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What Would Your Book Collection Say After You Die?

Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

A fellow book-obsessed friend and I were talking today, and she brought up an interesting question: What would people think about me if they go through my books after I die? Morbid, maybe, but interesting. It got me thinking, especially because if there’s one thing I constantly hear from my family is that I have entirely too many books, and haven’t I ever heard of a library? What they don’t understand is that sometimes (okay, many times, for me), I just need to own the book. At any rate, I do have a lot of books, even after purging many of them at used bookstores. It might tell people that I needed more excitement in my life…so what WOULD people think if they went through my books?

They’d definitely pick up on my love of medicine and maternal-child health. I have an entire bookcase full of books on pregnancy, birth, post-partum, ob/gyn, medicine, and oncology. Textbooks, books for the lay person, and everything in between.

I have a smattering of classics: 1984, Brave New World, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, The Catcher in the Rye…but not a lot. They might infer that I didn’t read nearly enough classics, or maybe didn’t like many. (Note to self: read more classics).

My feminist leanings would be apparent, I hope. Bad Feminist, The Handmaid’s Tale, Dora: A Headcase, Zipper Mouth, and many other books by Eileen Myles, Maggie Nelson, and more. Also apparent would be my love of memoir, as evidenced by books by Lidia Yuknavitch, Mary Karr, Jerome Groopman, Atul Gawande, and Margo Jefferson.

The small collection of poetry that includes Cate Marvin, Allen Ginsberg, Eileen Myles, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath might suggest a quirky, creative bent…or, given the Sexton and Plath, might suggest I needed therapy. It’s a toss-up at this point.

Books on writing craft, book proposals, and copies of Writer’s Markets would clearly give away my profession. At least I hope so. As a writer, I obsessively read books on craft and technique…as if my years in an MFA program didn’t fill my brain enough, it seems like there is always, always more to learn and more to work on. As it should be.

What would your book collection say about you?