Project Bookshelf: Jen Gayda Gupta

When my husband and I decided to move into a nineteen-foot travel trailer, we knew it would mean a major downsize. No problem, I thought, looking around at my clothes, shoes, kitchenware, and toiletries. I love the idea of living minimally and feel so much lighter when I own less. I was up for the challenge… until I got to my bookshelf. How was I supposed to narrow down my books? And where would I keep them in this tiny space?

Luckily, our camper came complete with this perfect, bookshelf-shaped storage area below the bed. Storage space is extremely valuable (we typically only buy single rolls of toilet paper because there is nowhere to store extra). At first I tried to fill only half of the shelf with books and save the other half for camping gear. But that plan didn’t last long. It is now fully stocked and held in place with this nifty little tension rod-turned-book seatbelt so that nothing gets squished when we lift and lower the bed.

Most of the books I have with me are poetry since that is what I read and re-read most often. I have read most of these books at least three times. Whenever I am reminded of a poem I love, I pull up the bed and dig through my collections to find it. I also re-read my favorite collections when I need some inspiration to get writing in the morning. That is why it feels crucial to keep them all with me. I also keep a few can’t-live-without craft books (like Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio and Structure & Surprise by Michael Theune) for when I feel stuck writing or editing.

I am less sentimental about my fiction books and often only keep one or two at a time, donating them when I am done. I am currently reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert so it stays in this little basket by the bed. I also use my iPad for reading when I can’t find a book I am looking for at a local bookshop (although reading on a screen is very much not preferred, it is a huge space saver).

The rest of my precious books live in boxes in a storage unit near my parent’s house. When things get a little bloated in my bookshelf, I will load my suitcase with books before a flight home and transfer them to storage. I often end up bringing a book or two back with me.

As much as I love living on the road, sometimes I daydream about settling into a home and having a huge library. My dream is to have one of those libraries with floor to ceiling bookshelves and a rolling ladder to reach the top. In this dream, I get to keep all the books I love and never have to put one in storage only to decide weeks later that it is exactly what I want to read. Until then, my little hidden bookshelf will do.

Jen Gayda Gupta is a poet, educator, and wanderer. She earned her BA in English at the University of Connecticut and her MA in Teaching English from New York University. She lives, writes, and travels across the U.S. in a tiny camper with her husband and their dog. Her work has been published in Up the Staircase, Rattle, Jellyfish Review, Sky Island Journal, The Shore, and others. You can find her @jengaydagupta and


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