Being a snob creates too many limits

Book snobbery takes many forms in my life. For example, when I worked in bookstores, thinking my life was over because all my friends were lawyers, I spent a lot of time mumbling “Philistines!” as I reshelved A Hundred Years of Solitude under G instead of M.

But the truth is that if you reshelve a book like that to its proper spot, no one can find it. This is true of Out of the Dust, as well. (Hold it. Have you not read this book? It’s the best depiction of dust bowl life that I’ve ever read.) It’s a book for kids, written in verse. But you cannot sell any children’s books by putting them in poetry, so the world is a better place if bookstore workers (who are all literary snobs) would put the book in the young adult section.

Speaking of young adult books, I don’t think I have ever mentioned here that I still read a lot of those. As far as I can tell, the only difference between them and adult novels is that the author explains subtle emotions a little more explicitly in young adult novels. Perfect for someone with Asperger’s, right?

I saved all my childhood books thinking that I’d read them to my kids. But when I offer my girl books, my boys don’t bite. I thought this might happen, but I still carried all my books with me from Chicago to LA to Boston to LA to NY to Madison to the farm. Maybe I was hoping the boys would be gay. I think gay boys might be into reading Ode to Billie Joe.

So I have all these books that I am never going to share with my kids. I am thinking I can share them with your kids. Send me an email with a list of five books that your daughter likes, and I’ll send your daughter one of my books. And I’ll even do book group with her if she wants. Although now I won’t be able to read the book again because she’ll have my book, but whether I can remember the content of a book has never stopped me from discussing it.

I am thinking now that maybe I’ll get thousands of emails. So, there’s a deadline: you have to send me an email within 24 hours of the publication of this post.

(Which, now that I think about it, is a great way to get people to subscribe to my blog. So, all you people who are reading this post more than 24 hours later, you missed out on a great giveaway probably because you aren’t subscribed. Subscribe now to get the opportunity to receive other packages of stuff I saved that no one wants!)

Back to my books. I try not to be a snob. Because I think it just closes doors. For example, I have written before about not being a language snob. If you are, then you stop yourself from learning about language. And being a snob about copyediting perfection is terrible, too — you end up never writing anything because it takes too long. Even career advice snobbery is bad, because people who fail give the best advice. So it’s no surprise that I find book snobbery self-destructive as well; when I’m a snob about books, they take over my house.

You can tell a lot about yourself by how you organize your books. I used to cultivate my lesbian book section. That was in my early twenties when I was surrounded by women in bikinis playing volleyball, and really, who wouldn’t wonder if she was gay, spending days like that? But then I tried it: I answered an ad for a woman who was a ballerina with the Joffrey and she had just retired and gotten breast implants. Try to imagine this. She was so incredibly hot. But lesbian sex was boring to me.

And, please do not tell me that I should have tried someone else. Because I did. It was during my bulimia days. I went to a lesbian bulimic overeaters anonymous group, and everyone was gorgeous, and I got picked up. But still, it was not all that satisfying.

So I moved Annie On My Mind to young adult novels, and Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit to literature, and Nice Jewish Girls to Judaica, and then I was not a lesbian any more.

But for decades, books took over every apartment I had. I never had furniture or decorations, only books.

In New York City my books were in storage, but I always knew I’d take them out sometime. I ended up taking them out here, on the farm. The farmhouse is not that big—only two bedrooms—but if you’ve lived in New York City for a decade, a two-bedroom house is huge. I didn’t want the books to take over everything though.

I thought of giving all the books away. But I remember how much I learned when my parents left for-my-age-inappropriate books all over our house. I want to make sure that my boys grow up with access to Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife.

So I started sorting books by color.

And then I did it by size. Like a Philistine. Suzan-Lori Parks next to Donald Barthelme. This has never happened here before, but it seems okay. There’s a reason that plays are published in the same dimensions as short stories.

It used to be that I would identify myself by my books. I wanted people to see me as someone with incredibly wide-reaching knowledge. Now I identify myself with my house—I want it to look fun and interesting, and to be a place where my kids will have that magical sort of childhood that combines safety and surprise.

You will notice there are not any work-related books. Anywhere. Which is odd because I receive at least one in the mail every day. I don’t save those books because they bore me. I wish I didn’t have to write that. But I think they bore you, too. That’s why you read this blog.

