Project Bookshelf: Crysta Montiel

I’ve scattered parts of my bookshelf all over Toronto. Sometimes, on random weekend trips to the west end, I visit local book stores to window shop. I always tell myself that I won’t buy anything, but the city’s talented booksellers tempt me with rare gems. Gems that I have an unfortunate habit of losing.

As Murphy’s law famously states, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Sometimes I forget my books in transitory places—buses, trains, and planes. Other times, I forget my books at friends’ places, vowing to retrieve them until the statute of limitations finally applies. Either way, I suppose that every book I’ve ever lost goes through a long cycle of finding, trading, borrowing, gifting, and re-gifting. I’m a firm believer in the idea that a book comes to life again every time a new pair of eyes reads it.

Because I’m so giving, and not at all because of my tendency to misplace books, my personal collection remains fairly small. Above my desk, I have a shelf of academic books on English literature, poetry, and philosophy. I keep these on hand because they’re writing resources that I flip through and cite whenever I need to. On an adjacent wall, I have a shelf stacked with fiction, which is mostly untouched because I’ve read them all.

Libraries are a magical place where people breathe life into literature over and over again, which is why I gravitate toward them. Toronto Public Library has annual book sales, where they sell donated books and books from their collections. All the profits are used to support library programs, so it’s basically guilt-free shopping. My most prized books are the ones that I picked up there in my youth.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was my first coming-of-age book. The protagonist, an orphan boy, is raised by an ensemble of quirky graveyard monsters. Imagine Boyhood (2014) if it was a dark whimsy children’s book. Likewise, I felt seen by Adam Green’s Satsuma Sun-Mover, a comedic tale about a Cambridge philosophy student caught between two warring factions: the Hegelians and the Positivists.

It’s strange to verbalize my love for these books because the feeling is so intimate. For me, the select few books that I keep in my collection are the ones that I’ve attached to core memories.

And, yes, I’ve alleviated my forgetfulness by using an e-reader for most books I buy today. I like being able to highlight and save quotes, bookmark pages, and ctrl+f search for words. The screen also brightens at night if I ever want to read in the dark.

On my e-reader, I probably have over 5000 books now. Even though it’s just a tablet and the books are digital, I like to envision my personal collection looks something like Jorge Luis Borges’ “Library of Babel.” This romantic image makes me feel a lot better about having a collection scattered over the city with books I can’t actually see.


Crysta Montiel is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto in Canada, where she studies English Literature and Philosophy. She previously worked as an editorial intern at Ayesha Pande Literary Agency. When Crysta’s not digging through treasure troves of queries, she’s completing her Criterion Collection bucket list and playing with her cat. 

Project Bookshelf: Marah Hoffman

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 GamesTwilightHarry 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.  

Project Bookshelf: Kathryn Davis

I’ve never had a proper bookshelf. 

Late in the July between my kindergarten and first-grade years, when my big brother loaned me his favorite book on the face of the earth—Nate the Great Goes Down In the Dumps—I didn’t need a bookshelf. My picture books were content to live (albeit overflowing) in the big wicker basket beside my bed, and anyway, I’d need to return Sam’s copy of Nate the Great when I’d finished. It wasn’t a signed copy or anything, but he’d added some drawings of his own that he might want to revisit down the road. And anyway, it was a loan—NOT a present. Okay

Soon after I’d torn through Nate (and safely returned it to my brother’s library under threat of noogies), I picked up Because of Winn Dixie, Charlotte’s Web, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Anniversary Boxed Set. Around the same time, my dolls went hungry. They moved out of their dollhouse, which my mother had built (and wallpapered) herself for my fourth birthday. My dolls cleared out their furniture, their clothes, their pets, and skipped town. So my books moved into my pink-roofed, five-bedroom dollhouse. The smaller books fit well into the bathroom and the nursery; the larger ones were stacked in the living room, the master bedroom. The oddly-proportioned ones were cast off into the doll house’s attic, angled and leaning into the pitch of the roof. 

My first car, the car my father used to usher my mother to the hospital the day I was born, was a white Jeep Cherokee Sport. It had this knit heather-grey interior—and seat pockets on the back of both the driver’s and passenger’s seats. I’d moved on to slightly-heftier books by the time I learned to drive; Speak, The Catcher in the Rye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Bluest Eye. I brought books with me everywhere. I planned ahead, loaded my Jeep’s seat pockets with books I meant to read soon, books I’d read again, and took them with me wherever I went. When I blew the engine on the Jeep—on the expressway three miles from home—the back-of-seat pockets were blown out and sagging from the years they’d spent stuffed full of my library. I cleared out the car so my uncle could sell its shell down at his salvage yard, and I pulled books out of the pockets in stacks. Empty, the pockets held the shape of the books: re-formed to hold hardcovers instead of gum wrappers and ice scrapers, as the car’s designers had intended. 

