Project Bookshelf with Intern Bayleigh Kasper

I’ve always had a fascination with the stories behind the things that hold our stories—that is, the events and ideas that led to a book, the people who created the book, the physical copies themselves, even the shelves that hold the book. To me, every part of the story is important. It’s why I read the acknowledgements in the back of books whenever I can, why I remember where I bought a book or who gave it to me, and why I remember the details of getting my bookshelves. 

When I was five, my dad added built-in shelves surrounding the windows in me and my sister’s rooms. While hers filled with stuffed animals, boxes of markers, colored pencils, and souvenirs, mine filled with books. I’ve always been quite a book worm. You could hardly find me without one most of my life. So it was no surprise when those shelves got so full of books I had to get another book shelf…and then another. But those first big ones my dad built for me, those first ones I filled with my first books, those will always be special to me. 

The first new shelf I got was a pink metal shelf with pretty detailing on the sides. It leaned sideways just slightly, but it’s still standing. My grandparents gave it to me for Christmas when I was about fifteen—the last big gift I remember them giving me before they moved across the country. The second was a rolling cart I found at an antique store. Everything in the antique store seems to have a story bursting out of it, so how fitting that it would hold all of my favorite stories? I even have bookshelves made of books—not real books, mind you. Just decorative boxes from Hobby Lobby made to look like books I attached to the wall to hold more books and book art. Some have notes in them from friends, one holds candy, another jewelry. I find it very romantic that these books hold special things for me as well as display books and art created from books. 

Being around books has always made me feel at peace, made me feel at home. Book stores and libraries are where I go when I’m feeling stressed or need to concentrate on something. With all the books around my room, it’s one of my favorite places on earth to be. Each one is carefully alphabetized by author last name and stamped with a custom punch which says my name, and I have so many that each shelf is double layered. My bookshelves are something I love to take time to put in order, to clean, and to curate. 

So many of my books have stories behind the physical copies in addition to the ones found inside. There’s Swamplandia by Karen Russell I got from someone I sat next to on a plane because I mentioned I had recently read one of her short stories in a class and loved it. There’s A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass which is missing the front cover due to an incident with spilled bubble liquid. There are books four and five of the Underland Chronicles books by Suzanne Collins which, after buying them three different times, still don’t match the first three (because secondhand book sites don’t always give accurate images). My copy of Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore that has come with me to Switzerland twice. That’s what I love about having books. They’re so much more than the stories the words inside them tell. They’re the building blocks of experiences, real and fictional.

Bayleigh Kasper is a senior creative writing major at the University of Evansville. She dreams of owning a tiny home in Colorado where she can adopt cats, make music, write, and eat very judge-worth amounts of chocolate without actually being judged.

Meet the Intern: Bayleigh Kasper

I remember when a friend of a friend asked me if I was embarrassed because I wanted to go into the arts rather than study something “practical.” I looked down at the shirt I was wearing—which said, “I’m silently correcting your grammar”—and the pendant around my neck—which said, “The book was better.” While that moment says nothing for my fashion choices that day, it does capture my unapologetic fever for reading and writing. To me, passion is more important than practicality. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been gobbling up books and scribbling down stories. My mom likes to say that I practically knew how to read before she even taught me, like my heart was just waiting for someone to give me the letters to unlock the words and stories I had longed for before I even knew. I was the kid in elementary school English class who had to have the full-size pages rather than half pages they offered for the stories we would write for the end of the year—the ones with thick cardstock covers and fruit scented marker pictures on the opposite pages from the writing. I was the one who got scolded for staying up late reading or getting new ideas down and walking slowly behind everyone because I couldn’t lift my head from my book. I remember many late-night car rides, reading books one line at a time as we passed under streetlights. Some of my senior pictures were taken with towers of my books surrounding me. Most of my life has been feeding and being fed on stories. Being part of Sundress—something that feels like a big story buffet for everyone—is an absolutely magical experience to me.

Bayleigh Kasper is a senior creative writing major at the University of Evansville. She dreams of owning a tiny home in Colorado where she can adopt cats, make music, write, and eat very judge-worth amounts of chocolate without actually being judged.