Project Bookshelf: Katy DeCoste

When I moved out of my parents’ house at eighteen, my mother told me that it’s cheaper to move books than to replace them, and it’s that wisdom (which, like so much else, she was right about) that has guided a lot of my book-buying, keeping, and storing decisions in adulthood. 

A photo of a stack of books on a wooden table. The books are Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner, Unstable Bodies by Jill Matus, Fruit by Brian Francis, Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway, Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt.

My haphazard book collection is evidence of how I’ve lived in the five years since that conversation. I don’t purchase most of what I read. I spent four years working at a library, taking home whatever looked remotely interesting. I’ve been gifted (and regifted) poetry and fiction (Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq), adopted books my friends have hated (The Road, by Cormac McCarthy), hunted down novels at used book stores and thrift shops and garage sales (Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner), decided books left behind by previous tenants of my current residence are mine now (Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor), claimed books my parents discovered duplicates of while cleaning out their offices (obscure 1980s feminist literary theory)… you get the picture. 

My collection is, appropriately, scattered, in both its storage and subject matter. In my bedroom, you’ll find poetry—mostly contemporary Canadian writing, like Mad Long Emotion by Ben Ladouceur, purchased at a launch event, and Field Notes for the Self by Randi Lundi, gifted to me by my parents because he’s a friend of theirs. You’ll also see my most prized possession, a signed first edition of Toni Morrison’s Jazz. In my bedroom closet, books I’m not likely to reread, but can’t part with: The Priory of the Orange Tree, which saw me through the first month of lockdown, and books my father chose from my late grandfather’s extensive library to gift to me just because he thought I might like them. 

The living room houses books that are less precious to me; the rule is that my roommates don’t have to ask before borrowing them. Here, you might see thrifted copies of Shakespeare’s Othello, memoirs like Lindy West’s Shrill, or books I was assigned during undergrad and liked enough to keep, usually dense academic theory like The Possession at Loudun or one of several brick-like anthologies. 

A photo of Katy's cluttered bookshelf. There are three shelves. The top shelf has two scented candles and a row of books. The second shelf has seven bottles of essential oils, a bisexual pride pin, and a row of books and copies of POETRY magazine. The bottom shelf has a set of blue dice and three enamel pins, as well as a row of books. The books are not organized.

Books linger in my childhood bedroom that I’m not ready to give away. Lining a shelf around the perimeter you’ll find theology books I enjoyed as a teenager, though I’d never pick them up now (I read Augustine’s Confessions at sixteen). You might see books I took home while visiting and forgot there, fiction that transitions from plane to living room couch. 

My bookshelves have a logic that makes sense to no one but me. They aren’t sorted alphabetically, or chronologically, or by genre, or even by color. Mostly, books find their place wherever I happen to tuck them when I’m done with them: some of my shelves are double-stacked, and I’ve been known to use piles of books as “decor” on end-tables and mantles. I never seem to lose track of them, though. My collection shifts, books vanishing and reappearing between moves, or being lent to friends who wind up keeping them when I realize they’ve enjoyed them more than I ever could, or donated before I realize I actually do want to own a copy of that, thanks very much. I forced a friend from college to keep Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, though he protested, because he’d found an audition monologue in it that he loved. I also bought a used copy of Brideshead Revisited before returning home to find I already owned it. Regardless, the books I need the most are consistently by my side, sitting on something I’ve repurposed as a bookshelf, waiting for me to pick them up again.

Katherine (Katy) DeCoste is a queer, white settler currently living on the unceded territory of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples and the WSÁNEĆ peoples, where they are pursuing their MA in English at the University of Victoria. In 2020, they received their BA Honours in English and History from the University of Alberta, as the Rutherford Memorial Medalist in English and Dr. John Macdonald Medalist in Arts. You can find their poetry in Barren Magazine, Grain MagazineThe Antigonish Review, and other outlets. In 2020, their play “many hollow mercies” won the Alberta Playwriting Competition Novitiate Prize. When not writing, reading, or answering emails, Katherine can be found playing Dungeons and Dragons, volunteering with food support initiatives, and forcing their friends to eat their baking.


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