I have a confession to make. I love Zoom meetings. Not all Zoom meetings, but the meetings where people show up with their bookshelves behind them.
This love started at a poetry reading in mid-2020 when one of my favorite poets was sitting with their library on display in the background. I was delighted to see the books they brought into their home, which included a surprisingly large selection of non-fiction works. Later, when my favorite actor was featured at a Zoom event, I saw a book about abstract art on their shelf. After these two encounters, I began looking for bookshelves in the backgrounds of all the Zoom meetings I attended – not because I needed reading recommendations, but because I realized that seeing what a person reads is like being invited into their home. I noticed a friend who rarely spoke of nature but had multiple books on flora and fauna. Colleagues had surprising books about politics or shelves full of genres like fantasy and romance. Seeing the books that others spend their time with made me feel more connected to them, as though I knew them a little better than before the meeting started.
Now, more than ever, books feel like a home to me. In the past twenty years, I’ve moved over a dozen times. Being a vagabond, of sorts, has taught me to keep only what I truly love. Still, I have amassed a collection of books. They are all books that turn each new house into a familiar home. My last move was from the cold of Northeastern Pennsylvania to the much warmer state of Tennessee. I was sad to leave behind a large built-in bookshelf for smaller shelves from Ikea, but there are grand plans in the works to build a new set of shelves which can accommodate my entire library – all the books I have loved and collected over the years, with room to grow. For now, my less spacious shelves hold a small selection of my books
So, without further ado, let me invite you into my home: If this was a video meeting, behind me, you would see books I most recently read, like Red Comet by Heather Clark and News of the Universe by Robert Bly. There are also entire sections of my shelves devoted to poetry collections. My most recent poetry reads include Dialogue with Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon, Renunciations by Donika Kelly, and Trio by Karen Donovan, Diane Raptosh, and Daneen Wardrop. There is special space waiting for Ocean Vuong’s forthcoming Time Is a Mother next to my handsewn copy of Dorianne Laux’s Salt.
These books have been a refuge for me in an unfamiliar home and in unfamiliar ways of interacting in society since early 2020. As we move forward into this extended uncertainty, I will continue to seek out books as a place to call home and as a way to connect with the outside world.
The next time you have to attend a Zoom meeting, take a look and see if you can find connections to others through the books behind them. Some of what you see might surprise you. Or maybe you’ll feel right at home.
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