The best advice about how to conduct yourself at work is to know yourself, and get new information—from outside your own experience—about what is possible in the world. And that is what fiction, and plays, and poetry, and this blog, are about.

82 replies
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  1. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    It’s possible you are the smartest woman I have ever sort of met. Or, perhaps you only stimulate my neurons to the point where I feel like the smartest me I ever met. I’m not sure.

  2. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Penelope, You have such a gift for touching the nerve that runs straight through a wellspring of whimsy. Posts likes these are my favorite.

  3. Geanine
    Geanine says:

    I don’t have children or I’d definitely put in a request for your books. I think a book group with you would be lots of fun. I’m selling my NYC apartment and moved mountains of books into storage since people like to look at entertainment centers not books. :-) I’m looking forward to my new space in NC where I can have a porch, yard and beautiful garden. I suspect you can relate.

  4. Amy
    Amy says:

    My brother died in 2008. He was one of those ‘different’ types of people with a disability that made him somewhat socially dysfunctional so books were his friends. He had thousands. We use to say that Adam did not live in an apt., he lived in a library with a bed in the corner. And, after he died I would sit in his apartment just staring at all the books and wishing he was there to tell me about each one — or at least one or two. I envied his knowledge. Books are a reflection of a person’s character, as much as the color they choose to paint their walls – or not. I don’t really mean that in a judgmental or snobby way. I’m sure there are some really interesting people who don’t read many books. But books are definitely a path to learning and escape. For the most part, my brother didn’t read fiction. So, without many friends, he spent most of his time just learning — and then sharing what he’d learned with me. I always wonder what it is that I will never learn because my brother died. Anyway…this post just reminded me of him, and the importance of books.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh. Gosh. Amy, this is lovely. And it hits me really close to home. I was like him for so long. And I’m so drawn to people who have just books and a bed.


    • Jacqueline
      Jacqueline says:

      “We use to say that Adam did not live in an apt., he lived in a library with a bed in the corner.”

      That actually sounds pretty appealing to me. :)

  5. heidi
    heidi says:

    I’d LOVE to take some of your children’s books. I am a Professor of early childhood education, and the only bargaining I did when offered my current position was a place for my books! I didn’t care if the office had a desk- only book cases. Can you please tell me how to email you for a formal request?
    Many thanks!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      But, also, Heidi. You are a professor of children’s education? You have to write more in your comment. You need to shed light on something. Like the books, or reading or learning or sometihng. You know so much about children’s books, and the post is about children’s books, and I love learning from the comments section, and I feel ripped off. You need to post another comment.


  6. Alisa Bowman
    Alisa Bowman says:

    I think snobbery is how some people cover up insecurity. They fear that they are really less important and less knowledgeable than everyone else, so they put on a show of being a know it all.

    At any rate, I have a girl who wishes she were a boy. She doesn’t like “girl” books, but she does like classics–Where the Wild Things Are, The Giant Jam Sandwich, Little Engine that Could, and so on.

    I’m kinda thinking you could do some sort of book exchange or a book charity. If you did that, I’d donate the hundreds of books I’ve been hoarding. Or just hold onto those suckers. With the advent and proliferation of ebooks, they will probably be priceless collectors items soon.

  7. Courtney
    Courtney says:

    I’d love some of those books for my twin nieces. Too bad they live all the way over in Australia, so I no longer know what their favorite books are. I know they love the piggy books, and I love them too. I too have books all over my house, my rental house, my parent’s house…just can’t seem to part with any of them. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I facilitate a monthly book club for young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related disabilities. What do you recommend?! We have read a variety of books from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Little Prince, Animal Farm, Samurai’s Garden, Three Cups of Tea, to name a few. We have great discussions and learn from the books and each other.

  9. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “But I remember how much I learned when my parents left for-my-age-inappropriate books all over our house.”

    Hmm … for me it wasn’t all over the house but there were a couple of places where I came across porn (books and magazines). No noteworthy authors or works of art but very good nonetheless. I guess that was my sex education from the parents.

