Bookshelf Project: Sarah Bohlman


I have moved all my possessions 12 times in the past five years and will be moving again in the next six months. Since I move frequently, most books come and go out of my life quickly. Additionally, my mother raised me to never collect anything, leading me to frequent the exchange bookstore in my hometown. I dream of one day, when I stop moving, having a decently sized collection of books.

As a recent college graduate, I currently am living in my first personally funded apartment. When I was moving out of my childhood home, I realized the bookshelf wall I had as a child would not help me, and I desperately wanted a bookshelf for my first apartment. Luckily my mom still had her bookshelf from when she was a child. After decades of collecting dust in our basement, I gave it a new life in my first home. I live in a small apartment, so everything needs to have more than one purpose, and, as you can see, my quaint bookshelf aids us in many different ways.

My classic Nintendo 64 console hides under the bottom left corner, prepared for any nostalgic night. The left bottom shelves contain my alphabetized collection of movies; the right bottom holds my roommate’s movies. The middle section is home to blankets I’ve collected over the years, and, recently, my crocheting experiments. On top: my brother gave me his old, small TV standing between giant glasses my aunt gave me for Christmas this past year. Not that I’ve tried or anything, but one of those glasses holds an entire bottle of wine—gives an entirely new meaning to “only having one glass.”


Finally, the top shelf houses some of my favorite books—most of which are poetry. An important book missing from the shelf is my collection of Flannery O’Conner stories, because it is currently on my bedside table. Some of the poetry books I even had signed by the authors when I attended a conference for Southern Writers. That conference was the first time I had ever been able to meet anyone I viewed as rockstar status. In my nerdy bliss, I approached Maurice Manning, who had just read some of his poems, and gingerly placed his book in front of him. I had the shocked look of a child who just learned that milk comes from cows and suddenly was incapable of using any type of language. Squinting to see my name badge, he asked if he should make it out to me, and somehow I managed to nod. As I turned away from him, I swore to not make a fool of myself next time and nearly ran out of the building in both joy and embarrassment.

I also own four books by my favorite poet, Claudia Emerson. I had the great privilege of interviewing her for my thesis, and had her sign “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” for me.

Robin Hood stands on the farthest right with a green cover complete with a castle and trees; my best friend bought Robin Hood, complete with illustrations, for me during her travels in Ireland. It’s a beautiful book, and I was thrilled to discover it actually could stand up in my tiny bookshelf.

The brown tenant standing next to it is “A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems” with my maternal grandmother’s engraved name “N. Kennedy” on the cover. Probably purchased in the early 1900s, the paper is yellowing, and the spine and edges are all covered in packing tape, but just on the inside is a scribbled note from my grandmother:

To: Sarah with love

From: Grandmother Norma

Given to me by my Mother Ruth, your great grandmother.


My family members usually get “as seen on TV” gifts from my Alzheimer’s ridden grandmother, but every now and then she’ll surprise us with something as special as a sentimental poetry book for her granddaughter writing a thesis on poetry.

After writing all of this down, I realized I only keep things that hold a deep sentimental value to me, such as the actual bookshelf from my mother, the glasses from my aunt and the gifted and signed books. Discovering new things about myself and things that daily sit in front of me is why writing is such a beautiful thing.


Sarah Bohlman, a Johnson City native, graduated from Maryville College in December 2013 with a degree in Writing Communications and a minor in German. Last year she spent a semester in Dortmund Germany studying the language and culture. She completed a senior thesis in poetry, worked on the Impressions staff at Maryville, and sang in the choir. After Maryville College, she looks forward to traveling the world.


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