WHO are you? Searching for Clues in Your Personal Library

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Today, I cleaned out my bookshelf. Let’s just say it needed a little bit of dusting.  I also had an ulterior motive for tackling my bookshelf and it had something to do with being a writer. One of the many challenges that writers face is creating their platform and fleshing out their brand. It seems like one of those crazy conundrums where you have an Alice In Wonderland character coming at you saying, “WHO are you?” Meanwhile, you’re trying to clear out the smoke so you can figure it out.

As in many tales, many answers can be found from going through piles of dusty books. In this case, I was looking at my books collectively. This should have been a no brainer. What do the books in my book collection say about WHO I am, and how can I utilize this information to create a brand?

It was at this point, that the cranks in my head started reeling, and I came up with a little exercise. I was going to approach my books as if I were a private investigator, and I did not know myself at all. I highly recommend this exercise to anyone else out there who is also trying to figure out their brand and hone in on a genre. This little exercise seemed simple enough but it did create a few challenges.

The two challenges I had with this exercise were:

  • Some of my books fit multiple genres, so I had to tally those books with the genre that I felt they “mostly” belonged to, or look up their titles on Amazon to see how Amazon classified them.
  • Many of the books on my bookshelf were gifts, and I was hanging onto them for sentimental value, or because they had personal notes in them. This may reflect more about the giver, and less about my own reading preferences.

If you are an up and coming writer, or you have been a writer for a while now, then you probably know which genres are doing well on the writer’s market. Another interesting way to look at this exercise would be to ask, “how does what I’m reading stack up to what others are reading on the writer’s market?” This was another surprise for me. My bookshelf surprisingly represented the trends I was seeing on the writer’s market. Not exactly, but in some ways very similar.

I am going to lay this out now. Here it goes. The top book genres on my bookshelf.



1.) Religion came it at number one. This one was a surprise! The interesting thing about this is that most of my religious books were given to me as gifts. Does this collection of books truly represent my genre of choice? I had to think about this.

My conclusion was that Mormonism is deeply rooted in my culture. So, in a sense, it does say a lot about my identity. There’s no getting away from it. Whether I like it, dislike it, agree with it or not, Mormonism has shaped who I am.

2). Women’s Fiction. Anita Shreve was the number one author on this list. Her books were given to me as gifts by my ex father-in-law, but I enjoyed them all. The Author who came in second was Tracy Chevalier. Common themes in all these books were midwifery, historical fiction, and magic.

I am going to interrupt this list to give you a few book recommendations from this category. These are not in any particular order.

  • Cold SassyTree- by Olive Ann Burns
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Strange Fits of Passion- Anita Shreve
  • The Birth House-Amy McKay
  • Arms Wide Open-Patricia Harmon
  • The Virgin Blue, and Girl with a Pearl Earring-Tracy Chevalier

3). History, Young Adult Fiction, Travel, and Culture were tied for third.

What does this say about me: Fantasy and magic took up the vast majority of books in the young adult category. This was partly due to the Harry Potter series. I seem to enjoy books about the early colonization of America, and have a fascination with Vikings. Common themes were Scandinavian, Celtic, and medieval literature. The family history books I own are also tied in with Scandinavia. I also have many National Geographic books.

Some notable favorites: Canterbury Tales, Poetic Edda,(although these classify as historical fiction they reveal a lot about their time,)  and 1492. I must absolutely not forget to mention one of my favorite books that I have read in the young adult fiction category, The True Confessions of Charlotte O’Doyle. It seems that I have an obsession with sea-faring people, coastal areas, and old-world Cities such as Istanbul (Which was once Constantinople by the way).

4). Cookbooks, books on writing, and costuming books tied for fourth.

Note: If the truth were known, cookbooks would beat out ALL of my book categories. I only counted the ones that were on my bookshelf and not in my pantry. The costuming books I own are for Viking Clothing, Celtic Clothing, Imperial Russian Clothing, Turkish and Persian Clothing, Russian Imperialist costumes, and Middle Eastern Dance Costumes.

5). Psychology books came in for number five. What does this reveal? I sometimes need self-help just like everyone else.

6). Women’s studies and Social sciences came in for sixth. The social science books I had were primarily about issues that impact women.


7).Ecology, military books, and medical text-books tied for seventh.

The medical books seem to reveal nothing more beyond the fact that I was once a nursing student and had plans for doing humanitarian work as a medical professional. Doctors Without Borders was another book in my collection.

Another Surprise: Military and Nature writing books were tied in my book collection? SAY WHAT!? I thought I would also have way more books on nature writing than I did.

As far as nature writing and the military go, I’m going to throw out two book recommendations because even though these books came in seventh place, two of them have been extremely valuable to me.

  • The Only Kayak by Kim Heacon- An excellent book about Kayaking in Glacier Bay, the effects of Global warming, and human encroachment on the last wild places in Alaska.
  • Bloody Rain by Jim Morrison-This book has grave sentimental value, and was given to me by a former Vietnam veteran. This book was an absolute gem, and could have easily been a cult classic. It has rave reviews but is not very well known. It was one of those rare books I felt lucky enough to come across. Grab your Kleenex if you read this. When I read this, I only had napkins and I was sitting in a softball park crying over nachos.

Finally, there were two westerns in my book collection, and one memoir. It was a very good memoir, probably one of my favorite reads, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. This is way better than the movie. It’s all about the writing. You are doing yourself a huge disservice if you watch the movie and do not read the book. (No offense to Emily Watson who I adore).

Now that I have summarized my findings, I will definitely be analyzing this information for clues to answer that question, “WHO- am I?” Time will tell how the effects of this analysis will impact my brand or writing genre of choice. If you are reading this, I wish you well with analyzing your own book collection and what clues they may reveal about you.





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