I have always loved looking at other people’s bookshelves. Whether it be a small shelf over their desk or an expansive library spanning floor to ceiling if there is a bookshelf I am bound to be found snooping through its titles and well-loved spines. What better way to earn a glimpse of the person who collected these stories or find your next favorite?
My room has been overtaken by books barely constrained to the shelves they live on. The titles have shifted and changed over the years but the number has only grown. There is something about living physically among books that goes beyond mere aesthetics or a book as an object. It is about living among stories and words, little portals into faraway lands. As much as each book tells a story, so does each bookshelf that houses them.
The story of my own bookshelves must be an odd one. I can count three different copies of Frankenstein, two of The Classic Fairytales, and three of The Arabian Nights. John Milton’s Paradise Lost is nestled next to a worn paperback of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. Collections of Sherlock Holmes sit beside Bruce Coville’s children’s series, the Unicorn Chronicles. There are at least eight copies of Shakespeare’s works, though I’ve probably missed a few among all the stacks. Never mind that shelves can begin with Christopher Paolini’s Eragon only to be interrupted by books on mummies and solitary confinement, poetry by Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser, only to end up at Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. And all of this on one bookshelf alone!
Through these books I can trace the path of my life. Scattered on the shelves are my childhood favorites and heroes, like Bruce Coville and Tamora Pierce. On another bookcase are the collections of writing prompts, research ideas, and folktales that I fell in love with during high school. The brown shelf over my desk is laden with favorite authors and series I still haven’t stopped rereading years after I first discovered them. I can mark the exact moment that I became an English major in the presence of Norton Critical Editions. Along the way, there are clusters that stand out with frightening titles like Buried Alive and Severed from a class I took on the Anthropology of Horror and what our fears say about our culture. Even the slew of children’s classics like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Tom Brown’s School Days remind me more of a pair of classes I took on children’s literature than they do of my own childhood.
Looking through all of these books, new and old, the ones that are missing stand out to me as well. On the middle shelf there used to be Erin Hunter’s Warriors series and my collection of Harry Potter books, both gifted years ago to my little sister when she began to read. The collection of my books waiting to be read barely fits on my black bookshelf, tucked under the Tamora Pierce books I have set aside to reread this summer in a book club of friends. No matter how my shelves shift and change with the years, I am proud of the story they tell and I can only look forward to what new adventures they will collect.
Megan McCarter is a graduate of the University of Alabama with a BA in English. She is a founding editor of Call Me [Brackets] literary magazine and has presented her research at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association annual conference. You can find her in Tennessee playing with her pets, nose deep in folklore, or working on her latest story.