Other People’s Bookshelves #60 – Michael Kindness

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week, for a special 60th post in the series, we are off to Rhode Island to join one of my top five American’s of all time, the lovely, lovely Michael Kindness. Michael is one half of probably my favourite podcast Books on the Nightstand with the equally wonderful Ann Kingman. Last year Michael was lucky enough to be my roomie (ha) in the Savidge Kindness suite at Booktopia in Vermont and he was as ace (the snarky banter was high and hilarious) in person as he is on the airwaves…

One of my closest friends nicknamed me “Book Boy” early on in our friendship. She sensed immediately that books were part of my DNA. I’ve been reader since I could read, and my first job was at my local book store. For some reason I got a degree in Graphic Design, and then went back to working in bookstores. For the past 15 years I’ve been a sales rep for Random House, now Penguin Random House. (Incidentally, I’ve always loved penguins too.) In my spare time, I’m the co-host, with Ann Kingman, of the Books on the Nightstand podcast and the Booktopia weekend events. I live in a tiny town in Rhode Island with my wife and two sons.

 These bookcases in my office mostly contain books I've already read

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 used to keep everything I read, but over the past few years I’d been thinking about reducing the number of books on my shelves — and things in my life. After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up this past December, I embarked on a massive cull of my library. I don’t know exactly how many books I had before, but I’d say I got rid of 70-80% of my collection. Now, I’m only keeping the best of the best: books I truly might want to re-read someday (though I never re-read books anymore). I’m also keeping books I haven’t read that I still want to get to. When I did my cull, I was very honest about whether I still wanted to read each unread book someday. Most were donated, but I kept some.

I’d never really had a one-in, one-out system, but I’ve recently implemented a rule that the books in the bookcase next to my bed, the ones that theoretically are the ones I hope to read soon, must actually fit in or on that bookcase. I can’t stack books on the floor around the case anymore. So lately, when I go to put books on the shelves there, I have to decide what to let go of.

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?

See above for the answer to the culling question. As I mentioned, the bookcase next to my bed holds the books I hope to get to soon. You can see from the picture that my definition of the word “soon” is highly optimistic. I guess a better description might be that those are the books from which I like choose my next book. The books on these shelves aren’t super-organized, though graphic novel series are in volume number order, and I tend to think of the books on the top shelf (not the top of the bookcase itself) as the ones I’m most eager to read.

The bookcases next to my bed are where I tend to pick my next book

Then, downstairs in my office are several cases that mostly hold books I’ve read and are keeping, along with some unread books that might make it up to the bedroom bookcase someday. The books on these shelves are organized by fiction and few non-fiction categories, within which the books are alphabetical by author. The graphic novels on these shelves are not in any order other than like superhero titles grouped together and in volume number order.

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

Oh, how I wish I knew the answer to this question. I can remember the first cassette tape I ever bought (Tears for Fears – Songs from the Big Chair), but sadly I have no memory of my first book purchase. It was probably a book from one of those Scholastic Book Club flyers that came home from school. (Did you have those in school when you were a kid?)

I know this isn’t quite the question you asked, but I do remember being obsessed with a book about the Loch Ness Monster. I must have taken it out of my elementary school library 20 times. I don’t even know the title! My sister now works at that school, and I keep meaning to ask her to check to see if there’s still a black cloth-covered book about Nessie in the library, and if my name is still scrawled on the check-out card!

I love Green Lantern and have the book collection to show for it!

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?

Nope, I’m not embarrassed by anything I read now. In the past, I might have said all of the Star Trek or Doctor Who books I used to read, but now I’m proud to be a nerd.

This case of graphic novels in my office is a continuation of the black bookcases around the cornerActually, I have a copy of George W. Bush’s Decision Points on my shelf. I wouldn’t want browsers of my shelves to think that I’m a fan of President #43. It’s there because it was a title I represented as a sales rep, and it’s signed to me (as are the books by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama)

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?

I wish had a book with sentimental value like your Conan Doyle collection, but I don’t. The closest thing to that isn’t even really a book. It’s a fabric covered box with letterpress labels and it’s filled with postcard reproductions of book jacket designs by Chip Kidd and Barbara deWilde. I bought it when I was in college studying graphic design, and it was ridiculously expensive ($250 in the early 1990s). But it’s beautiful, and I treasure it.

Other things I’d try to save in case of a fire, are some of my signed books: Any Human Heart by William Boyd, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, a galley of Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, and DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke.

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?

My parents devoured books by Sidney Sheldon and I remember being fascinated by the shiny covers that usually had only words on them — not spaceships and aliens like most of the books I was reading at the time. I think the first one of his that I read was If Tomorrow Comes, which came out when I was 14. I don’t currently have any Sidney Sheldon on my shelves, but it might be fun to go back and re-read one of them, purely for nostalgia. (Didn’t I say earlier that I don’t re-read though…?)

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?

Yes, if I borrow a book from a friend or the library, and it ends up becoming such a favorite that I want to keep it, I will buy myself a copy.

Fables and Y The Last Man are two great series for people who think they might not like graphic novels

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

Just yesterday I bought a copy of Judge This! by Chip Kidd, which is part of the TED Books series, and is sort of a continuation of his TED Talk on design. In it he talks about the importance of first impressions and how it’s okay to judge things visually. You can probably tell that, though I’m not a practicing graphic designer, it’s a subject I’m still very much interested in.

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

How much space do I have to list titles? Of course, a huge portion of my massive TBR list is made up of books I don’t own. Most of them, I’m content to get from the library. The only one that really stands out as something that I’d love to have on my shelves is Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale: Yellow, Blue, and Gray. It’s an oversized hardcover compilation of origin stories Loeb and Sale did for Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Hulk. I’m a big fan of their writing and art, but I haven’t been able to justify the $75 price tag just yet.

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

Maybe it’s the inveterate book recommender in me, but I really hope people looking at my book shelves would find some books that interest them, that I could then tell them about. I’m sure you can tell a lot about me and my tastes from the books on my shelves, but I don’t really care about that too much. I just want to find you some new books to read!

Fiction Nonfiction - the box of book jacket postcards that I paid far too much for in the 1990s


A huge thanks to Michael for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, here’s hoping I can get Ann Kingman to do it in the future too! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the 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 Michael’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?


Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

2 responses to “Other People’s Bookshelves #60 – Michael Kindness

  1. I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around having to rep a book by someone with whom I did not agree (i.e., Decision Points). Does a book like that need hawking? Doesn’t it have a built-in audience and a built-in no way in hell crowd?

    • Yes, it definitely does have a built-in audience and a built-in no way in hell crowd (I like that phrase!), but for books like this, it’s my job to tell the buyer if there’s anything in the book, or in the publisher’s media plans for the book, that might break it out of those pre-defined audiences. And sometimes, a store buyer (an rep) can let their personal feelings about a book or author get in the way of making a “fair and balanced” decision about what the customers of the store might be interested in. Luckily, it’s extremely rare for me to encounter a buyer like that!

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