I think it’s funny how much books can reflect someone’s current life. Right now, for example, my bookshelf looks like something modest but growing—something in transition. It reflects almost exactly the way I feel right now in my extended stay hotel, waiting for my new apartment lease to start in Portsmouth, Virginia after my recent move from Iowa City, Iowa. Since my partner and I couldn’t fit much in the place we’re living at the moment, the books I brought are a strange, miscellaneous collection of college books—The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz or the Norse saga Poetic Edda—and my most recent reads, such as Maggie Stiefvater’s newest book Mister Impossible, or K.M. Szpara’s First, Become Ashes.
The mix adds up to a collection of books tied to my degree, books I’m currently reading, and books that I carry around because they’re simply narratives that I feel ground me during this exciting time of changes and new surroundings. In this way, this miniature shelf I have at the moment really reflects the way my massive bookshelf usually looks like in its usual place near my bedside: partly filled with favorites, partly filled with new reads, and definitely filled with all the books I’ve read as class assignments in the past.
A lot of these books I’ve read already, and most likely will not read again. I’ve never really been one to reread books; instead, I usually go back to a book only to glance through the most memorable parts, like one often looks back on fond (or maybe even not-so-fond) moments in their life. Though I never fully reread them, I do think I’ve always struggled giving away books because they hold those kinds of personal memories that you can look back on—not just memories of what happened on the page, but also memories from what was happening in my life at the moment I was reading that page for the first time.
The few books I reread from time to time are tied closest to my Cinema and Creative Writing degree. These textbooks are what I cling onto just in case I ever forget how to write a logline for a script, hold a camera, or study a Norse poem. Not featured, for example, are several of the thickest film theory books I own, works like The Cult Film Reader or Eric Schaefer’s Bold! Daring! Shocking! True: A History of Exploitation Films. These books feel like lasting examples of the work I put into my double BA. They also stand as information I always feel I can look at in a different perspective.
While this list of books covers most of the genres and reading that I’ve done recently, I don’t think that it’s possible to get the true look at my bookshelf without including my best friend Caroline’s bookshelf. I say this because for the past year I’ve basically read any and all of the books she’s recommended (she has phenomenal taste when it comes to YA). These books include Maggie Stiefvater, but also Leah Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, and a series that Caroline and I realized we both loved as children (a start to any good friendship), Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society. I think it’s important to recognize Caroline’s bookshelf because, though I often want reading to be such an individual, unique, personal experience, I have since found through my degrees that reading can also become something globally transformative; so long as we feel the bravery to discuss, contemplate, study, and admire books together.
On this subject, I think I need to also add the self-published books on my shelf that I’ve either read or helped publish. These are magazines like the two boundless publications I currently have on my shelf (as the former president, I have always have multiple copies floating around me like a cloud). This also includes the cowboy poetry book Hooftracks written by my once-horse-instructor, now-friend, Tom Sharpe, the self-published Blue, Black by Caroline, and the un-pictured but current read: a YA fiction manuscript centered around the Mafia and written by another close friend, Annie. All of these books are the ones closest to my heart because they’re about the process of writing; these books, though in varying stages of the writing process and covering a variety of genres, all stand the same in the way they hold voices of the loved ones closest to me. These books, in combination with all the other reading on my shelf, work to help me write, understand, and grow during this exciting new chapter in my own life.
Hannah Olsson holds a double BA in Cinema and Creative Writing English from the University of Iowa. During her time in Iowa, Olsson was the president of The Translate Iowa Project and its publication boundless, a magazine devoted to publishing translated poetry, drama, and prose. Her work, both in English and Swedish, has been featured in boundless, earthwords magazine, Inklit Mag, and the University of Iowa’s Ten-Minute Play Festival, among others.
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