My college dorm room came equipped with a bed, a small dresser, and a desk—as a loan—NOT a present. Okay? My writing professors sent me to buy dozens of collections and anthologies and craft books and implored me to keep them forever. Still, without a proper bookshelf, and with a backpack (and, for that matter, a back) that boasted only a finite load-bearing capacity, I was left to stacking. I stacked my books on the floor: On either side of my dresser. Along the foot of my bed. As a makeshift side table to the right of my desk. Each semester, I got more books, and my stacks got more precarious. A friend once compared my stacks of books to those stacks people make with rocks alongside rivers—except my stacks were not especially harmful to wildlife.

Now, I own a house that bears a striking resemblance to my childhood home (and very little resemblance to my pink-roofed dollhouse), but I still don’t have a bookshelf. Don’t get me wrong—large portions of hutches, console tables, nightstands, empty corners of rooms—serve as homes for my books. They’re the cornerstone of my house’s interior design; they’re spread all around, scaling the fireplace, holding up candles and framed photos, a couple dozen in every room. 

I like it this way. I like living amidst a poorly-filed library that I can access at every moment, in any room or on any surface or corner. I like that I can accidentally pick up a collection or novel and read the whole thing, just because it was there. Books are full of beautiful things that are meant to be happened upon, held onto, carried with us. It makes sense to me, not having a real bookshelf, because it means that books are everywhere, too great and necessary to ever really put away.


Kathryn Davis is a writer and editor from Michigan. She graduated in 2018 from Grand Valley State University, where she studied Creative Writing with an emphasis in Fiction, and served as editor-in-chief of the university’s literary journal, fishladder. You can find her work in Potomac Review, Third Coast, and elsewhere—or follow her on Twitter @kathrvndavis.

Project Bookshelf: Victoria Carrubba

I have always believed that a reader’s bookshelf is an extension of who they are. If eyes are the windows to the soul, then a reader’s collection of books reflects their innermost feelings, interests, and aspirations. Each book I have read throughout my life has had an impact on me in some way; whether I loved the novel or hated it, they have all shaped me into the reader and person I am today.

When I was born, my mother bought me a dresser with two shelves attached to it. While limited, these shelves held some of the most influential books I read as a child, novels that sparked my love for reading. Goodnight Moon was the first book my mother bought for me as a baby, and I still own the slightly damaged book today because of how much I loved it. I would ask my mom to read it to me every night before bed, never growing bored with the story despite knowing exactly how it would end.

In elementary school, my board books were replaced with middle-grade chapter books. More than half of one shelf was dedicated to the Magic Treehouse books, the first series I read and loved as a child. The remainder of my shelves were filled with A Series of Unfortunate Events, 39 Clues, and Percy Jackson. Elementary school is when I became an avid reader; I would carry a book with me wherever I went, and I would spend hours reading each day. Unsurprisingly, I read each book on my shelves numerous times, until, eventually, my dad bought me three more shelves so I could expand my book collection. He took me to my small town’s indie bookstore every Saturday to buy a new book, and by the next time I went the following week, I had already finished it.

Then, when I was fourteen, my parents and I redid my childhood bedroom for my birthday. With the renovation came my beloved floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The baby dresser and elementary shelves were replaced with four bookcases that span the entire wall; my own personal library right in my bedroom. I spent hours organizing my books when they were installed, deciding to group them by genre and sort them by which spines looked best together. Today, I still organize my books this way, though I am less methodical with the process. By the end of high school, my bookshelves were almost completely filled with YA fantasy and contemporary books, the two genres I loved the most during my teenage years.

Now, going into my fourth year of college, my bookshelves are filled to the brim and organized in a pattern that resembles Tetris more than anything. I have shifted gears from YA to adult, and my favorite genre is literary fiction (though I still go back to my roots and read the occasional fantasy). In addition to my fiction books, I have a couple nonfiction books about specific interests or people that I like, textbooks from my college literature classes, and poetry collections that I find beautiful. Some of the most special books in my collection, though, are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (my favorite book, the first I ever cried to while reading), the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (the only series from my early childhood that I still keep on my shelves, three of which are signed), Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (the first personalized, signed book I got and the first book I truly saw myself in), and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (given to me by my grandmother).

