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What books define your personality?


What books define your personality?

Richard O’Leary bears his soul by revealing what’s on his bookshelf.

A while ago I wrote a story that included a reference to what books lay on my bedside table, which probably revealed a little about where my head was at that given point in time.

I was reminded of this while reading a story that claimed bookshelves are coming back to a room near you as more people use them as props for a ‘shelfie’ – a photo of one’s library.

It got me thinking about what your bookshelf does reveal about you – does it reveal who you are? Or, who you would like people to think you are?

As many of you would know, I recently moved house so I had to pare down my first editions and paperbacks to a couple of shelves on a bookcase, which I share with my wife (sharing a shelf with a partner is worth a column in itself, but I’ll leave that for another day) – which means for the first time in years I’ve had to really narrow down what publications are most important to me.

At first glance my bookshelf may look like a mishmash of genres and styles, but closer inspection reveals a couple of broad categories, which I claim make some sort of sense.

The top shelf is aspirational, the second is inspirational, the third is dysfunctional and the bottom tier is what I have left for my wife and I make no attempt to explain her collection at all.

Let me explain. At the pinnacle of my bookshelf you’ll find a bunch of books about how to become a writer: Philip Roth’s Reading Myself and Others, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and Stephen King’s On Writing – A Memoir on the Craft – and many others.

To save you a lot of time, I’ll distil the hundreds of thousands of words into a few drops of advice – it’s all about perspiration, persistence and having something to say.

Now if you tilt your head slightly, you’ll see on the second row all the books that inspire me. These are the books I would want to take with me on the proverbial desert island: Steinbeck’s haunting Of Mice and Men, Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece Blood Meridian, To Kill a Mockingbird, my favourite history book AJP Taylor’s The Origins of the Second World War and my only collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver.

The relatively coherent narrative provided by the top two shelves gives way to random ramblings as you get closer to the floor, as cook books share space with novels, a dictionary, a guide to practical Balinese and a recent edition of the New Philosopher.

What books are on your bookshelf, and which title could you not do without? Let me know at

Or even better, send me a shelfie.


Richard O’Leary is a journalist, a political advisor and a father who knows there’s a deeper meaning to life but struggles to find it.

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