The word “shelfie” finished far behind “selfie” and other neologisms recently when the Oxford Dictionaries announced their nominees, and the winner, of the Word of the Year for 2013.
Like the selfie (which had a recent moment of infamy thanks to President Obama), a shelfie is a kind of self-portrait. It doesn’t reveal, however, the truths to be found in a photographer’s face. Instead, a shelfie shows you what you can learn about someone from looking at their bookshelf.
The writer and musician who goes by the Twitter handle Mrs. Darkly, for example, loves the opera and loves cats. Besides a feline closeup she’s placed on one shelf, and an opera mask on another, her shelfie shows a wonderful collection of books about music, including “The Rough Guide to Opera,” several biographies of Mozart and the history “Women Making Music.”
Thanks to the bookseller AbeBooks, the Guardian, and others on Twitter and Instagram using the #shelfie hashtag, the shelfie had a big moment in the proverbial sun this week, with many bibliophiles sharing them.
The people at AbeBooks encouraged their Twitter followers to post shelfies, and shared their own, including one of three very old books, one of which is an 18th century Bible (and a huge bestseller in its day) published by Samuel Bagster. Other shelfies included one with a live cat crawling underneath stacked books, a bookshelf in the shape of the United States, and wide shots showing living room shelves with hundreds of books.
“I love that this is trending,” one of AbeBooks’ Twitter followers wrote in response. “Come on let’s all #shelfie.”
A bookshelf in the home has long been a symbol of culture. Entering a living room and looking at someone’s bookshelves is like peering into their brain. (“Oh, I see you’re a Marxist.” “You must be very religious, no?” “I love The Beat poets too!”) A short while back, a British survey found that bookshelves are one of the reasons that printed books still retain a certain cachet among young people.
“Books are status symbols,” a surveyor explained to the Guardian. “You can’t really see what someone has read on their Kindle.”