Our Reading Lives

My Family’s Virtual Bookshelf

Kit Steinkellner

Staff Writer

Kit Steinkellner is a playwright, screenwriter, and creative writing teacher. She also writes about books and reading  at Books Are My Boyfriends. Follow her onTwitter: @BooksAreMyBFs

Here’s how a typical conversation about books in my family tends to go:

MY BROTHER: You HAVEN’T read Nate Silver’s book?

ME: Sorry! I didn’t know he was going to correctly predict EVERYTHING about the election.

MY BROTHER: You have to read it.

ME: Give it to me and I will.

MY BROTHER: I can’t. Dad has it.

ME: Is he going to finish it soon?



It can also go something like this:

MY MOM: Do you have our copy of To Kill A Mockingbird?

ME: We have three copies of To Kill A Mockingbird?

MY MOM: Do you have one of them?

ME: Yeah, in my car somewhere.

MY MOM: When’s the next time I’m going to see you?

ME: Like in a week, but Mom, we have TWO OTHER COPIES!

MY MOM: Right, but I don’t know where the other two are and now I know the third one is in your car.

Clear enough picture for you? We’re always borrowing books from each other and not giving them back on time…or ever. We tend to forget who has what, or which of the twenty bookshelves in our house a book is on. We’re a really good family, but we’re like the worst-run library ever.

Or we used to be. That’s starting to change a little thanks to my Mom’s ebook shelf.

When my mom buys books for us now, she tends to put them on her shelf. It’s what my iPad is synced to, my dad has it on his iPad, my brother on his ereader… you get the idea. And having a communal family shelf has made sharing a HECK of a lot easier. My brother and I read R.J. Palacio’s Wonder on my mom’s rec, each getting our e-copies through the Family Virtual Bookshelf. My mom and dad read Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things on MY rec, again, because my mom picked it up for the Family Virtual Bookshelf. My mom bought/read The Hunger Games Trilogy on her iPad, I decided I was due for a re-read, and there the books were, side by side on the virtual shelf, a much easier situation than the alternative of waiting for three years on the library holds list or spending a chunk of grocery money on all those pages about Panem.

Before my family starting sharing a virtual shelf, my feelings about ereading were this side of chilly. I have ALL the nostalgia associated with paper books. I love brick and mortar bookstores. I didn’t like the threats posed by new technology. I knew that ebooks were efficient and practical. But I had a hard time finding the heart in this new technology.

Well, I’ve found the aortas and arteries of ereading now. Sentimental as it sounds, the virtual bookshelf we Steinkellners share keeps us feeling close even when we know we’re not going to see each other for weeks, or sometimes even months. It makes sharing books easier, and because it’s easier, we share more. We’re more likely to take each other’s recs or rec ourselves if the books in question are largely in one easy to access location.

We can’t be the only one’s sharing a book shelf like this. Are there any families or couples or even groups of friends out there doing the same thing? Do you maybe not share a bookshelf but regularly lend/borrow e-books from people you’re close to? How do you navigate sharing books in this brave new wireless world?