    As for books, I haven’t bought any lately as most of my reading is done on a computer screen – not ebooks but rather articles. Growing up as a child, I can remember getting Dr. Seuss books in the mail and always looked forward to those books.

    • Toni
      Toni says:

      Dr. Seuss book in the mail??? OMG, you just brought back so many memories. First of all it was always so exciting to get mail with your name on it as opposed to Occupant. But to get an actual package? And it was a book? Score! I also used to love school days when we could order books and magazines from the little flyer. My mom was always happy to buy me tons of books (and Dynamite magazine), and I still have a couple of original Nancy Drew books on my shelf. I’m 43.

  10. Lilian
    Lilian says:

    OK, where to start? I think this is my first comment. Maybe I will comment more after this one, who knows. I’m the kind of blog reader who inundates her dear blog friends with comments all the time. I guess it’s just that none of your previous posts resonated with me like this one. Anyway…

    Too bad I don’t have girls, only two boys like you, but… even though I don’t have much money to buy books, I have as many as I can and won’t part with them for anything in the world. I’m an academic, finished my phd 2 years ago in literature and my original dissertation was going to be about “girl books” (a comparative approach between classic Anglo-American “girl books” from late 19th and early-mid 20th century — Secret Garden, Little house and others), but I changed my dissertation topic (I’m semi-anonymous in my blog, so I won’t go into lots of detail about my actual diss) and included only one children’s literature author (from Brazil).

    Anyway… one of the areas I’m most passionate about is children’s literature (and not from an educator’s perspective, but as literary artifacts) and I hope to be able to write more academic articles about it.

    As for girl vs. boy books, I will try to get my sons to read the Little House books, Alice in Wonderland, Secret Garden, Little Women and sequels, which are some of my favorites. Let’s see if they will read them. I’m hoping they will. When I was 16 I had this almost boyfriend who loved the Little House books. OK, this is too long already, but these are some of my favorites, and I’d love to participate of the give-away!

    BTW, I haven’t stopped reading and re-reading my children’s literature books — and I do collect picture books too. Do you really want to do away with yours just because your boys won’t read them? Well, I’ll gladly take some!

  11. Maria
    Maria says:

    I should include a photo of our book shelves here. Try simplifying your life (where simplifying equals getting rid of lots of stuff) and being an avid book collector (there are rules: if I will read the book more than once OR it’s a classic, then I will buy it. Otherwise…library)is tough. Really tough.

    Anyway, I’m so THERE on the book group thing. Even if I don’t get to be part of it, because you’ve offered it to my daughter. Anyway…five books she (who is 12.5) loves:

    1. Anything by Avi (that is more than five, yes)
    2.Anything by Brian Jacques (that is also more than five, but a series is a series and should only count as one)
    3.Bleak House (she liked it but said it was a bit difficult in parts)
    4.The Girl Who Could Fly
    5. Any of the three Blue Bailliett books
    6. Jericho Walls

    (I know, I know…that was six.)

    Definitely not ready for the lesbian bulimic over-eaters genre yet.

    Your PA’s favorite person in the world. Evah.

  12. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    I have collected children’s books since I was a kid and I make my living editing books (primarily fiction) now…and I couldn’t agree with you more about what you can learn from reading fiction! It’s made me good at what I do. Hope you find a good home for all the books. And thank you — I look forward to every single post and never fail to be touched by them. :)

  13. Becca
    Becca says:

    Love your blog. Have been reading it for a long time. Love this post. Luckily we live in Seattle where there are lots and lots of great used bookstores… My husband is a book fanatic. When we first started dating, we would go to the gym and he would bring “the history of wallpaper”…sexy, huh. He has a broad interest in books of all types. Luckily my 3 kids have picked up this interest. My daughter is 8 and loves Beverly Cleary. Any chance you could write to her about any of her books? I remember them well and thought you might too!

  14. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Well, P, if you’re getting rid of Ode to Billie Joe, my eldest daughter would love that, or anything like it. She also likes stories with strong, adventurous girls. My middle daughter likes books like the Boxcar Children. My youngest daughter loves the beautiful picture books that are engaging in some way, whether fun rhyme or funny twist.

