As a kid, a visit to the library was exhilarating. Each row of shelves was overwhelmingly, beautifully stocked, and I relished walking down the aisles, trailing my fingers over the bumpy spines of neatly aligned books (a sensation that I still believe is one of life’s best and simplest).
Once, after finishing Because of Winn-Dixie, I wrote a note on the slip of paper I had been using as a bookmark and left it halfway in for someone to find. Every time I returned to the library I’d check to see if anything had changed, and after countless visits, the note finally disappeared. There was no answer left behind, but I was satisfied; I had loved a story and left a trace of myself behind, and now I had definitive proof that someone else had opened the book and fallen in love, too. Reading is a personal yet universalizing experience—I knew it then and I know it now.
Looking over my own personal library, I find that it is littered with pieces of myself. It’s simple to trace each book back to a certain period of my life: I’ve held on to my copy of The Cricket in Times Square since I was little, and my shelves are full of classics I bought for school. It is also apparent from my shelves that I love Eliza Haywood, an author from the eighteenth century whose licentious stories contained biting social commentary—two elements that, when published by a woman, enraged male artists of the time. I have an assortment of her novellas as well as her longer works, like Love in Excess, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, and The Adventures of Eovaii.
Then, there are books that I fell in love with outside of academia. I have my worn copy of Persuasion that I read every December, Merrit Tierce’s Love Me Back, which I read in one sitting in lieu of studying for a final, and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which I recommend to anyone who will listen. But even better yet are the books that sit on my shelf that are still unread. The ones that I picked up on a whim and immediately felt I needed to claim as my own, but haven’t had the chance to open. These ones are heavy with potential, and when I’m in a romantic mood, I feel as if they reflect a part of a future yet unknown to me.
Most of the books on my shelves, read or unread, are either purchased used from second-hand shops or library sales, or have been passed on to me by family. Nearly all of the pages have been flipped by hands other than my own, and their stories have been loved by more than just me. Among these books are assorted items that, while cluttering my shelves, serve as remembrances. An old pair of drumsticks that I don’t use anymore rests on a row of hardcovers, and a birthday card from years ago shares the space as well. Old ticket stubs that I used as bookmarks but never threw away reside in back covers, and a packet of coriander seeds given to me by a little cousin sits by a dish that a friend of mine made in pottery class, both of which somehow ended up on my shelf and stayed there. Some of my favorite photos of my favorite people rest here, framed by the books themselves. When I look over these shelves or run my fingers over the rows of my books, I am comforted by where I’ve been, and excited to see where else I can go.
Jenna Jankowski is a graduate of Lawrence University where she earned a BA in English with a minor in Russian Studies. While studying at Lawrence, her fascination for 18th-century literature led to a string of research sessions and subsequent paper, which was later recognized with the Tichenor Prize in English. Always passionate about reading, at school she served as the editor of an on-campus literary magazine, and she has since worked with Sourcebooks and Browne & Miller Literary Agency managing a plethora of tasks, including evaluating query letters, writing reader reports, styling text extractions, storyboarding, and developing media pitches. These days, she can be found scouring used bookstores for new finds. Consequently, she can also be found anxiously surveying the ever-growing stacks of to-be-read books on her shelves.