I’ve never had a proper bookshelf.
Late in the July between my kindergarten and first-grade years, when my big brother loaned me his favorite book on the face of the earth—Nate the Great Goes Down In the Dumps—I didn’t need a bookshelf. My picture books were content to live (albeit overflowing) in the big wicker basket beside my bed, and anyway, I’d need to return Sam’s copy of Nate the Great when I’d finished. It wasn’t a signed copy or anything, but he’d added some drawings of his own that he might want to revisit down the road. And anyway, it was a loan—NOT a present. Okay?
Soon after I’d torn through Nate (and safely returned it to my brother’s library under threat of noogies), I picked up Because of Winn Dixie, Charlotte’s Web, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Anniversary Boxed Set. Around the same time, my dolls went hungry. They moved out of their dollhouse, which my mother had built (and wallpapered) herself for my fourth birthday. My dolls cleared out their furniture, their clothes, their pets, and skipped town. So my books moved into my pink-roofed, five-bedroom dollhouse. The smaller books fit well into the bathroom and the nursery; the larger ones were stacked in the living room, the master bedroom. The oddly-proportioned ones were cast off into the doll house’s attic, angled and leaning into the pitch of the roof.
My first car, the car my father used to usher my mother to the hospital the day I was born, was a white Jeep Cherokee Sport. It had this knit heather-grey interior—and seat pockets on the back of both the driver’s and passenger’s seats. I’d moved on to slightly-heftier books by the time I learned to drive; Speak, The Catcher in the Rye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Bluest Eye. I brought books with me everywhere. I planned ahead, loaded my Jeep’s seat pockets with books I meant to read soon, books I’d read again, and took them with me wherever I went. When I blew the engine on the Jeep—on the expressway three miles from home—the back-of-seat pockets were blown out and sagging from the years they’d spent stuffed full of my library. I cleared out the car so my uncle could sell its shell down at his salvage yard, and I pulled books out of the pockets in stacks. Empty, the pockets held the shape of the books: re-formed to hold hardcovers instead of gum wrappers and ice scrapers, as the car’s designers had intended.
My college dorm room came equipped with a bed, a small dresser, and a desk—as a loan—NOT a present. Okay? My writing professors sent me to buy dozens of collections and anthologies and craft books and implored me to keep them forever. Still, without a proper bookshelf, and with a backpack (and, for that matter, a back) that boasted only a finite load-bearing capacity, I was left to stacking. I stacked my books on the floor: On either side of my dresser. Along the foot of my bed. As a makeshift side table to the right of my desk. Each semester, I got more books, and my stacks got more precarious. A friend once compared my stacks of books to those stacks people make with rocks alongside rivers—except my stacks were not especially harmful to wildlife.
Now, I own a house that bears a striking resemblance to my childhood home (and very little resemblance to my pink-roofed dollhouse), but I still don’t have a bookshelf. Don’t get me wrong—large portions of hutches, console tables, nightstands, empty corners of rooms—serve as homes for my books. They’re the cornerstone of my house’s interior design; they’re spread all around, scaling the fireplace, holding up candles and framed photos, a couple dozen in every room.
I like it this way. I like living amidst a poorly-filed library that I can access at every moment, in any room or on any surface or corner. I like that I can accidentally pick up a collection or novel and read the whole thing, just because it was there. Books are full of beautiful things that are meant to be happened upon, held onto, carried with us. It makes sense to me, not having a real bookshelf, because it means that books are everywhere, too great and necessary to ever really put away.
Kathryn Davis is a writer and editor from Michigan. She graduated in 2018 from Grand Valley State University, where she studied Creative Writing with an emphasis in Fiction, and served as editor-in-chief of the university’s literary journal, fishladder. You can find her work in Potomac Review, Third Coast, and elsewhere—or follow her on Twitter @kathrvndavis.