Project Bookshelf: Crysta Montiel

I’ve scattered parts of my bookshelf all over Toronto. Sometimes, on random weekend trips to the west end, I visit local book stores to window shop. I always tell myself that I won’t buy anything, but the city’s talented booksellers tempt me with rare gems. Gems that I have an unfortunate habit of losing.

As Murphy’s law famously states, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Sometimes I forget my books in transitory places—buses, trains, and planes. Other times, I forget my books at friends’ places, vowing to retrieve them until the statute of limitations finally applies. Either way, I suppose that every book I’ve ever lost goes through a long cycle of finding, trading, borrowing, gifting, and re-gifting. I’m a firm believer in the idea that a book comes to life again every time a new pair of eyes reads it.

Because I’m so giving, and not at all because of my tendency to misplace books, my personal collection remains fairly small. Above my desk, I have a shelf of academic books on English literature, poetry, and philosophy. I keep these on hand because they’re writing resources that I flip through and cite whenever I need to. On an adjacent wall, I have a shelf stacked with fiction, which is mostly untouched because I’ve read them all.

Libraries are a magical place where people breathe life into literature over and over again, which is why I gravitate toward them. Toronto Public Library has annual book sales, where they sell donated books and books from their collections. All the profits are used to support library programs, so it’s basically guilt-free shopping. My most prized books are the ones that I picked up there in my youth.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was my first coming-of-age book. The protagonist, an orphan boy, is raised by an ensemble of quirky graveyard monsters. Imagine Boyhood (2014) if it was a dark whimsy children’s book. Likewise, I felt seen by Adam Green’s Satsuma Sun-Mover, a comedic tale about a Cambridge philosophy student caught between two warring factions: the Hegelians and the Positivists.

It’s strange to verbalize my love for these books because the feeling is so intimate. For me, the select few books that I keep in my collection are the ones that I’ve attached to core memories.

And, yes, I’ve alleviated my forgetfulness by using an e-reader for most books I buy today. I like being able to highlight and save quotes, bookmark pages, and ctrl+f search for words. The screen also brightens at night if I ever want to read in the dark.

On my e-reader, I probably have over 5000 books now. Even though it’s just a tablet and the books are digital, I like to envision my personal collection looks something like Jorge Luis Borges’ “Library of Babel.” This romantic image makes me feel a lot better about having a collection scattered over the city with books I can’t actually see.


Crysta Montiel is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto in Canada, where she studies English Literature and Philosophy. She previously worked as an editorial intern at Ayesha Pande Literary Agency. When Crysta’s not digging through treasure troves of queries, she’s completing her Criterion Collection bucket list and playing with her cat. 

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