However, all of my books, read or unread, hold a special place in my heart. Each book I have read, bought, or received is significant to me because I will always remember the person I was when I put it on my shelves.


Victoria Carrubba is a senior English Publishing Studies student at Hofstra University. She is currently a tutor at her university’s writing center and a copyeditor for The Hofstra Chronicle. She has also worked on her university’s literary magazines, Font and Growl, and was previously a fiction editor for Windmill Journal. Outside of work, she can be found reading, dancing, or drinking chai.

Project Bookshelf: Saoirse

Three wooden bookshelves side by side against a white wall. They are completely filled with book and have built 3D puzzled on top of them.
The bookshelf I shared with my parents

I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of building collections recently. As much as I love to see a cupboard (or an apartment or a house or a life) full of books, an empty bookshelf holds such wonderful possibilities. I’ve never had to build (read: populate) a bookshelf from scratch until this last year. As a child, I first began reading by dipping into my parents’ books—with or without their permission—and adding my own to their collection. I wasn’t allowed to read any books my parents wouldn’t read themselves. Our books were shared and thus, so were our tastes in reading material.

So many people talk of finding their voice at college but I found my ears. Finally, the chance to have a bookshelf of my own helped me develop a reading sensibility informed by my own identity, experiences, and preferences. Between readings at the Rose O’Neill Literary House, visits to the Dodge Poetry Festival, and research trips to New York, East Anglia, and Havana, I picked up an extensive collection of books that could serve as an introduction to me on its own.

Multiple large stacks of books on a desk.
Some of the books I left in storage

Until May 2020, when I received a call from the Indian Embassy. They said they would be airlifting me from the States back to India. My flight was to take off in five days. My first thought: what am I going to do with my extensive book collection? So, I painstakingly chose a handful of books to bring with me that have since created the foundations of my current bookshelf. (The rest are safe in storage, don’t worry).

A book (A Brief History of Fruit by Kimberly Quiogue Andrews) on a desk with an apple and a small bottle of orange juice next to it.
A quarantine breakfast

The first three books I chose because of my admiration of both the contents and its creators: A Brief History of Fruit by the inimitable Kimberly Quiogue Andrews, The Court Dancer by Kyung-Sook Shin and translated by the inspirational Anton Hur, and finally, Bla_k by no other than M. Nourbese Philip. A book of poetry, a translated novel, and a collection of nonfiction. I was clearly working hard to curate as varied a list of texts as possible written/translated/created by folks of extraordinary character.

If there is one thing I can confidently say about my current book collection (other than its diminutive size), is that it continues to speak to my identity and current lived reality. I read books almost immediately after acquiring them, and thus, my book purchases reflect my priorities. Given the socio-political realities of the pandemic in India and the world writ large, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents have become Afrofuturist necessities. So has Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, trans. Stephen Snyder. I have also taken to engaging with my books on a more involved level by writing them out longhand so you will find a stack of notebooks containing (part of) Toni Morrison’s Beloved written in my hand on the bottom shelf. A benefit of repatriation: my shelves now also hold classic books from my homeland that are hard to find in the US, like फ़ैज़ अहमद “फ़ैज़” जी की मेरे दिल मेरे मुसाफ़िर (My Heart, My Traveller by Faiz Ahmed Faiz).

I must admit, I am cautiously enjoying this short liminal period of having a half-empty bookshelf. It’s so full of possibilities and wonder. Every so often, I feel a jab of resentment or irritation, finding myself wishing I’d packed a specific book or wishing I hadn’t had to leave my life behind. The thrill of curating a new collection tempers the loss of the old but it never truly resolves it. Someday, I will open those boxes again and perhaps rediscover a younger version of myself in those pages. Perhaps even combine these collections despite the Pacific Ocean in the way. Until then, on to the next one!


a brown femme person sits at a table. They have a drink in their hand and a tattoo on their wrist. They are wearing spectacles. They have shoulder length black hair.

Saoirse‘s name and passion are the same: freedom. As an exophonic writer, their academic interests revolve around linguistic power dynamics, especially in connection to the land. They are always trying to write, and find, poetry that breaks the English language into articulating its own colonial violence. They are a freelance editor and serve as the Guest Editor for Emerging Voices in Poetry at Oyster River Pages. They are a 2021 Brooklyn Poets Fellow and a finalist for the Sophie Kerr Prize. They find excitement in travel, comfort in a good cup of coffee, and love in their newly adopted puppy, Malaika. Find them at saoirseedits.com or on Twitter @saoirseedits.

