reading list and enviable bookshelves. She contributes regular columns for nwbooklovers.org to spread the good word about great books.