Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhat makes a book a ‘keeper’? Why is it that Book A, a critically acclaimed literary masterpiece, venerable classic or New York Times bestseller, can be given away without a second thought while Book B instantly earns permanency on your small shelf of those titles you must own? Why can Book C be returned to the library while the borrowed copy of Book D must be replaced with a bought one that can be loved and treasured longterm?

I’ve talked about something similar before when I mentioned The Crow Road by Iain Banks, which is not only one of my keepers but also exists in the form of a mouldy old paperback we can’t bear to give up. It’s a slightly different phenomenon when you hang onto a particular copy of a book like this: it could be classified as a mild form of family lunacy and I don’t expect anyone else to follow my example. When I talk about keepers I mean any book you love so much you feel you must own a copy. I wondered what it was about these special books that makes us love them so much, and whether what is on our keepers shelf says anything about us as writers.

Here’s some of what’s on my keepers shelf:
1. The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
2. The Crow Road by Iain Banks (yes, that copy)
3. The Catalogue of the Universe by Margaret Mahy: a quirky YA novel with a science geek protagonist
4. Little, Big by John Crowley: a fantasy classic rich in folkloric wisdom
5. Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes: the only nonfiction book on the keepers shelf, this had a profound influence on my attitude to women’s roles in traditional story, and on my personal development
6. Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books: one of the strongest childhood influences on me as a writer, I suspect
7. The History of the Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago: a beautifully realised love story whose central character is a middle-aged copyeditor—don’t be fooled by the title. I own several books by this author.

I have many other books that I don’t ever intend to give away, notably my reference library of history, mythology, fairy tales, spirituality and so on, and also classic novels by Jane Austen and others. But this list of seven tells me most about myself as a reader and writer. All these writers are capable stylists and each has a highly individual approach to telling a story. Each of these books has what I call ‘heart’ – each strikes a chord deep inside the reader, not just on first reading, but on third or fourth as well. Each of them ends on a note of hope, despite the stories containing tragic or confronting events. For me, that underlying belief in the possibility of redemption and the strength of love (not just romantic love but other kinds as well, notably among family) is an absolute essential for a keeper.

So, what’s on your keepers shelf, and why?

Photo Credit:
Photographer: Paul Hill.


About Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier has written nineteen novels for adults and young adults as well as a collection of short fiction. Her works of historical fantasy have been published around the world, and have won numerous awards. Juliet's new novel, Tower of Thorns, will be published in October/November 2015. Tower of Thorns is the second book in the Blackthorn & Grim series of historical fantasy/mysteries for adult readers. The first Blackthorn & Grim novel, Dreamer's Pool, is available from Roc US and Pan Macmillan Australia.


  1. says

    Unfortunately, if I liked a book, it would attain keeper status. This is not practical, because I’ve been lucky enough to find a lot of great books, lately. Now I tend to share fiction books I like/love with friends and keep only those that will somehow forward my writing career (so, writing or resource books).

  2. says

    Among my keepers: Lord of the Rings, Jane Eyre, Emma, and a Roberta Gellis medieval historical novel. Like Nienke, though, I have a box full of books I never read anymore, but I can’t bear to give up.

    I’m going to have to check out Saramango. Uh oh, another keeper book going on the shelf!

  3. says

    I have a battered copy of The Last Unicorn that I hope never leaves my possession, though I may have to buy a second copy to actually read so the first one doesn’t fall apart.

    You forgot the books that compell us to collect and keep multiple edtions: I’d have to put the Narnia books on that list. I think my husband and I have three full sets of the books, with no inclination to discard of any of them.

  4. says

    I think everyone’s sick of me talking up Time Traveler’s Wife, so I’ll admit something: There are more children’s books than adult books on my keeper shelf. I’ve kept classics like Pooh and Tawny Scrawny Lion, and more modern pieces like:

    * The Boy Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed by Helen Cooper
    * Peach and Blue by Sarah Kilborne
    * The Little Squeegy Bug by Bill Martin Jr and Michael Sampson

    I like books with a poetic voice and a touch or two of magic–probably explains my love of Lord of the Rings, Pullman’s The Golden Compass and the fantasy genre in general.

    Books I’ve borrowed and then had to buy post-read include David Eddings Belgariad series, Laura Kinsale’s meaty romance Flowers from the Storm, and your book, Juliet: Daughter of the Forest.

  5. Amy says

    Sunshine and Deerskin, both by Robin McKinley; LOTR; anything by Orson Scott Card; Wrapped in Rain by Charles Martin.

    And speaking of Daughter of the Forest, the next addition to my keeper shelf will be the Sevenwaters trilogy. Juliet, did you know that a used paperback of the Australian cover for Daughter of the Forest is selling for $74 on I borrowed the books from the library and instantly knew they had to be on my keeper shelf, but when I went out to buy them, all that was available in the bookstores were the mass market paperbacks. The story is, of course, the same regardless of format, but I was disappointed. Unless they’re one of those “mouldy old paperbacks” one is unreasonably attached to, books that go on my keeper shelf aren’t mass market if it can be avoided.

