The bookshelf and what it means and says about a person came up under discussion several times during the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival panels. Everyone unanimously and somewhat proudly declared that they judge people by their bookshelves. Conscious of what our bookshelves display about ourselves, we arrange them (it was said) to have a desired effect.
From the articles I have read lately on the importance of bookshelves (it comes up all the time now that e-books are the rage) and the panels I attended at Blue Met, it seems that people's bookshelves are primarily performative. Which is great because performance can be exciting, dynamic, and intelligent.
Key words being "can be." I remember one panelist deplored a collection of Grisham novels he saw on someone's shelves. (They don't deserve shelf space or recognition, apparently, and should be hidden away. The display should be saved for "real" books.) I was miffed, even though I only ever read halfway through Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill -- that's not the point.
All that message seems to encourage is insincerity in our bookshelves (as if there wasn't enough of that going around). Why lie about what we enjoy? Or be embarrassed about it? This kind of shaming is what turns potentially lifelong readers away from books. I am reminded of one of my favorite English teachers saying she refused to read the Harry Potter books because she dislikes bad prose (ugh*).
The point isn't to censor what we read. The point is to read -- to live -- thoughtfully and critically, not matter what it may be. Just because someone has read Virginia Woolf's oeuvre doesn't make them a thoughtful or critical reader. Ingestion != digestion!
In any case, bookshelves that limit themselves to the glorified, canonized, mainstream, and fringe literary books (punctuated by a few iconic non-literary books to add a certain je ne sais quoi) don't scream "intelligent" or "tasteful" to me -- they only show an unwillingness to explore, a lack of curiosity, and closed-mindedness. I am expecting a "how-to-be-a-hipster-with-your-bookshelves" meme any day now.
*You want my iron fists to really come out? Bash Harry Potter. Just try.