I’ll admit, I’m a little vain about my bookshelves. You wouldn’t know that by their chaotic presentation, but I think I use bookshelves the same way I wear clothes or decorate my bedroom.
I didn’t always have overflowing bookshelves. During childhood, my prolific reading habits were mostly fed by weekly library trips, books-by-mail orders from the state system, and my mother’s bookstore clerk privilege to borrow books for free. Still, if there was a book I badly wanted or truly loved, we’d find a way to purchase it.
My last mementos from that time are my most cherished children’s and young adult series—now secluded to my closet.
Those books still mean more to me than anything I have bought for myself, now that I have the means to curate my own book collection. I didn’t include them here, though, because I don’t display them anywhere else.
Why not? Because I’ll never read them again. I wouldn’t enjoy them the way I did as a child, or grow from the experience as I need to now. They are not books I find myself aching to read when I glance at them, vessels of curiosity; nor are they books I would claim as my immediate favorites, were someone to ask.
I will always be grateful to my parents for indulging my hunger to read, whether I have those books around or not. Instead of lingering around those old selves, though, I am focused on cultivating a space that is inspiring, nourishing, and challenging. A version of myself I’d like to see, and to be seen as. Eventually, to become.
So, here are some glimpses into my intellectual closet (sorted by genre, and absolutely nothing else—although even those lines have blurred):
Writing books. They’re tucked away in a basket for now, but I am plotting to migrate them to the office I share with a coworker at the college where I work as a writing tutor.
I still have particular affection for an old used copy of The Elements of Style, which was gifted to me years ago by a close friend.
Poetry. The smallest and narrowest section of my shelves, forced to share space with the most recent books I’ve bought. Also the most important and stimulating genre to me right now—the books I gravitate towards lately. (Anticipated next read: Kaveh Akbar’s Pilgrim Bell.)
Lastly, a mess. Just a tiny snaphot of the books that don’t fit anywhere else. Like the classics I obsessively collected in high school, thinking it was some unspoken prerequisite for being an English major. (Maybe I’m still unlearning that habit.) Or the novels borrowed from another coworker, some I wouldn’t choose for myself but that I trust her taste enough to try (spoiler: she’s usually right). Ironically, they’re the books I find myself looking at the most. Reminders that a little sentimentality is okay, and that “growth” might look differently than I think.
Laurel Elizabeth is a writing tutor and success coach for Kennebec Valley Community College’s TRIO program, where she recently earned an associate degree in liberal arts. Additionally, she is a graduate of Vassar College’s Exploring Transfer summer program, and aims to begin a BA in English this fall. An emerging writer and aspiring English teacher, she has a special interest in the role of creative empowerment in education.
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