For my birthday, my roommate got me a personalized stamp that proclaims, “From the library of Marah Robyn Hoffman.” In the stamp’s center is a simple bee (I have been nicknamed Mother Nature for the magnetic pull I seem to have on small, winged creatures), and around it are leaves and petals. I gasped at the gift’s beauty. In its intricate me-ness, I saw how well my friend pays attention.
The stamp is a gift for the future. At twenty-two, I do not own a bookshelf, let alone a library. My books, like a child’s stuffed animals, often travel back and forth from various dwellings, mainly from my dorm room to my parents’ house but also to my boyfriend’s row home in Philadelphia, to the beach house we visit every summer, and to my grandfather’s hunting cabin in the deep mountains of Pennsylvania, far from cell service and suburbia.
Books are my constant companions. I have been known to, on occasion, bring three books to an outing, so I may read according to my mood. On one particularly uneventful trip to the mountains, I inhaled three-and-a-half books. I still reminisce about that vacation fondly.
“My bookshelf” or, in other words, the obnoxious stacks populating my room, is becoming increasingly obscure and diverse. On the lower rungs of these literary ladders used to climb to other worlds are The Box Car Children, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson. But the higher your eyes scan, you see how my interests have evolved beyond the domain of dominant pop culture. You may discover Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello, a collection of sixteen essays ruminating on famous animals, or Bluets by Maggie Nelson, a book full of pieces of varying genres each considering the color blue.
This Christmas, both my boyfriend and my sister complained that buying me presents was like playing a scavenger hunt. My Christmas list was 70% books, but many of them could not be easily found online or in the small, independent bookstores my sister frequents.
My liberal arts education in the humanities is the culprit. I used to know only fiction, but now, thanks to my professors and my position on my college’s literary magazine, I am acquainted with the existence of prose poems, flash fiction, micro fiction, creative nonfiction, personal essays, braided essays, and hybrid essays. I have become more voracious because I know the vast voices I have yet to hear.
When I consider my bookshelf, my brain becomes a chorus of these different voices making similar, resonant sounds.
I hear my dad reading my first favorite books to me as a child snuggled against him on our small couch. These storybooks no longer exist in a physical place; instead, they rest on the shelves of my mind. Current reads echo these old stories. The themes have not fully changed despite their placement in new genres.
My bookshelf exists in its full capacity only in my mind. Even when I find a true bookshelf for my room after graduation, and even when I someday, hopefully, have an office/library in my own home, my bookshelf will foremost stand in my imagination, holding stories whose names I may forget but whose contents inform future passion.
Marah Hoffman is a senior double major in English and creative writing at Lebanon Valley College in rural Pennsylvania. Within her campus’s lively literary community, she is a writing tutor, mentor for prospective and new students, co-poetry editor for their literary magazine, and president of her college’s International English Honors Society chapter. Marah enjoys reading classic and contemporary literature. She has written poetry since she was twelve but has lately found herself wandering the realm of creative nonfiction, particularly personal essays. Besides being a bookworm, Marah is an avid runner. She is a member of LVC’s cross country and track teams. When Marah graduates, she hopes to find a position that allows her to continue pursuing her passion for books.