Personalize Your Bookshelf

In 2008, Gail Martin wrote the following article for the eHow website.

Bookshelves take on their owner’s personality. Besides the range of titles and the way you organize it, express your personality in the choice of bookends. Here are ideas to personalize a bookshelf.


  1. I like my books separated by authors, rather than all huddled together. So through the 60 plus years of saving books, I have found some unique bookends to do the job of keeping our favorite author’s writings together.

    The old time Kansas school books that I discovered mostly at estate sales, I group together with bookends that are replicas of the school desks like my husband used in the one-room school he attended. They even have two miniature school books with each of them.

  2. On the long top shelf where my husband’s books about Abraham Lincoln fill the whole shelf, I added a pair of heavy bookends depicting the Lincoln Memorial. Between some of the different Lincoln biographers, I added a gold bust of ‘Abe’ sold by Avon and a small, square bottle, decorated with a black silhouette of Lincoln and capped with a gold eagle, separates another group of his books.
  3. I found miniature birdhouses that hold our nature books together. This section includes bird guides and insect books. Also in that section, I placed several Foxfire books that feature the lives of the Appalachian Mountain people and Euell Gibbons book, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus.” What fun we had hunting edible food along the back roads after we retired.
  4. I selected a couple of large pieces of petrified wood that we found on 4-H geology field trips. By adding felt to the bottoms so they don’t scratch the wooden shelves, they make attractive bookends and are certainly heavy enough to hold many books together.

  5. I even use the mantel clock that my sister and her husband made for us one Christmas to separate sections of books. It’s made of local black walnut wood.
  6. On one bookshelf, I use old blue-green canning jars to hold categories of cookbooks apart. In one jar, I collect buttons; in another I drop marbles when I find them and in some I put sand to make them heavier. I like to separate all the canning books in one place and cookbooks published by churches and families in another.

 Tips & Warnings

  • Heavy objects make good bookends.
  •  Lighter items can separate subjects or authors in a row of books.
  •  Open items can be filled with something weighty like sand to make it heavy enough to serve as a bookend.
  •  Put felt on the bottom of anything that might scratch the bookshelf.

Promoting Mom’s Books

When I helped my 86 year old mom self-publish her childhood memories, I also took on the job as PR person for the book. I posted blurbs all over the Internet, sent postcards to libraries and helped arrange author talks and book signings.

We sent this postcard to libraries in Kansas to promote my mother's memoir.

We sent this postcard to libraries in Kansas to promote my mother’s memoir.

One fun way to promote the book was with a t-shirt. You can get these printed up locally or use a site like Zazzle or Vistaprint. Get everyone in the family to wear the shirts. Have them prepped to talk enthusiastically about the book when someone asks them.

A sunflower seemed like a good match for a Kansas memoir. I ordered this t-shirt from x to promote My Flint Hills Childhood.

A sunflower seemed like a good match for a Kansas memoir. I ordered this t-shirt from Vistaprint to promote My Flint Hills Childhood.

Make sure they know where people can buy the book too. With the t-shirts, friends and family can become walking billboards promoting the book. Besides being available online (see below), we made the books available at the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado, Kansas and at the Greenwood County Historical Museum in Eureka, Kansas.

Have you written a book? If so, then you know that promoting the book is a lot of work.

Here’s my mother’s memoir. It won the 2010 Ferguson Kansas History Book award.

Gail Lee Martin's memoir is available from

Gail Lee Martin’s memoir is available from

Mom’s stories plus some of mine and my sisters were compiled in this book about my dad.

The book about Dad is also available from Blurb.

The book about Dad is also available from Blurb.

N is for Never Ninety

I wanted my mother to live forever, I guess. Even though I knew that wasn’t realistic, I was hopeful that she’d live well into her nineties at least. After all, her grandmother lived to be 91 and great-grandfather lived to 92. Her Aunt Bertha lived to 96 and Aunt Vina to 94.

Those are all from the Tower line in our family. It’s pretty remarkable for people born in the 1800s to live that long. I was hoping that those Tower genes would carry Mom along into the nineties too.

We had worked together to complete the two books, Mom’s memoir and the collected stories about Dad’s life. I’d hoped the three works-in-progress gave her some incentive to hang around. I really needed her input on our Civil War ancestor’s book and on Aunt Bertha’s biography.

The book includes her prize-winning essay on "My Mother's Apron."

My mother’s memoir.

They say that having a passion for something contributes to longevity. Sadly, she did not regain her zest for writing and research and genealogy after Dad died. Her health issues and missing her spouse of 67 years dragged her down. She died of a broken hip followed by a heart attack at 88.

