From the time I learned to read, I did so almost obsessively. My mom actually set a rule for the holidays: that I couldn’t start reading the new books I got as gifts until family left town, because once I turned that first page, I was fully absorbed in the story. One of my dreams as a kid was to have a library room, like the kind you read about in the mansions of the Victorian era. The kind of room lined with shelves and books and a sliding ladder. I have always loved the way that books provide an escape into another world, a portal you can pull from a shelf and dive into.
I haven’t quite built that room yet, but the bookshelves I do have are a collection of those worlds, and will tell you quite a few things about me: what classes I took in college, that I gravitate towards fiction and poetry, but that I love a good memoir. I’m sentimental and have every one of my old yearbooks, that I’ve been studying yoga therapy, and that most recently, I’ve been reading the Wheel of Time series. They defy organization, and show that I’m the kind of person that thrives in chaos and messiness. They will tell you that I’m a sucker for a tangible book—the turning of the page, the threat of a coffee spill spreading the ink, the crack of the spine when you make it far enough through a paperback to fold it in half. And, they reveal that one of my favorite things to do is search local bookstores for old and vintage prints—the illustrated or leather bound copies, the ones with character, and especially those written by Jane Austen. There’s something special about reading from something that’s been around longer than you have, and my first ever leather bound was an edition of Pride and Prejudice, given to me by my grandmother. Austen hooked me instantly with her carefree snarkiness and satire. I admired her for writing and publishing at a time when she couldn’t even take credit for her work, and the fact that she shared it with the world anyway. There’s a particular importance in that kind of art—the kind you don’t get recognition for, but feel compelled to share.
Consequently, my favorite books tend to have less to do with the story, and more to do with the circumstances under which they found me: where I got them or who gave them to me, my emotional response to the text, what life experiences I was going through as I read them. In these, you’ll find earmarked pages and handwritten letters, sticky notes, and creased spines, salt stains and sand from the beach, blotches from spilled coffee.
Like music, book recommendations are kind of like a love language. I’ve also always been the sentimental type, and there’s something special about giving or receiving a book as a gift. When you give someone a book you adore, you share with them the piece of your soul that resonated with it. The gift of a book brings you closer, it creates a tie, a shared experienced. I’m still working on the home library, but I know now that I don’t want the books to just be there on the shelves, but to have each one mean something.
In response to this post, my roommate told me to read Outlawed by Anna North, and I am ordering it for the shelf as we speak.
Nicole Bethune Winters (she/her) is a poet, ceramic artist, and yoga teacher. She currently resides in Southern California, where she makes and sells pottery out of her home studio. When she isn’t writing or wheel-throwing, Nicole is likely at the beach, on a trail, or exploring new landscapes. She derives most of the inspiration for her creative work from her interactions with the environment around her, and is always looking for new ways to connect with and understand the earth. Her debut poetry collection, brackish, will be published by Finishing Line Press in August 2022.