    But Penelope, while my boys prefer action fantasy like Lord of the Rings and Eragon, they also enjoy “girlie” books, and they are not gay. You might like to keep some of your favorites for your boys for when they grow into them?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You make a good point. I have thought of that. But lately I’m realizing that one of the things I love about my house is that we have very few things. I got in the habit, living in NYC, that if I bring a new thing into the house, I have to get rid of one thing. And the habit sticks.

      People come to my house, and one of the first things they say is that they can’t believe how few things we own. They ask us how we did it. This is one way: Recognizing that it feels really good to share my books now. It’s a fun game, it’s fun to hear what the girls in peoples’ lives are reading. If I want to read a book to my boys in the future — if they are really interested in The Truth About Mary Rose — then I can buy it again, and read it again, and I’ll be happy to do that.


      • Green
        Green says:

        Would you write a post about this, complete with pictures? I tend to want to veer wildly between almost being a hoarder and almost being a minimalist (though aside from not owning a couch or desk, I own a totally average amount of stuff), and the subject of how people decide how much they want in their homes, and what makes a home comfortable to them fascinates me.

  15. heather
    heather says:

    i love this post. this might be my very first comment, because i love, love this post.

    i used to tell people that i buy books the way my sister buys shoes, but that is probably inaccurate. i know that i acquired 20 books in a month period a few summers ago. i know that i bought 200 books in a year or two when i lived in chicago. my amazon wishlist is 3 or 4 pages long, and i cannot pass up a library book sale or a used bookstore (as long as it is not filled with those grocery store romance novels). i mostly read adult nonfiction, young adult fiction (adventure novels!) and poetry… but i, too, have those genres from different periods of my life: the fairy books from middle school, the christian memoirs, the lesbian books from college… i am 24 and my books came with me from connecticut to indiana to chicago back to connecticut. i had to start a book club with a friend in kansas just to help me start reading them all. (thankfully, i get to read while the little one i nanny naps). and i am a snob about my books, too. not in that well-versed, read all the classics way. in the way that i am hesitant to read anything that is best selling on a grocery store shelf. i found 20 books in my house last week that were favorites from when i was growing up (i thought i already had them all in my room!) and now i think i need a third bookshelf for my little bedroom. i have 2 long tupperware containers under my bed filled with the babysitters club & sweet valley series that myself and my 2 olders sisters read. i cannot wait to have bookcases all over my home one day, a makeshift library, and i can only hope that i have children who will voraciously read the books i read.

    i enjoy your blog all the time, penelope, and i have been touched by other posts, but it was so fun to see myself in this one.

  16. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I agree with a comment above that your boys might grow into your books. My 9yo son’s favorites include: Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, the Little House books, The Secret Garden, and Tuck Everlasting. I don’t think his book choices are related to his sexuality. :) He also likes books on time travel, robots, magic, and mysteries.

  17. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    I was recently looking at a blog that showed some tiny houses and sheds that people had converted into studio-workspace-getaways. One person used part of her vast book collection, arranged in ceiling-high stacks covering each wall of her little office shed, as insulation. She said that books perform pretty well as insulation, and she had all her favorite titles close at hand.

    I totally agree with you about language and editing snobbery. I used to be both before I figured out that life’s too short.

  18. Green
    Green says:

    Can I sign up even though I don’t have a kid personally? My best friend is a single mom to a 2nd grade girl who she just found out is reading on a 4th grade level, and I would love to give her girlie some books. If I qualify, could you just send what you think would work for her? She’s already blown through the entire Little House series, and seems to like realistic fiction over sci-fi or unrealistic (so when I tried to turn her onto Amelia Bedilia and Wind in the Willows, she wasn’t into those). This is really awesome of you.

  19. Toni
    Toni says:

    Another great post, Penelope! I love books, and have always done so. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t like books. I can totally agree with Heather when she said she shops for books like some people shop for shoes. I have always said that I will only get an e-reader if I won one in a contest. I love the way books look, the way they smell, the act of turning a page, the way they feel in my hand and how they look on my shelves.

    But you know, I never knew Ode To Billy Joe was a book. I now have the song by Bobbie Gentry stuck in my head, and I vaguely remember a tv movie with Robbie Benson (I think) in it.

  20. pfj
    pfj says:

    Children’s book, sigh, what great things those are!