Now it is up to me to make those books happen. I worry that there will be gaps that I can’t fill without her knowledge of family history. I worry that I can’t tell the stories like she could.

Knowing that they won’t be perfect, I need to go forward with the projects. It is what she would want. Here’s hoping I live until 99 to complete all the family projects.

The book about Dad.

The book about Dad.

What’s on My Plate?

I’ve been lax about keeping up with the Blog Every Day in May challenge. It has inspired me to write more here than I might otherwise. The topic for today is “What’s on your plate?” Now I could write about food, but the question makes me think of all the things I want to get done.

Mom and I were collaborating on two family books before she died. One was about her aunt, Bertha McGhee, and the other was about her great-grandfather, Abraham Bates Tower. She had some primary source material on both of them and some memories of her aunt.

I rue that I didn’t ask her more questions on the two topics. She had sent home with me the letters, the diary, and other notes, photos and memorabilia on the two relatives. I’ve been diligently researching and reading up on background information to add to the books.

It feels like a huge project, so I need to break each one down into sections and focus on working my way through a section at a time. Maybe then I won’t feel so ineffectual in the progress on the books. I’ve been dragging my feet on transcribing 40 years of Aunt Bertha’s letters. Fortunately her handwriting is fairly clear. I need to do it soon, as there are still some relatives who can answer questions that may turn up from the letters.

Here's Bertha McGhee (on the right) in New Mexico with some of the other teachers from the Navajo school.

Here’s Bertha McGhee (on the right) in New Mexico with some of the other teachers from the Navajo school.

A Life Tip from My Mom

Maybe we should all make a list of truths that we discover during our lives. We could leave these lists for our children to guide them through the pitfalls they are sure to encounter.

In trying to think what life tip my mother might wish for me to know, my mind swirled around the importance of reading, of writing, of memories… Perhaps she would have said:

A good book will last you longer than a tidy house. Hmm, that doesn’t flow quite right. How about “Do what you love and don’t worry about cooking and cleaning.”

Mom often raced to get a meal on the table for her hungry husband and six children. Supper time sneaked up on her as she worked on a craft project, read a book or helped a child with their 4-H activity.

Although we loved her pot roast and the pancakes made in creative shapes, we’ll probably remember most the hours she spent showing us how to make a butterfly net or driving us to a remote location where we could find geodes for our rock collection.

As I turn the page of the book I’m reading, I silently thank my mother and father for being readers. They set the example in our home and all their children became lifelong lovers of books.

My whole career evolved from a love of reading. I spent thirty years as a librarian ensuring that communities had access to books through their public library.

We may not have had the neatest house around and our meals weren’t always on time, but we learned to create things and to love books. That’s a legacy that I’m glad I have.

three silly kittens

The Three Silly Kittens – favorite stories from childhood.

Writing More with Another Challenge

It seems I get haphazard in my postings when I don’t have a challenge goading me on. Luckily I stumbled on one called Blog Every Day in May. It even offers prompts to inspire you.

The theme for today is “Share a book that you’d like to read, but haven’t yet. What draws you to it?

I have one that’s calling to me. It’s from my mother’s bookshelf of Kansas authors. The title is They Named Me Ethel and the author is Ethel Adams June. The memoir tells of a 1920s childhood growing up on a farm southeast of Wichita, Kansas, near Mulvane.

Ethel was born in 1914, so a decade before my mom. I’m looking forward to seeing to sharing her approach to her memories and comparing her style to Mom’s. I already peeked into one chapter and see that she wrote about having a pet rooster. That reminds me of Grandma’s pet hen in one of Mom’s stories, The Day the Mad Dog Came.”

Mom and Dad always had more books than would fit on the bookshelves. There were stacks of books on side tables and on the floor next to the television.

Mom and Dad always had more books than would fit on the bookshelves. There were stacks of books on side tables and on the floor next to the television.

M is for Margaret Hill McCarter

This vintage Kansas author was a favorite of my mom as she remembered reading Price of the Prairie with her parents in the evenings before the time of radio and television.

She was delighted to discover that the author had been a member of Kansas Authors Club. When KAC encouraged its members to promote Kansas authors and to encourage school children in writing, Mom chose McCarter to promote.

Gail Lee Martin visits local schools with Margaret Hill McCarter presentation.

Gail Lee Martin visits local schools with Margaret Hill McCarter presentation.

She volunteered to visit local classrooms to give a first person presentation on the writer. Dressed in costume, she talked about what inspired her writing. Teachers loved the idea and the kids enjoyed a break from tests and assignments.

Gail Martin portraying Kansas author Margaret Hill McCarter.

Gail Martin portraying Kansas author Margaret Hill McCarter.