How to Give Your Bookshelf a Literary Makeover

Updated 08/23/18

From the New York Times best-sellers to the beloved dog-eared reads you picked up at the secondhand bookstore and couldn’t put down, books speak volumes about who we are, where we’ve been, and what we’re into. Whether you’re a literary lover or your fondness for fiction has just begun, having a well-constructed bookshelf gives your interior an air of intelligence. Having a well-read top shelf brimming with conversation-starting spines is the epitome of cool. Whether your intention is to read them all or just to keep up appearances, don’t let your love for books go unnoticed. From cult classics to philosophical paperbacks and the cool contemporary reads that are all the rage right now, scroll down for the top tomes that will inject some scholarly style into your bookshelf. 

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Patti Smith Just Kids $9
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Just Kids by Patti Smith ($9)

Even if you’re not a fan of Patti Smith’s music, this story is a rare glimpse into what life was like for young American artists in the ’70s. It takes you right there, into the very room she shared with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe at the famous Chelsea Hotel. This incredible tale is hard to believe at times: It’s an honest and incredibly moving account of youth and friendship, love and hardships, and doing what you love against all odds.

Grace by Grace Coddington

Grace Coddington Grace $23
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Grace by Grace Coddington ($23)

A veritable force of the fashion industry, Grace Coddington has demonstrated extraordinary talent as the creative director of Vogue, making her an international icon. The September Issue documentary in 2009 exposed the shy behind-the-scenes Coddington and brought her work to the world. This memoir features delightful pen-and-ink illustrations and a rare look into her private world, including colorful anecdotes with designers, hairstylists, makeup artists, photographers, models, and celebrities.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Robert M. Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance $21
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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig ($21)

If you want to learn how to live life better, this powerful narrative will teach you. This is the story of a motorcycle trip that a father and his young son take across the northwest in the summer. This philosophical essay asks many of life’s fundamental questions about growth, discovery, and acceptance. If you’re ready to examine the essence of our existence, then this book is for you.

James Turrell by Michael Govan

Michael Govan James Turrell $52
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James Turrell by Michael Govan ($52)

Exploding onto the art scene in the 1960s, James Turrell’s monumental work asks us to “go inside and greet the light.” This incredible retrospective is a beautifully bound collection of his geometric light projections, prints, and drawings, including essays and interviews with the artist that explore his career to date. There is so much to savor in this beautiful book on a highly influential artist who continues to surprise and delight.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Meditations $9
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Meditations by Marcus Aurelius ($9 and up)

The ancient works of Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and emperor of Rome, remains “one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written.” Aurelius wrote down notes to himself every day on “restraint, compassion, and humility” and drew upon these “spiritual exercises” for strength. Meditations include insights and advice on everything from “living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others.” Not only is this required reading, but it’s also key to adding a philosophical touch to your shelf. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby $11
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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald ($11)

Swing your way into the Jazz Age of the 1920s in this exciting novel by acclaimed American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Indulge in the tale of the insanely wealthy Jay Gatsby, his extravagant parties on Long Island, and his love affair with the beautiful Daisy Buchanan. It’s intense, dramatic, and sad but well worth the wild ride.

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

Jean M. Auel The Clan of the Cave Bear $14
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The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel ($14)

This is a must-read for all women. The epic adventure begins in the Ice Age with a young girl named Ayla who is left wandering alone after a natural disaster. A woman of the local clan discovers her and takes her in, but Ayla is very different from the group: Her blond hair and blue eyes are considered ugly. This is an incredible story of resilience, strength, survival, and courage from a young woman who, against all odds, proves she is worth more than the life this clan sets for her. Warning: You will not be able to put this one down until you’ve read all five in the series.

Models of Influence by Nigel Barker

Nigel Barker Models of Influence $30
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Models of Influence by Nigel Barker ($30)

If you love fashion, you’ll adore this book. We’re literally obsessed. Nigel Barker profiles 50 of the most influential models from the 1940s to the present, offering beautiful imagery and anecdotes from the many unforgettable moments behind the scenes. Each chapter highlights an era or story about these women and how they made their mark on the fashion world.

Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats by John Keats

John Keats Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats $13
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Having Keats in your library showcases your love for poetry and romance. This collection of his work will give you a broad introduction to his musings and provide the perfect reference of sonnets, verse, and prose for your own love letters, cards, or text messages to your significant other.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird $10
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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee ($10)

This classic is a number one best-seller for a reason. The cult classic won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and its cinematic version won an Academy Award. Even though it was first published in 1960, the moving love story still resonates with readers today, with more than 18 million copies in print and translated into 40 languages. It’s a literary masterpiece.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho The Alchemist $10
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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho ($10)

Just having Paul Coelho in your bookshelf shows you’re a deep thinker and that you seek self-discovery. This modern classic has sold millions and helped to transform the lives of as many worldwide. The mystical tale follows the quest of a young shepherd boy, teaching us to follow our dreams and listen to our hearts along the way.

Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement

Jennifer Clement Widow Basquiat $13
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Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement ($13)

We all know, love, and adore the incredible art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, but what was he really like? This mesmerizing tale tells the story of his love affair with his muse, Suzanne Mallouk, before his tragic death at just 27 years of age. They met at a bar on the Lower East Side in 1980, and what followed was a turbulent, passionate, and short-lived romance. It’s unforgettable.

Ettore Sottsass by Philippe Thomé

Philippe Thomé Ettore Sottsass $89
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Ettore Sottsass by Philippe Thomé ($89)

This is for all the design aficionados and those who aspire to be. Delve into the archives of the founder of the Memphis Group and designer of the Olivetti Valentine typewriter. This stylish monograph details the life and works of the revered Italian designer and architect. The book itself is a beautiful thing to behold, and once you delve into each chapter of its 800 pages—including drawings, sketches, and essays—you’ll be engrossed.

Opening image: Architectural Digest

Which book would you add to this list? What authors do you feature in your home library? Tell us in the comments.

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