  6. Veronica Wolff says

    Juliet, I have to confess, your books are all on my keeper shelf. What makes a book a must-keep for me are those that I have a strong emotional attachment to. Intense relationships and high stakes draw me in and keep me thinking about a particular book long after I’ve put it down. Something could be a rollicking good page-turner that I love, but I’ll be happy to lend it out and not see it again. But Robin Hobb, Diana Gabaldon, George R.R. Martin, Jane Austen…you can’t pry them out of my hands.

  7. says

    My keeper books are ones that I can reach for again and again and never get tired of them. That would be all of Carol Berg’s books, Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera, and recently, Patrick Rothfuss’ _Name of the Wind_. They’re the books that make me sigh when I close them and vow to become as good a writer as the author.

  8. theamcginnis says

    i used to have a very dog eared first edition of GOne With The Wind. I just loved that story. And Pride and Prejudice, which I reread on a regular basis. And I have boxes and boxes of books i hate to part with. Non classic, but very rereadable for me is Amanda Quick’s medieval, Desire. Very charmingly done. And I have just about all of my children’s beloved books still, and one of my all time favorites is just a little paperback Sesame Street fractured fairy tale book, featuring The King of Cauliflower. They are so delightful to read aloud. For all ages.

  9. Peggy says

    I, too, am one of those people who has stacks of books all around because I just can’t bear to give away a book I like. However, one book that I will never, ever get rid of not matter what happens is “Galax-Arena” by Gillian Rubinstein. I read this book in middle school, and it was one of the few I actually remembered years afterward. It took my sister and I almost 6 months to find a copy at a library sale, because it is (unfortunately) not published in the U.S.

  10. says

    I would classify myself as a bibliophile, but I’m ruthless when it comes to what fiction I keep. If it doesn’t touch me on a deep level it gets donated to the library.

    I have number of books on my shelf that have never been read. I bought them after I had read a copy through my book club or a friend had leant them to me, then after finishing the book, I just had to own it.

    These books are:

    * Flesh and Blood, Michael Cunningham
    * too close to the falls, Catherine Gildiner
    * The Reader, Bernhard Schlink
    * The Turning, Tim Winton
    * Tirra Lirra by the River, Jessica Anderson
    * Misery, Stephen King (my most recent addition, I only just read it)


  11. says

    It’s great to know my books are on some people’s keepers shelves! One of the highlights of book-signings, for me, is the appearance of readers with shopping bags full of ‘loved to death’ copies of my novels – it seems more meaningful to sign those than the glossy new copies.

    Amy, it is sad that many of my books are now only available in the mass market editions. I wish I could do something about it. Now, if someone made a Sevenwaters movie, maybe I’d get a reprint in trade paperback … One can always dream.

    Re children’s books, and picture books in particular, I plan a follow-up post about those, as I’m rediscovering a lot of great ones now I have grandchildren to read to.

  12. says

    A historical fantasy tragic with a bent towards sword’n’sorcery, I have for many years had a core collection containing Roger Zelazny’s Amber series; Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy; T.H. White’s Once and Future King and, of course, LOTR. Also among the keepers are Ursula Leguin’s Left Hand of Darkness as well as her Earthsea books together with almost all the works of John Wyndham and Rosemary Sutcliffe.

    Of recent years I’ve made a point of trying to keep up with Australian fantasy so naturally I have the entire Marillier oeuvre on the top shelf. I also have all of Simon Haynes’s, all of Glenda Larke’s and all of Karen Miller’s as well as representative works by other Aussie authors, and I think they will all be keepers as well. The only overseas author I buy consistently and will probably keep for ever is Guy Gavriel Kay, although Jacqueline Carey is nudging her way in, too. Let me not start on non-fiction. I have enough to furnish a small library. Whenever I Get Tough and offload a few I always regret it within the week.

    So many books, so little money, so little time…:-(

  13. says

    The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
    Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
    Ubik by Philip K. Dick
    Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick

    Library of America’s wonderfully bound collections of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Anyone interested in popular culture who wants to know what influenced Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Sin City, and Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (in America became the Clint Eastwood ‘A Fistful of Dollars’) should read Hammett’s Red Harvest.

    Every book I buy on writing tends to stay on my shelf for reference. I’m gonna end up like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Stranger Than Fiction.

    I could go on, but I’ll stop. :)

  14. Danielle says

    Well, I must also admit to having all of Juliet’s books on my keeper shelf, along with the much loved LOTR and Harry Potter books! Among my other keepers are Diana Gabaldon’s Cross Stitch series, Jennifer Fallon’s Hythryn Chronicles, Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles and William Goldman’s abridgement of The Princess Bride, while the complete works of Shakespeare has to rate a mention … so many adventures packed into a few thousand odd pages!

  15. Li says

    Hi, my keepers are my Jane Austen novels, Jane Eyre, of course all of my Juliet Marillier novels, The Mists of Avalon, His Dark Materials Trilogy, Harry Potter Series, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchmist, The Pilgrim, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant,my Celtic collection of history, folk tales, fairy tales, Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy. This are all of my keepers I re-read all of them maybe once a year.