    In our house we became modest connoisseurs of them. And there are a few that I remember from many years ago that never turn up on ‘favorite’ lists. Or not to my knowledge.

    One is the Princess and Curdie series. Several books, and I thought they were wonderful books when I read them. Anyone ever read any of these?

    And the others are the books by E. Nesbit. All of the strange events, wonderful creatures, flying carpets and statues that come to life. And unlike a lot of fiction – consequences. Children learning the consequences of what they wish for; what a concept.

    Her one normal story (that I know of) The Railway Children, was made into a movie. But the others, the fantastic books, like “Five Children and It” and “The Phoenix and the Carpet” – sigh, they seemed ahead of their time.

    For a beautiful younger-children’s book, we thought Paddle-to-the-Sea was an absolute classic.

    I don’t need any children’s books, P. I have my own set of most-favorites and my kids kept their growing-up set. Just wanted to reminisce.

  21. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    My answer is going to look so weird but this is the list of Audrey’s favorite books:

    And favorite authors:

    I know you’re sad your boys can’t relate to the books you read growing up. I feel sad that I can’t relate to the books my daughter is reading now because I don’t read Chinese well enough to understand them. Life is so strange sometimes.

  22. J
    J says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I have no children but I love young adult writing.

    I still re-read Anne of Green Gables, Lord of the rings and Enid Blyton’s stuff on a regular basis, and I see no reason why I ought to be punished for not having children so I thought I’d write and ask you to send me a book.

    Any book you like (even a lesbian ones, unless they have unhappy endings- life is crappy enough without unhappy book-endings.)

    My childhood was more Anglicised than Americanised so I’d love an American Children’s book.

    But maybe you won’t send it because I live in London and I don’t have children. Anyway that was a good post.

  23. le@thirdontheright
    le@thirdontheright says:

    hello P … like you I saved many of my books for my kids and now I have two boys :) the picture books are a treat for me to re-read to them. My mum often put who gave them to me in the cover and my age … it gave rise to my boys asking for stories of my own childhood …. now that was fun. I love your sharing with the world thing … its great to give :) i have sent things i love to others who I know would love them more and the feel good kickback is a wonderful thing, best le

  24. Carole Dixon
    Carole Dixon says:

    Too many books in a room can lead to bad feng shui. I still have tons of books, but not in my main room anymore. I also raised two boys and when they were in high school; we all read science fiction voraciously. A few years ago, attempting to clean clutter, I gave my oldest son all of the sci-fi books. Now they overflow in his house, not mine. But if I get a hankering to re-read Asimov’s robot series – he has them all.
    And best of all, though only 53, I have three granddaughters 12-7 and they all love to read. And their books are the greatest. I love young adult fiction too.

    Some Favorite Books: Rain (12 daughter/granddaughter, raised since birth)
    The Mixed Up of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler E.L. Kingsburg
    All of the Harry Potter books J.K. Rowling
    The Help (she’s precocious) Kathryn Stockett
    Absolutely Normal (Sharon Creech)
    A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream – Shakesphere (she’s a budding actress)

    I mostly listen to books now – they take up very little space!

  25. Kara P
    Kara P says:

    I love to read and cannot wait for the day that my now 3-yr old will sit still and we can read chapter books together. My parents weren’t big book readers, so I am not sure where my love of books came from. I recently bought a Kindle, and I am loving the ease of ordering books on-line and having them there in a few seconds. We read nightly before bed with our daughter, and she loves Brown Bear, Brown Bear (that’s daddy’s book), and mommy has been reading the Llama Llama books – Llama Llama Red Pajama and Baby Llama Mad at Mama(Baby Llama has llama drama, and Mama Llama scolds.) We also like “That Dog” and the Berenstein Bears. I spent $60 at Barnes and Noble yesterday on books for her. I consider it a great investment in her future love of reading! While she can’t read now, she loves to pretend that she can, and she tells a pretty good story. Great post!

  26. Holly
    Holly says:

    Hi P! Another good post; thanks. My almost 9 year old daughter’s favorite books are the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, Miss Krupp Cracks me Up by Dan Gutman, and the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne.

  27. Sally
    Sally says:

    Penelope, This is such an good post on so many levels. Snobbery really is a terrible limitation that we fall into in so many subtle ways.

