Though I do maintain a bookshelf, what I prize most is my book stack. While I think bookshelves sometimes come with a more static and permanent connotation, my book stack is definitively an always-changing assemblage. Perched on my desk, it reflects what I’m currently reading or what’s next in the queue. At the moment, it’s been growing at a faster rate than I can keep up with, becoming a bit Leaning Tower of Pisa-esque. It’s organized chaos in a way that I think nicely suits and summarizes my reading habits.
At any given time, there’s predictably a balance of nonfiction, literary classics for class, poetry, and novels. A constant is my journal, currently the lovely orange companion towards the top of the stack. It fits in well, as the things I read are inextricable from the way I experience life, and always make their way into its pages. Sandwiched between the books are stray bookmarks and cards from friends this holiday season. Some of these—Strayed, Woolf, and Murakami—were gifted to me, and the stack helps to especially highlight their presence, reminding me of the people behind the books. This pile is really a snapshot of the words I’m taking in, bookended by my reflections on those texts.
I’m very interested in prose poetry at the moment, so I’ve been reading The Crying Book and diving into a re-read of Citizen and Bluets. It’s especially interesting to me how amenable the form is, and how conducive it is to writing about emotion and grief in an expansive but fragmentary, almost methodical manner. The genre is so rich that it practically lends itself to re-reading, a practice I’ve really embraced in the past few months. I love seeing a book reappear in the stack; I think the stack has helped me understand that reading is meant to be a process, a cycle,
As always, I love thinking about how literature is an agent for change and connection. I’ve been reading Dark Money, in which Jane Mayer is able to describe the indescribable scale of the modern American conservative political movement. And my Literature Humanities class—a core class at Columbia—has guided me to read or revisit some of the most canonized Western texts, such as Dante’s Inferno. After inhabiting the texts themselves, it lets us make connections among texts and beyond.
My actual bookshelf functions more as an archive. It’s further away, out of my immediate reach, lined with books I want to keep forever. These I know I will return to after being away at college; they are my touchstones. Most are poetry books by authors I consider indirect mentors and literary ancestors, with the occasional long-form exception: Jia Tolentino, more Woolf, Hanif Abdurraqib, Ross Gay, Jenny George, and Jenny Xie.
Last year, I read 52 books (the final number was unintentional, honestly, but I’m glad it worked out that way). Most were from the library and many were ebooks, especially as I began reading more during New York’s spring lockdown. I’ve also begun leaning into audiobooks, and thinking about the different ways we’ve developed to consume and appreciate different types of books. Accordingly, I’ve liked thinking outside the sequential order of the bookshelf. Though I’m at home now, I think I’ll be exporting this book stack model to my college dorm, whenever it’s safe to do so. It helps me keep reading close.
Claire Shang is a freshman at Columbia University, where she is an editor with The Columbia Review. She is a writer of poetry and creative nonfiction, and a reader of mostly everything. Her work has appeared in or been recognized by Peach Mag, No, Dear Magazine, and Smith College.