I’ve come to the realization that buying books and reading them are two entirely different things. I like to think of my bookshelves as aspirational; like my Goodreads account, there will always be more “to be read” books than “read” books on my shelves. Until I can get around to reading them all, it’s comforting to merely be surrounded by my beloved, growing collection.
Before there was a pandemic, when I roamed freely in Washington, D.C., you could either find me at the farmers’ market or wandering around a local bookstore, like Bridge Street or Second Story Books. When I moved back home with more books than I left with, I had to get creative with space. Thus, “bookshelf” has become a word entirely up to my own interpretation.
In my room, heavy classics live in the only real bookshelf I have, lighter paperbacks magically float on the wall, robust hardcovers are stacked on the floor, slim poetry collections are crammed into the nooks and crannies of my desk, nonfiction makes a neat perch for my plants, and novels with pretty spines sunbathe near the window.
What I loosely consider classics are carefully arranged by the color of their spines. They include my treasured copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, David Copperfield, and all of the Jane Austen novels I could get my hands on—Persuasion is my favorite. I took a rigorous and enjoyable class called “The 19th Century English Novel,” which is where a lot of these come from.
The harder-to-reach books accumulating dust on the bottom shelf are from my childhood years. Here, you can find formative books such as Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden, and young adult sets like Harry Potter and The Raven Cycle. These books always create a feeling of nostalgia when I look at their weathered spines, and I have to fight the urge to re-read them for the thousandth time.
A hearty stack of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin holds the velvet philodendron I’ve been tending to since the beginning of the pandemic. Fiction was and always will be how I fell in love with reading. I’ll truly read anything written by Elizabeth Acevedo or Fredrik Backman.
Amidst the sea of fiction, my nonfiction books are often found huddling near one another. Their pages are heavily annotated and underlined. This small but mighty section contains memoirs, essays, and books on nature, prison abolition, mutual aid, communism, feminism, queer theory, disability studies, and Octavia Butler (ha, just kidding). At the top of the stack are favorite reads like Braiding Sweetgrass, Know My Name, and Sister Outsider. These books constantly expand my worldview and open my mind to new possibilities.
Poetry takes up the newest and smallest section of my room. Here, I’ve started to accumulate collections like Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith, There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker, Revolver by Robyn Schiff, and The Wild Iris by Louise Glück. I have my wonderful and trustworthy poetry professors to thank for these recommendations. I often read poetry (aloud to myself) when I’m in-between novels.
While any bit of spare money I have tends to go towards books, I also love to borrow from my local library’s shelves. I read somewhere that if libraries didn’t already exist and someone tried to invent them today, they would be condemned as too radical! I’ve also recently gotten into e-books and audiobooks, so my bookshelves extend into the digital world as well. There’s almost an embarrassing amount of romance novels in my e-bookshelves, where no one can see them except me.
I am so terrible at giving away books; I hold onto all of them just in case, but I truly can’t find the strength to part with even the oldest and most tattered among them. The mostly jumbled stacks of books strewn across my room are the physical manifestations of my evolving loves and curiosities.
I dream of one day owning a cozy home with a green kitchen, lots of warm sunlight and plants, and enough bookshelves and surfaces to hold my ever-expanding collection.
Abigail Renner is a junior at George Washington University studying English and American Studies. She is currently a writing consultant in her university writing center, where she loves unearthing writers’ voices and reading across a myriad of genres. She dreams of living on a farm, filling her shelves with romance novels, and laughing with friends over cups of peppermint tea.