    I could not get my son to read much of anything when he was younger. He hated all the boy books for kids and I was sad not to be able to share my girl favorites, but lo and behold. It turned out he had ADD (diagnosed when he was 17) and could not really remember all the names in the Brian Jacques books at the beginning, so never could get invested in the stories. Basketball in the driveway was too much competition. Somehow he got into writing poetry in college and is a writing major of all things. Now he is reading like a house on fire, really interesting stuff. I got him into my all time favorite Anna Karenina this summer (new, very good translation) and he is even taking a Russian lit class. Never expected that.

    I still have my old favorites in the attic, don’t think he’ll ever read them, but at last he is reading and we talk about books. You never know. Books were so important to me growing up, and I had to try very hard not to press my love for them on my son to allow him to come to them in his own time.

    My house has very little furniture and lots of books, but I am starting to give them away.

  28. Lisa May
    Lisa May says:

    This is such an interesting post in so many ways. Partly because of the conversation it starts about gender differences (as a side note, we just bought my daughter her first “big girl underwear”. She wanted the ones with trains. They don’t make train underpants for girls, so she’s got tiny train underpants with tiny little flies on the front for her non-existent penis.)

    Lily’s only 2 and a half, but she loves her books. Favorites right now:
    1. Skippyjon Jones by Judy Shachner
    2. Dinosaur vs. the Potty (forget who that’s by)
    3. Elephants Cannot Dance by Mo Willems
    4. Pretty much anything by Dr. Suess, but Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish Two Fish get pulled out most often.
    5. Five Little Monkeys Bake a Cake (forget who that’s by as well). She loves her some monkeys.

    My dad and I read together for years – the last one we finished together was Don Quixote – and I’m very much hoping that Lily and I will create a similar tradition of reading aloud to one another. I’ve hung on to some of the books I loved when I was a kid, including the L.M. Montgomery books and Jane Austen. Frankly, I don’t care if all she wants to read are mystery novels as long as she enjoys them.

  29. Stacie Dalrymple
    Stacie Dalrymple says:

    I am jealous of those that have girls and can take advantage of your great offer! Alas, I have two boys so I hear you–my Nancy Drew books were donated to a niece!

    If you have not read the Hunger Games books yet, they are young adult but a must read for anyone. I could not put them down!

  30. Dana
    Dana says:

    I love reading your blog. You give me so much to think about. I can totally relate to all you said about books, then houses – SAME! I do have a daughter and have shared my books with her but funny thing is, either she is not that interested or I find that they don’t strike me the same way, reading them 30 years later. My daughter does love reading, so I try to let go of the idea that she will love all my favorite books. My books stay with me for sentimental reasons now :)

  31. YRS
    YRS says:

    (Hi Penelope, I posted this comment on another blog by mistake – the one on Being A Perfectionist. Sorry, wish I could delete that one. I’m repasting it here again.)

    I’ve always been a silent reader, but this time you wrote on my favorite topic – Books!

    Growing up, I didn’t have the looks, my friends sucked and I was the only child. My parents doted on me though, and they encouraged me to read books. My favorite books were The Big Friendly Giant by Roald Dahl and A Little Princess by Frances Hogdson Burnett. I lost myself in books till things changed for the better (much much better).

    I think you might like the Palace Of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It’s about a strong woman during the Mahabharat times (google!) – I’ve written more on it on

    I’d love to see more posts on books that you liked, and if any writer has managed to change your thinking.

  32. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    What a wonderful idea! My daughter is six months old, so she’s probably too young for your books. Even before I was pregnant, I started collecting children’s books that I had particularly loved. Not a lot, but a few select favorites. Now I’m so happy that I have a child I can share them with!

    And I think that good literature is good literature, regardless of age. Sometimes a reader may not be ready for a particular work, but once he or she is, that work can (if it really is good) resonate for a lifetime. I would love to know what’s in your library, and what your favorites are, but it sounds like that inventory would take a lot of time. Will you post a follow-up about which books you give away, and why you like them?

  33. Erika
    Erika says:

    I’m currently reading “Understood Betsy” to my daughter, and she has pronounced it the best book ever. She’s not ready yet for Anne of Green Gables, although I think she will be within a year–and she’s going to love it.

