Since I started this blog, I have posted a bookshelf update about once a year. After my latest one in April 2019, I didn’t know if I would do another one since my bookshelf changes so much, and anyone who wants to keep up with it can do so with my Goodreads anyway. Obviously, I’ve changed my mind and decided to share with you the way it has been changing and what types of books I’ve been into.
As a little refresher, the last time I shared my bookshelf with you, it looked like this:
Last April, I was in the habit of buying books solely for the sake of my thinking that they were silly or would be too easy to “debunk” in a blog post. This is why you see things like The Evolution Cruncher, The Case for Christmas, and Persecution. I also felt that if I went to a bookstore just to browse, the trip wouldn’t be complete unless I bought something, so I found myself buying things just to say that I had. What a waste of money and space!
A handful of these books that I have only for sake of refuting them still exist on my bookshelf, like The Case for Christ and The Purpose-Driven Life. I’ve narrowed it down to more popular books at the very least. And when I go to bookstores, I have a higher standard for what I decide to buy. I don’t feel obligated to buy anything, so I end up buying only books that I truly believe I’ll read.
I also applied this principle retroactively to the books I already owned: whenever I comb through my shelf for books to sell or donate, I ask myself, “If I saw this at a bookstore today, would I buy it?” Rather than judging books by their covers, I like to open one up and start reading at the chapter that I think I’d be most interested in. If it still doesn’t capture my attention, it’s gone.
Occasionally, a book will pass this test, but I will realize it’s not for me once I start reading it. If this happens, I get rid of that book and re-evaluate other books by that author. This is what happened with the majority of my Richard Dawkins books when I read The Greatest Show on Earth. I really didn’t care for his writing style, so only a handful of his books remain on my shelf. I know this will sound like sacrilege to my fellow atheists, but several of my Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris books met the same fate.
Update 10/27/21: I do not feel any shame for having this opinion.
Above is the box that I purged from my shelf in January 2020. Not shown is Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist and Hitch 22, which I purposely left out of the photo at the time out of fear of being berated by atheists online. Nowadays, I don’t care whether or not I fit in with the atheist community—I usually don’t, for reasons like this. Either way, I don’t have anything against Hitchens’ anthology or memoir, I just didn’t see myself sitting down one day to read them.
Now that I’ve gone through what books have left my shelf in recent years, let’s consider those that I’ve added! Even back in April 2019, I had a handful of books on paleoanthropology (and I hadn’t yet read a single one). Now, I have two shelves dedicated to just that, and they’re broken up into two sub-categories since there are so many. I’ve read seven out of the 56 books, which is a start.
More notably for me is what happened to my bookshelf after recently reading Carl Sagan’s classic Cosmos. One could say it was the opposite of what happened when I read Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth: I bought all the other Sagan books I did not yet own, save for one or two obscure works.
Once, years ago, I shared a photo of my bookshelf to Twitter, and someone commented that I needed some Carl Sagan on there. (There had been none at the time.) I don’t remember who said that, but I think they would be glad to know how far I’ve come! I truly believe that I will realistically read all of these books. First will be The Demon-Haunted World, after several suggestions including this video.
Meanwhile, I have had much better luck in the last year finding books on my relevant interests by women. In my last bookshelf update, I had complained that only nine out of my then-135 books had been authored by women. Now, according to Goodreads, 34 out of my 247 books are by women. That’s a jump from 6% to 13%. I can’t control which books exist or which honestly look interesting, but I now make an effort to seek out more women-authored books. You can peruse my women-authored collection here.
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for is here: seeing my current bookshelf!
One of the most notable differences between this photo and the last is the presence of labels denoting the books’ topics. Included are:
- astronomy & cosmology
- paleoanthropology – academic
- paleoanthropology – history
- science – history & people
- science – misc.
- evolution – general
- science & religion
- bible & theology
- Christian history
- atheism & agnosticism
- social issues
- memoirs & fiction
For this reason, I’m reluctant to call it an “atheist bookshelf” like I once did. The most unifying feature of these books is that they are nonfiction, and even then, there are exceptions.
I recently rearranged the order of the sections, partially to account for the growing science and paleoanthropology sections and shrinking philosophy section, but I also didn’t feel that my atheist books deserved to be given the spotlight anymore. Instead, my top shelf begins appropriately with Big Bang cosmology before moving into a trove of Sagan books. I decided to stick The God Delusion next to The Purpose-Driven Life just because the thought makes me giggle. What would their authors think if they knew?
Not to be forgotten, some of my favorite books—the oldest—are elsewhere, used mostly as decorations. I’m not much into plants, so I’ve decided to decorate with books and a saintly candle instead.
So that is my 2020 bookshelf update! My collection is always growing, but it has been expanding at a slower rate for a while, and I put a lot more thought into the books I actually buy. As always, you can keep up with my book buying and selling at my Goodreads page.