Project Bookshelf: Iqra Abid

I cleaned out my bookshelf last summer, donating and gifting books I’ve had for years. It’s now half the size it used to be with the stories I have outgrown sitting warmly in new homes.

In an attempt to save money though, I have not refilled my shelves. This year, I hope to rebuild my collection and explore new genres. In the past, I mostly read poetry and young adult novels. More recently, I have been more interested in memoirs and essay collections. But I am still reading a lot of poetry—that I can’t let go of.

To me, a good book is lyrical and the storytelling is creative and passionate. Part of this may be why I have been so drawn to memoirs lately. If you care about these characteristics when picking out a book, you might be interested in some of my recommendations. Here are some of my favourite titles from my bookshelf.

Memoirs and Poetry Books

Girl in Need of a Tourniquet: Memoir of a Borderline Personality by Merri Lisa Johnson

Girl in Need of a Tourniquet by Merri Lisa Johnson is a fantastically written memoir of the author’s experiences living with borderline personality disorder. It is written in the form of lyrical essays, each one more thought-provoking than the last. We follow Johnson as she untangles herself from the mess that her diagnosis worsens as she strives for clarity. Johnson’s writing captures the immensity of her emotions and accurately reflects the thought process of someone with borderline personality disorder. I was drawn to the book because of Johnson’s writing style, something most readers struggle with because it jumps from place to place, but I can say it did not disappoint.

We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib

This memoir was one of my most anticipated reads. Queer Muslim representation is rare and while this is changing now, Samra Habib’s We Have Always Been Here will always be a revolutionary staple for queer Muslim representation. The book begins with Habib’s childhood in Pakistan and her experiences as an Ahamdi Muslim (a persecuted Muslim minority) from which she learned that some parts of her identity must be hidden to survive. As a refugee, she arrives in Canada, where she faces bullying, racism, an arranged marriage, and more. Eventually, she begins to explore her queerness and rekindles her faith at an LGBTQ+ friendly mosque in the face of all her struggles. Habib’s story is an inspiring and resilient one. We Have Always Been Here is the grown-up, queer, Muslim, coming-of-age story that so many queer Muslims around the world have needed.

Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

Night Sky With Exit Wounds is Ocean Vuong’s first full-length poetry collection. The book won the T.S Eliot Prize in 2017 and continues to have a significant impact on the literary scene today. With powerful imagery and haunting metaphors, Vuong depicts stories of war and immigration, captures intergenerational trauma, and grounds itself in the human experience. Night Sky With Exit Wounds examines themes of family, gender, sexuality, war, violence, and even self-actualization. This collection is an emotional and memorable exploration of humanity, practically a perfect encapsulation of it. Even if you are not someone who enjoys poetry, all of Ocean Vuong’s books are a must-read.

Other pictured books:

Homie by Danez Smith: To-be-read poetry collection about friendship

Beyond The Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon: Nonfiction, educational book about gender and deconstructing the gender binary to imagine a world without it

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison: A collection of speeches, essays and reflections on music, life, and society

Glass, Irony & God by Anne Carson: A collection of personal essays written in verse, commenting on life and depicting a journey of self-understanding

Red Doc by Anne Carson: A sequel to Carson’s Autobiography of Red, a novel in verse reimagining the myth of Geryon from Herkles’s ten labours

Chapbooks

Chapbooks are short collections of poetry, typically 40 pages. They’re excellent for introducing yourself to poetry or a poet or if you don’t have all that much time to read. The following title is my most favourite addition to my poetry collection.

Lonelieness and Other Bodies of Water by N. K. Said

Loneliness and Other Bodies of Water is hands-down the best chapbook I have ever read. N. K. Said has a strong and well-developed narrative voice, something that can be rare to see in chapbooks. Her poems delve into the healing process with careful precision. Said effectively recreates the loneliness of learning to understand yourself, pulling on your heartstrings and truly giving meaning to the phrase “feeling blue”. It is beautiful, it is delicate, and it is profound. N. K. Said is most definitely a poet to watch.

Other pictured chapbooks:

Shurma by L. Akhter: Recently released, and only just received in the mail but a very anticipated read

dead girl walking by Dez Levier: Out of print, explicit reflections of trauma and living with bipolar disorder

Magazines

I love magazines, specifically those that are art-focused. These are the magazines I have bought this year.