  34. Tina Portis
    Tina Portis says:

    Gosh, you never, ever cease to amaze me with your post. Glad the Farmer is okay with your post. My husband had a complete fit with my sharing of “too much personal information.” Anyways, my first lesbian novel was “Rubyfruit Jungle” by Rita Mae Brown and OMG! All I can say is that I was amazed! One of my favorites was (and still is in my library) “Herland” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. As an ENTJ, a mom of 3 and a young black woman in America, I have never felt more “in place” than when I read your blog. Thanks Penelope!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hi, Tina. I like Rubyfruit Jungle, too. I should have mentioned it. Someone out there will be so happy to discover it…

      I could have gone on for paragraphs about my lesbian book section, actually. Without even touching on the philosophical. Like, if Adrienne Rich was married with two kids when she wrote Diving into the Wreck, but the poem is the instigator for her turning to women, does it go in poetry or lesbians? These are questions I had a lot of time to ponder as a twentysomething.

      I appreciate your comment about feeling like you fit in here. That means a lot to me.


  35. Pam
    Pam says:

    Another great post, Penelope. I should upload some photos of our book-heavy house, but I’m at work. Being a librarian and married to a MA in English lit (from Madison!) and an MFA in Creative Writing, our home spills out with books. My kids used to tell me how weird it was to visit friends homes that were tidy but had no books. I have 2 girls and a boy. My boy is my reluctant reader, and I have a hard time finding books that catch him. May I suggest 2 graphic novel series: the Bone books by Jeff Smith, and when your boys are a little older, the Scott Pilgrim set. Both are humorous and clever. The “chapter books” he liked so far were “A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket (all 3 of my kids LOVED these – clever and subtle language, literary humor, adventure), “The Thief Lord”, by Cornelia Funke. [and now I have to logoff my desk computer, I’ll give you a couple more titles this afternoon.]

  36. Casey
    Casey says:

    I just finished reading Beezus and Ramona, by Beverly Cleary, with my five-year-old daughter. It was her very first chapter book and she absolutely loved it! She has a new baby sister (nine months old) and I think she liked imagining what her relationship might be like as she and her sister get older. It was the perfect book for her. I think it taught her to laugh at her little sister’s antics and know that she does not always have to like her sister. She insisted I order all of the other Ramona books, which I have done. I have no trouble finding books for my eight-year-old son because our tastes are so similar, but my daughter is trickier. I would love a book from you to read with my daughter. Thanks so much for the lovely offer. I hope all of my kids love reading as much as I do.

  37. Brigid
    Brigid says:

    I kept all my books, all all all of them, from young adult to college textbooks to random airport bookstore books, up until a few years ago. Then I began giving them away and it has been the most tremendous experience. I like the freedom from stuff but more than that love giving someone a connection to what’s important to me, and what I hope would be important to them, too.

    I’ve missed a couple of my books that I wish I had to reread, but not enough to stop giving the rest of them away.

    I think, as ebooks become the norm, that physical books will be passed along like this more and more. Sharing is the one thing you can’t do with an ebook, so I’d bet this is the market physical books will take up. I can imagine books tied to foursquare or another program online where you can login to see the journey of people who’ve read the book before you.

    Also, if you are looking for a suggestion of a young adult author that appeals to your sons and will for you as well, try John Green.

  38. wiana
    wiana says:

    I would love you to send books to an overly religious person I was friends with – her children need a window on the world… wow, love the thought of sharing your books. thanks

  39. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Just before hopping over here I was reading a post at Jezebel about a new dating website that’s “a cross between Goodreads and” Talk about defining yourself by your books … I’m off the market, but I wonder if it works.

  40. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    I love books! I wish I had one of those book shelves people have behind them when they do webinars – full of important looking books that make them look intelligent =- but I don’t. I just have a few crummy second hand paperbacks I haven’t read yet (the good ones get passed on to friends) and some happy memories:)

    Yes, yes, yes, I wish people would get outside their comfort zones more. What you offer here is much more than career advice. It’s time out from the daily routine and a chance to think about something we wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. When we want career advice we can read your book:)I love your blog because it’s full of surprises.

