After spending the past four years as a broke college student, my collection is a little small. Growing up, I utilized the library more than I frequented the local Barnes and Noble. There was just something so freeing about borrowing as many books as I wanted at no cost to me that made me gravitate toward it. As an adult, I still feel that sort of connection to the library. If there’s a book I am sure I’m going to love or one that I feel the urge to annotate, I’ll purchase it, but most of what I read nowadays comes from the library.
My collection is a little all over the place, so organizing it has been quite the experience. It’s pretty small, and there are quite a few gaps in it. Admittedly, I’ve been dealing with some mental health issues for the past few years that have really caused a dip in my motivation to read, furthering my inactivity with buying books. I’m trying to get back into things for the new year, so here’s hoping for a much more well-rounded collection in 2022!
For a long time, this shelf was known as my thesis shelf. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on Beloved, focusing on its positioning as a novel of the incoherent and the unique space it occupied amongst the work of numerous Black women writers during the latter half of the twentieth century. For that reason, you’ll see Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, alongside Toni Morrison’s work of literary criticism, Playing in the Dark. The black books on the right contain hundreds of pages of notes for my thesis, things I don’t have much use for anymore but cannot bring myself to remove from this shelf. My thesis is close to my heart, as it was borne from both reading Beloved in high school, and the subsequent Black literature courses I took in college, where I read more of Morrison’s work along with Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Octavia Butler. The way these writers conceptualized and discussed race, specifically Blackness, in America resonated with me in a way I had never felt before. I accredit my desire to research, read, and write academically to them. As a woman of color, the words of many Black women writers have helped me to reflect on my own identity and history, and I treasure them for being the gateway into that work.
Also, yes, I have two copies of Beloved. The one on the left is the original copy I bought for my 12th grade English class, full of frantic annotations from class discussions. When I decided on my thesis topic, I knew I needed to get a brand new copy, as not to confuse thoughts I had at 17 with thoughts I would have while rereading the book at 21.
This second shelf is a little more of a mixed bag. There’s some YA, some more Toni Morrison, and a couple of library books I’m working on at the moment. I just finished reading Neel Patel’s Tell Me How to Be, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Additionally, you’ll see my well-worn copy of Hamlet, my favorite Shakespeare play, and a copy of Saidiya Hartman’s latest work, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. I was introduced to Hartman through one of my professors, and I have found myself resonating with her words and her thought processes in complicating the non-fiction genre to bring silenced voices to light.
What I love so much about this shelf is its representation of my journey back into reading. Throughout college, I struggled to read more than what was required for my coursework. I was not in a great place mentally, and this severely impacted my reading. As time went on and graduation neared, I started picking up some YA books that I’d missed out on over those years. As a series, Six of Crows is special to me because it marks my renewed interest in fantasy. As a child, I loved the escapism of fantasy universes but lost touch with it through the end of high school and into college. I picked up the Six of Crows duology during my senior year of college and flew through it. It brought back all of the fervor with which I remember reading the newest Rick Riordan book in middle school, flashlight in hand, trying not to wake up my parents, and for that reason, I’ll always treasure it. I hold this shelf so close to my heart because it is a reminder of how far I’ve come over the past few years.
Neha Peri holds a BA in English from Rutgers University. In her senior year, she was appointed editor-in-chief of the university’s oldest literary magazine, The Anthologist. While at Rutgers, she also tutored for the Rutgers Writing Program, completed internships with the Rutgers English Department and the University of Mississippi Press, and wrote an honors thesis. Her work has been featured in The Anthologist. Currently, she works as an intern at the Princeton University Press.