Because I live in a small apartment in Fort Sanders, my bookshelves work to house more than just books. My favorite bookshelf in my apartment is the small black bookshelf that sits in my bedroom, which is approximately 25 percent books, 25 percent altar space, and 50 percent miscellaneous storage.
On the top of the shelf is my altar space. I practice witchcraft, so this space is dedicated to my practice. Most of the items on are symbols of Aphrodite, who I worshipped for the majority of the last year. My witchcraft practice has changed quite a bit with the major changes to my daily life over the past few months, so I plan on redesigning this space soon. My favorite pieces of my altar are this gorgeous mirror that I got for just 8 dollars on Facebook Marketplace, as well as the books I have placed on my altar: The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins, Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Each of these books has been incredibly formative to my worldview, and I see these women as teachers in many ways, so I gave them a special place on my altar.
Beneath my altar space is the only actual shelf of books in my room. While most of my school books reside in my living room, these are (mostly) books that I was using for my former thesis project, which was interested in the intersection between science fiction depictions of fascism and fascism in American politics. There’s also a few witchy books, as well as my favorite young adult novel series, The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness, which sits on my shelf in hopes of being reread one day soon.
These days, most of my reading is for class. As it turns out, when studying literature is your major, it makes it difficult to read for pleasure. When I do find time for pleasure reading, most of what I read is nonfiction. I started reading nonfiction because I could no longer see myself in the young adult novels that dominate my bookshelf at my parents’ house, but I still can’t quite see myself in fiction for “grown-ups” yet either. Now, I genuinely enjoy reading nonfiction, particularly about social topics such as race, class, and gender, and I hope to one day be able to write my own work of nonfiction if I ever get a handle on my writing style and research interests which are, currently, extremely scattered.
Most of the other items on this shelf are simply things I couldn’t find a better space for on my dedicated storage shelf. However, if the goal of this post is to get to know me, I think it is important to share the massive stack of sketchbooks that resides on the bottom shelf. Back at my parents’ house, I have a box with about eight times more sketchbooks ranging back to my first real sketchbook that I must have gotten around age eight or nine. Art has always been an important part of my life, especially in dark times as it became a meditative practice to illustrate my emotions and cope with stress. I’ve been having trouble finding the motivation to draw since the pandemic started.
The rest of my books reside in my living room, split between a few different shelves and interspersed with my girlfriend’s books. These are mostly school books, but there are a few that I bought for myself back when I could still go to McKay’s every other weekend. They aren’t organized any particular way, which is probably why I can never find my books when I’m looking for them.
I worry that my bookshelves highlight more about the kinds of classes I take than the kind of person I am, but I hope that by sharing the multipurpose space that is my bookshelf, you are able to better understand who I am as a person.
Sydney Peay is a senior studying sociology and English literature at the University of Tennessee. In addition to interning at Sundress Publications, they serve as the social media coordinator for the Voices Out Loud Project, an LGBTQ+ archive of East Tennessee. They are also a student library assistant at Hodges Library, and they hope to pursue a masters of library sciences after they graduate.