The Guest Room Bookshelf

Every home should have a guest room bookshelf. Every hotel, every time-share, every cabin in the woods; all should have a guest room bookshelf. Every one of these places should have a guest room bookshelf not only because reading is important and one should always have a book within arm’s reach, but because reading is one of the first things we want to do when we have leisure time. Now, I don’t have a guest room. I don’t have enough rooms (or enough guests) to devote one whole room specifically to that occasional purpose. Any guests of mine, I’m sorry to say, have to sleep in the kids’ room or in the office (I promise I’ll tidy up and put out clean sheets and towels!)–but I DO have a guest room bookshelf!

The idea came from Michael Dirda’s book entitled Book by Book, Notes on Reading and Life. (Great book, review to come later.) Dirda points out (in chapter 3, “Work and Leisure”) that any true reader will take books with her when she goes on vacation, but occasionally a traveler will find herself without a book to read, what then? According to Dirda, “in a properly appointed world you would simply borrow from a well-stocked shelf of guest-room books.” Well, far be it for me to deny any of my guests a “properly appointed” travel experience. As soon as I read this I set about creating my own guest room bookshelf.

Dirda’s guidelines for a proper guest room library are that it “avoid all the normal requirements of a ‘good read.’ Nothing too demanding or white-knuckled suspenseful. Ideally, items should be familiar, cozy, browsable, above all soothing…” A guest room library should contain one book from each of the major categories (listed below) and “all guest rooms are presumed to start with the Bible, Shakespeare, and at least one novel by Jane Austen.” In his book Dirda then goes on to list his top 3 choices in each reading category, but this is my blog and you’re going to have to be satisfied with my choices. If you want to read Dirda’s choices (and they’re very good, I highly recommend you do) you can buy his book.

Here are the books on my guest room bookshelf (as pictured above) from left to right:
  1. The Yale Shakespeare (for the Shakespeare category)
  2. The Stories of Hans Christian Anderson (Children’s Classics category)
  3. The Pre-History of The Far Side (Humor)
  4. The DaVinci Code (Mystery category. This is, I admit, the only mystery book in my house)
  5. 50 Great Short Stories (My own addition, there was no short story category)
  6. Bartlett’s Poems for Occasions (Poetry)
  7. Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar (for the “deep–but not too deep–thoughts” category)
  8. The Hobbit (Fantasy)
  9. Treasure Island (Children’s Classics)
  10. The Book of Great Books (Reference)
  11. In Our Own Words, Extraordinary Speeches of the American Century (another Reference choice)
  12. Pride and Prejudice (the Jane Austen contribution)
  13. Dracula (Horror)
  14. Everyman’s Library Pocket Collection of Love Letters (Journals and Diaries)
  15. Robot Visions (Science Fiction)
  16. The Book That Changed My Life (Odds and Ends–and because I love this book)

The only category of Dirda’s that is not represented on my bookshelf is the Biography category. Stephen King’s On Writing is my choice for that category, which is currently lent out. I also have chosen, for my own reasons, not to include the Bible on my guest room bookshelf. (I can hear the cries of “heathen!”)
Whether or not you have the room (or desire) for a guest room bookshelf, this was great fun as an exercise! I thoroughly enjoyed spending an afternoon going through my personal library, considering which would be the perfect book (or books) in each category. In many cases you’re not choosing “the best of the best”, and you’re not even necessarily choosing your own favorites, you’re choosing with an eye to what might inspire a visiting reader to settle in and get lost in a new adventure. Perhaps (and I may be reaching here) even inspire that visiting reader to discover a new author or genre. And I must admit, that challenge, that inspiration, is one of the things I love best.
So… if I don’t keep my guest room bookshelf in an actual guest room, you may be wondering where I do keep it? In the hallway, of course! Between the two rooms that do serve as guest rooms when friends or family come to visit. And if its presence in the much-traveled hallway inspires my kids, their friends, or any dinner guests to pause and peruse–all the better!
What would your guest room bookshelf contain? Please comment and share your own choices!
Happy Reading!

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7 thoughts on “The Guest Room Bookshelf

  1. I like your choices. I think I'd have some Edna St. Vincent Millay sonnets, Jane Eyre (although I always travel with mine), maybe a Thich Naht Hanh, and a couple of cookbooks, since I love to read those.

  2. I would definitely have Kartography by Kamila Shamsie, an obscure writer I discovered. Hey, everyone! You should read this book, Kartography. It's really good! Email me, and I'll tell you all about it.

  3. Mark, don't you dare go trying to pass of Kartography as yours! You know that was *my* discovery and that Kamila Shamsie and I are going to be best friends as soon as she gets over her fear that I'm a crazed stalker fan. (You don't think she's put off by the fact that I send her a fan e-mail at least once a day, do you?)

  4. Leanna, I love that you always travel with Jane Eyre, how romantic! My "comfort book" is my Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. And you're right that the shelf does seem to be missing some of the more traditionally feminine choices such as that one. Pride & Prejudice is a given, but think the shelf could bear to hold a book by one of the Brontës, or Margaret Atwood, or maybe "The Jane Austen Book Club".

  5. I never thought of a guest book shelf, but we never have overnight guests so it seems pointless. Also, apartment living does not lend itself to such things easily. I suppose a guest will just have to content themselves with the option of perusing our library themselves. Of course I'd be willing to offer recommend titles! Perhaps I can post a list or something. And we do have a couple Bibles on our shelves, but I'm likely to recommend the Catholic one to my protestant family. It's on the reference shelf not too far from the "Tao Te Ching" and a book of Indian philosophy. If I were to have a guest though, I might keep around a couple recent issues of a favorite magazine, which is wonderful vacation reading.

  6. I love this idea! In our office building we actually have some bookshelves that have some old computer books and I always want to transform one shelf into a 'proper' reader's shelf.

  7. Well, I don't have a guest room, and I don't know who'd ever come stay, but I think that's a great idea! I checked out Dirda's book but never even started it. I should give it a go again sometime.

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