  41. LIsa Chandler
    LIsa Chandler says:

    Hi Penelope
    At the end of Feb 2011, I am going to give birth to my first baby. I am not finding out the sex but I am pulling for a girl. My journey to pregnancy was long and hard. You can read about it here:
    And so, since I love your writing and am secretly jealous of your marriage to the farmer, it would be a sublime privilege to receive a girl book, of your choosing, from your bookshelves for my baby to be.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Not technically under the deadline, and not technically qualifying, as the baby is not born. But you’d be surprised how many unqualifying emails inquires I’ve already received that I decided to reward with a book anyway. So, Lisa, please email me your mailing address, and I’ll send a book.

      Sidenote. The last thing the world needs is another person giving advice to pregnant moms. But this is the line everyone uses before they give advice to pregnant moms: Don’t buy girl stuff if you’re not finding out the sex. Just wait. It’s only a few more months. I’m sending you a gender-neutral book. And good luck with the pregnancy!


    • LIsa Chandler
      LIsa Chandler says:

      You made my evening!! I will delight in receiving a gender neutral book from you for not yet born child.
      And I promise to heed your non-advice advice too…no purchases of girl stuff before the babe is born. In fact, my friend is hosting a shower for me next month and wanted a theme. I suggested `first time mama` and asked that she invite people to give me cherished stuff they thought was great while raising their baby. I love new stuff as much as the next person and I would be happy to re-use some stuff (as long as it`s safe) as it would feel good to not create more waste for landfills. And so, I repeat…I will not purchase girl stuff before the birth and can also promise not to purchase much at all.
      Can’t wait to see your book pick.

  42. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    Roald Dahl is my favorite author. Still. Even after a Masters degree in English Literature. The stuff he comes up with is outrageous really, and it’s just brilliant. If you’ve ever read My Uncle Oswald, you’ll know what I mean. I also spent much of my childhood reading Agatha Christie, so even though she’s not a children’s author I associate her (and Poirot on TV) with being young. I used to spend time just imagining all the possibilities of things she may have done during those eleven days she disappeared.

    Then while I was doing my MA, I had to sell most of my books because I was running out of money. Once I’d finished my degree I had to leave most of the rest because I couldn’t fit them in my suitcase to fly home (I was in England at the time). I still have my copy of Othello from eleventh grade, though, where I wrote what were basically diary entries in the margins. I had a really boring English teacher that year. That’s always a shame.

  43. Pam
    Pam says:

    So, here are a couple of other favorites that both boys and girls would enjoy: The Sisters Grimm books, by Michael Buckley; The Lightning Thief, et al; the Maximum Ride series; of course, Harry Potter. You don’t need to send me a book – we have too many already. But, I’m also a book artist, so maybe if you sent me one I could make some art out of it and send it back with which to decorate your lovely farmhouse. You can visit my lame crafting blog to see some things I’ve done.

  44. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Great post, P. I don’t have nearly the collection you do, but there is a box of my old Nancy Drews just waiting to be rejected by my two young boys. :-) Or maybe not. Perhaps they will like a good mystery, girl heroine or not. We’ll see. Anyway, thanks for a truly refreshing post. This is why people love your blog. You’re at the top of your game with this one!

  45. sarah fairbank
    sarah fairbank says:

    So…. first comment on your site (hi! lurker who probably needs to subscribe!) but just wanted to share a laugh and a future joy for you….

    First the laugh: I look at your stacks of color coded books with longing, because me books, which take over the universe, have no organization whatsoever, then I realize that this is because the children, damn them, have “organized” them.

    Then the joy to come: my girl is 14, and my boys 8, 11 and 12 (the 12 year old is spectrum-y). You will soon get to share books with your kids in a way you never dreamed of! I was introduced to the Nicolas Flamel series and Garth Nix, among others, thanks to my boys. And I get to share books with them that I once thought of as “girl” books, but which they enjoy just as much as they get older. Although I can’t seem to get them to read Austen. Damn. BUT, I love the chance to read with them, often the books I least expect to like I end up loving. So enjoy the adventure!

  46. compinche
    compinche says:

    I couldn’t help noticing. You correctly shelved the book under G. The author’s full last name is García Márquez. Following Spanish surname convention, García is his father’s surname, not his middle name.

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