Other People’s Bookshelves #5– Shelley Harris

This week on Other People’s Bookshelves we get to have a nosey through an authors book shelves as we are joined by the lovely Shelley Harris. Shelley was born in South Africa and emigrated to Britain at the age of six. She has been a local journalist, a secondary school teacher, an assistant in a wine shop and a bouncer at teenage discos (no, really). She likes slapstick humour and salted caramels. Her first novel, Jubilee (Weidenfeld and Nicolson – which I have on my shelves) was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and picked as a 2012 Richard and Judy Summer Read. So let us have a nosey through her shelves…

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I tend to keep all the books I read – except the atrocious ones. Those go straight to Oxfam. My favourites never leave unless by mistake, when I lend them to someone who doesn’t give them back (see also: Behind The Scenes At The Museum, A Christmas Carol).

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

OK, this is a bit complex, but here goes:

Most of my books are upstairs, in the room I write in; three walls are covered in shelves, and most are mine (I allow my husband a measly three shelves – he’s very good about it). One of the walls is for non-fiction, and within that there’s history (chronological), auto/biography (alphabetical by subject) and general non-fiction (autobiographical by author). My fiction used to be alphabetical by author too, but this summer I decided to arrange it by colour, and it’s bee-ootiful. I should admit here that it’s sometimes just the teensiest bit hard to lay my hand on exactly the book I want, but – did I mention it’s bee-ootiful? I’ve also got very un-arranged shelves connected with whatever I’m writing at the moment or want to write next. My To-Be-read pile is downstairs. It’s four shelves big.

I do cull my books from time to time, and it’s a curiously double-edged thing for me. I feel that liberation you always get when you shuck off some of your possessions, but also the anxiety that you might be throwing out something you’ll want next week. That actually happened once; a novel stayed on my shelves for two years unread, so I got rid of it. The next week, someone told me it was brilliant.


What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I’ve racked my brains, but I can’t remember. What I do know is that at the age of ten I read two books alternately for months on end – maybe I bought them, I don’t know. They were Antonia Barber’s The Amazing Mr. Blunden, and E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. At some unsentimental moment in my life (stupid early adulthood) I threw them out, but now have replacement copies on my shelves.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Oooh, now I’m really interested in your Hidden Shelf. I don’t have one; I’m not at all ashamed of anything I take pleasure in, and that includes books which are…what would people scoff at? Stuff that’s considered lowbrow? Erotica? It’s all good.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

That’s a tough one, but I think I might try to save the books my students gave me as gifts when I finished teaching them (they were so relieved, the poor mites). I’m massively proud of having taught, and to have been called ‘a WICKED English teacher’ is one of the best things anyone’s ever said about me.


What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I remember being transported (as many girls my age were) by Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, and read the book soon after the single was released. I was maybe eleven at the time. But my parents were responsible for lots of the books I read – grown-up and not-so. Dad used to quote a lot of Shakespeare and poetry at me, using a voice he thought sounded like Laurence Olivier (it sounded like a Dalek). And my Mom read and loved The Women’s Room and passed it over when I was about seventeen – it was a really important book for me.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

If I love it I tend to want to keep it – some of my Oxfam purchases are novels I’ve borrowed and loved but want for myself. I read Jane Harris’s Gillespie and I on Kindle (very rare for me) and now have the hardback on my shelves.

Beige books

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

A copy of A Christmas Carol which I bought from Oxfam because it’s weirdly disappeared from my shelves. I suspect our resident twelve-year-old reader.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Yes – I want to magic the next Sarah Waters onto my shelves right now.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I don’t mind what they think, but my best guess is that they’ll notice I mainly read contemporary novels, that I love books passionately (I have lots of them), and that they may suspect I’m borderline OCD.

Red books


A big thank you to Shelley for letting me grill her and allowing us to nosey through her shelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Shelley’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?


Filed under Other People's Bookshelves, Shelley Harris

19 responses to “Other People’s Bookshelves #5– Shelley Harris

  1. My thanks to Shelley for letting us look at her book shelves. I too am intrigued by the “Hidden Shelf” and like Shelley I am always puzzled that people might wish to hide something that is clearly important to them (unless illegal of course!). I hope Simon you will enlighten us with some information about the books on yours.

    • Do you know what, after I get my new bookshelves (thank you Gran) this weekend and have sorted them, maybe I will do this questionnaire myself. Maybe for number 10 or something, we will see. Then you can see the guilty reads, though actually they might not be where they are then lol.

  2. gaskella

    I’d love to have a room with books on three walls – sounds wonderful. It’s also lovely to be able to group orange penguins, green Viragos etc into their respective colours. I love the idea of colour coding books on shelves, but my own version of bookish borderline OCD wouldn’t let me do it.

  3. Ruthiella

    I am always happy to find another Sarah Waters and Jane Harris fan! I have never read A Christmas Carol, despite becoming a great fan of Dickens a few years ago. Maybe I am unconsciously saving it for last?

  4. Chrissy Hayes

    Loved the article. Most of my books are currently in storage due to a house move and it really hurts. When I am eventually reunited with them I might try colour coding. It does look cool!

  5. I LOVED The Amazing Mr Blunden as a child, it was a brilliant book.
    I really like the colour coding, it looks great, but I don’t think I could ever move away from alphabetical for my own stuff.

  6. I’m so happy to see someone organizing by color. Like Annabel, my obsessive organizing tendencies would probably make my head explode if I tried that (as I tried to match exact shades, etc.), but I admire the attempt and I’m sure it does look lovely.

    I also love the Kate Bush reference. “Wuthering Heights” is, admittedly, a song that made me want to like Wuthering Heights more than I did.

  7. Rhian

    ILoved this. I am hoping to have bookshelves on 3 walls of one room soon(ish), since the scary room has been emptied. Just waiting on DB’s building skills. Not sure how I’ll organise the books then. At the moment (apart from cookbooks) they are put in anyhow.

  8. I’ve got one bookcase with colour coded books, and I love how they look, but I never want to read or re-read them. Whereas my tumbling, three-deep shelves of crammed-together, unalphabetical, almost completely random books constantly invite fresh exploration. I wonder what will happen to all our bookshelves once e-readers get an even firmer hold – will they become festooned in cobwebs Miss-Havisham style or be like a still life entitled ‘Bookshelf, early 21st century’?

  9. Love the arrangement by colour – looks fantastic. You’ve inspired us!…

  10. Delyn

    I’m about to do a cull – should be doing it this weekend! -but there are books that I know I will never look at again especially as the information I might want can now be found on the computer.
    I have two walls of books with further bookshelves in other rooms and a shelf over my bed.The ‘ wall’ of books has been specially built in so that they are in sections e.g 2′ x 2′, 2′ x 3′ and some are reserved for ornaments to break up the lines. When we had them built,. my husband organised them and made a file with the books in each section recorded eg ” They came like swallows” D 2. Referring to the file, I can quickly find the wanted book. Seems complicated but it’s definitely speedy!
    We have separate sections for travel books etc.
    The only thing now is that when I cull unwanted / unused books, I have to remember to cross them out in the file and insert the pile of newer ones! I just wish my husband would get rid of some of his so that I’d have more room for mine! I think that’s a lost cause.

  11. I’ve been toying with the idea of colour coding – it does look be-yoo-ti-full!

  12. Pingback: London Diary #1 – Ten for 15; Speakeasy @DrinkShopDo | Savidge Reads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s