As it is the holiday time of year, this month’s post will be a short bit of fluff, as opposed to the longer bits of fluff I usually write. I am a reader. If it comes in my mailbox, or I pick it up from a newsstand, I will probably read it. This often leads to interesting things coming into my mind and life.

Recently, my older daughter’s university magazine arrived, and being me, I read it. The thing that caught my attention this time was the centerfold bit. They had taken photos of a bookshelf from a variety of professors and wanted you to match the book collection to the academic. I did read the short bios and thought about which books likely matched their interests, but the part that has stuck with me is the way we can represent ourselves, or make assumptions about others, based on their book shelves. I don’t know about you, but I love to look at the books on display in public spaces in other people’s homes, and as a fan of the selfie shot, this is an idea I am a fan of all around.
As I mentioned last month, I have recently relocated. I don’t just hold on to recipes, I also hold on to books. However, moving from a 3,000 square foot house to a two bedroom apartment made me think long and hard about what books I just “had” to have with me for this interim housing. As an academic, I have a collection of books that are relevant to my research interests and had to come along for practical reasons. However, I also insisted on bringing a sampling of the books that helped define me- the books that I might never read again, but I will probably carry around with me for the rest of my life.

So, I will share two photos with you all, my personal shelfie and my academic shelfie, and I hope to inspire many of you to post yours on twitter! If you @FreeChoiceLab us, we will get to see and share this part of our lives. Could be fun! Oh, and happy holidays- whatever you celebrate!

PS- Michelle Mileham posted the original “shelfie” with her cookbook blog last year!



I believe every graduate student needs a distraction. My most commonly used distraction is cooking. As I’ve previously posted, I love books and cookbooks are some of my favorite books to buy or receive as gifts. Cooking is a way for me to take my mind off of things because my attention needs to be on chopping, managing heat, and tasting (duh!).

I was recently inspired by a tweet posted by Bon Appetit magazine (@bonappetit). They posted a photo of a famous chef’s cookbook station and said “you can learn a lot about a chef by the cookbooks on their station”. I by no means want to degrade chefs by saying that I am one, but it got me thinking about what my shelf of cookbooks says about me.


A selection of my cookbooks

I have cookbooks I turn to all the time for the basic recipes that every cook needs in their arsenal. And I have other cookbooks that I proudly own, thinking one day I’ll have the time to cook the recipes in them. For instance, I love the entree recipes in Tartine Bread, but the bread recipes are just out of my range at the moment. Bread, to me, is something so down home and I love, love, love making it by hand. That’s probably why I have two bread books (and the pizza book that contains pizza dough and focaccia recipes). I think bread making is in our roots, our heritage. I use the same ingredients and techniques as my great grandmother. Bread doesn’t change with food trends, it doesn’t need to.

I think we all need to respect the forgotten skills of cooking (coincidentally the title of a great book by an Irish woman), but I do like following food trends. My husband often tells people that when I cook you don’t get a hamburger, you get a hamburger. Cooking new foods keeps things interesting in the kitchen.

Some of my favorite books on my shelf are ones published by Junior Leagues. Of course, I own Honest to Goodness from my hometown of Springfield, IL (also Abraham Lincoln’s hometown, hint the name of the book). Other Junior League publications I own include Peoria, IL, Chicago, St. Louis (specifically the Italian-American neighborhood called The Hill), and one from my favorite city, San Francisco.

When I told my mom about this blog post she asked me, “So what do your cookbooks say about you?” I laughed and replied, “That I like carbs.” She then proceeded to tell me hers represent “comfort.” Sadly, I couldn’t get a picture of my mom’s cookbook station in time for this post. I did tell my advisor, Dr. Shawn Rowe, about this post and he and Dr. Olga Rowe so kindly shared a photo of their cookbook shelf. I’ll have to follow up on what their cookbook shelf says about who they are.


Shawn and Olga’s cookbook shelf

So, what do your cookbooks say about you?

I have 248 books in my house. Yes, I counted and no, that doesn’t count borrowed books. Topics range from travel to fiction to mystery to cookbooks to books on learning theory and biology. Obviously, I love to read. It should be a requirement for us as graduate students because we read a lot. Some of my books are like comfort food, comfort books I guess. When I need to escape into another world, I’ll pick up a book and read it cover to cover in a weekend and enjoy every word my eyes consume.  And it feels like a guilty pleasure.


I’ve read a handful of my books more than once. For academic books I find myself re-reading chapters more than the entire book. Yet every time I re-read the pages I notice something new. It’s as though I’m reading through a different lens. And that’s because I am. I started exploring this idea when our theory group was reading Dewey’s Democracy and Education. Dewey writes, “’Reason’ is just the ability to bring the subject matter of prior experience to bear to perceive the significance of the subject matter of a new experience” (pg. 146). What Dewey means is that we see an event in connection to a larger framework, that by habit we see things through different lenses.


Our theory group is currently reading Acts of Meaning by J. Bruner. Bruner states so eloquently, “Books are like mountaintops jutting out of the sea. Self-contained islands though they may seem, they are upthrusts of an underlying geography that is at once local and…a part of the universal pattern. And so, while they inevitably reflect a time and a place, they are part of a more general intellectual geography” (pg. ix).


This is the second time I’m reading Acts of Meaning and I’m simultaneously reading Maps of Narrative Practice (M. White). It wasn’t until I picked Acts of Meaning up for the second time that I started realizing the similarities between it and White’s book, nor had I previously recognized how much White built on Bruner’s theory. I’m now reading both books through a different lens all to create the geography that underlines my doctoral research. I would encourage everyone to re-read a book. Who knows what you’ll discover this time around.