October 10, 2014

What’s in a #shelfie?



Felines can be in, but are not synonymous with, shelfies.

Oxford Dictionaries deigned to declare selfie the word of the year in 2013. And though they haven’t put it in the OED quite yet, it has an “official” definition.

Not so with other variations of the word, such as belfie (vernacular for the butt selfie) and felfie (ditto for the funeral selfie).” While hunting down the “definitions” of these derivative selfie words, it’s possible to fall into a black hole, also known as UrbanDictionary.com. To save you all that trouble, here is a literary investigation into the “shelfie.”

A shelfie is most commonly understood as a picture of a bookshelf. It may or may not include the owner of that bookshelf, but in a sense, that’s irrelevant. While a selfie might show off your outfit or your face space, a shelfie flaunts your book collection. Shelfies blew up earlier this year, and are now a definite thing on both Instagram and Twitter. When the New York Public Library held a shelfie contest in January over 3,000 people from 11 different countries submitted via the two platforms.

But like memes, internet definitions quickly mutate. So here are some other definitions for “shelfie.” We do not endorse any of them.

1. The authority consulted for the aforementioned definition (HelloGiggles), wrote a later article claiming that a shelfie is actually “a photo taken of a shelf filled with a person’s belongings.” The Wall Street Journal concurs: “Shel-fie. Noun: a photo of one’s possessions arrayed on a surface, such as a shelf.” O.K. In case this seems vague to you, we assure you, it is. Apparently you do not even need a shelf or books: some nicknacks, a caffeinated beverage, and a cute pastry will do (in Norway, wooden hands are apparently popular). The WSJ call these “portraits of one’s taste.” We call them coffee and creepy hand still lifes.


Figure 1. A shelf-less shelfie  

2. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education a shelfie is something all together different. It’s a book genre. “Part literary criticism, part memoir” it describes books that are about reading, like How Reading Changed by Life and, more recently, My Life in Middlemarch.  An “intense convergence of self and shelf” between two covers. Also an apt description for the photographic (ehm real) shelfie. (ed. note: I hate this so much.)

3. For last April Fool’s day Google tried to jump on the selfie bandwagon when it “introduced” shareable selfies or “shelfies” for short. Basically you could make a selfie your Gmail theme. Not remotely book related.

4. Shelfies is a clothes company with ’90’s “throwback” clothes and t-shirts covered in pizza print. While we can endorse pizza t-shirts, we cannot endorse this corruption of the term shelfie.

5. What does a mermaid do with her shelphone? You got it.