Reconstructed Magazine – Volume 2: Bodies

Reconstructed Magazine is a creative magazine that highlights Muslim creators, particularly those marginalized within and outside of Islam. It is filled with gorgeous art and writing of all different mediums (textiles, sculptures, photography, paintings, essays, interviews, etc.). I am absolutely obsessed with the issue and love the questions it explores regarding bodies (human, divine, etc.).

Pitch Magazine – Issue two

Pitch Magazine is a publication by and for Black creators. Their work is a celebration of Black creativity and expression and their second issue emphasizes unfiltered Blackness. It is beautifully designed and curated, filled with art and writing that resonates deeply with its readers.

Asahmed Magazine – BLCK PWER

Ashamed Magazine is a pioneer in the world of publications that uplift marginalized voices. BLCK PWER is their first print issue, now out of print. It covers a wide range of topics including Black liberation and prison abolition, Black beauty and feminism, navigating white spaces while Black, and the Black Lives Matter movement. In the form of art, poetry, essays, articles, and interviews, BLCK PWR is a revolutionary collection of Black stories and perspectives.


Iqra Abid (she/her) is a young, Pakistani, Muslim writer based in Canada. She is currently a student at McMaster University studying Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour. She is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Kiwi Collective Magazine. Her work can be found in various publications such as Stone Fruit Magazine, Tiny Spoon Lit Magazine, Scorpion Magazine, and more. You can find her on Instagram at @iqraabidpoetry.

Project Bookshelf: Stephi Cham

I have a library in my childhood home—sort of. It’s a partitioned area above a home office, and it consists of one huge bookshelf with about 20 spaces and an assortment of musical instruments, but it’s one of my favorite spaces in the world. It holds treasured memories in the form of treasured books. In elementary school, I’d borrow 10 books every two days from my school library and read them all, then return for more. I couldn’t get enough of reading; I still can’t.

Book cover of SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn Bowman. White sketches of a bird on a flower looking up a bird in flight, on a backdrop of an ocean wave.

My love for literature has always been an eclectic mix; next to the collection of Jane Austen and the Brontë Sisters is the space with Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Summer Bird Blue and Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown. My love for fantasy takes up most of my shelf space as it does my life, and it shows—in childhood favorites, like Erin Hunter’s Warriors series, to my teenage obsessions, like Marie Lu’s Legend, to reads from the past few years, like Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House. My shelf holds fictional tales of mystery, crime, science fiction, horror, romance, family, and nonfiction reads about a little of everything: with one glance, I see a biography of Mozart’s sister, studies from Dr. Oliver Sacks, and narrative history books on Russia and Haiti.

Book cover of CRAFT IN THE REAL WORLD:Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping by Matthew Salesses. Outline of hand holding pen on solid purple background.

A whole shelf alone is dedicated to reading for my work, because as much as experience is my greatest teacher, I believe in reading deeply and widely both past and current knowledge. Someone told me once to do my best until I knew better, and I always want to know better. So my books on music therapy implementation and theory span my shelves, and my favorite reads on writing and editing follow me every time I relocate. I’m constantly revisiting craft books, like Matthew Salesses’ Craft in the Real World and Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic, the book that first inspired me to be a writer at age 11.

Nowadays, if a paperback or hardcover copy of a book ends up on my shelves, it’s almost a sure sign that I love it. I want to hold on to the stories that inspire me, teach me, and call out to me. If there’s a book I know I’ll always remember, I want to be able to sit and reread parts of it anytime, revisiting it continually like an old friend. I suspect that my full bookshelf may be the one constant anywhere I go. No matter how my shelf evolves with me, it will always reflect my life: filled, always, with well-remembered and well-loved stories.


Stephi Cham holds a BM in Music Therapy with a Minor in Psychology from Southern Methodist University. She is currently working toward her MA in Publishing at Rosemont College, where she manages the publishing program’s communications as a graduate assistant. She is a freelance editor and the author of the Great Asian-Americans series published by Capstone Press, and her work has appeared in Strange Horizons.

Project Bookshelf: Xuan Nguyen | FEYXUAN

I read voraciously. At maximum speeds, I can read for 10 hours straight for days in a row and devour up to 200,000 words in a day. Since becoming disabled, I spend a lot of time reading when I am too chronically ill or in pain to do anything else, which essentially happens every single day.

However, it would be a complete and utter lie to say I was reading anything but fanfiction. And honestly, it would be equally false to say that I have been regularly reading anything but fanfiction since I learned I was gay in middle school through my not-so-bizarre fascination with BL (Boys Love) manga. Once freshman year of high school hit and through the mysterious ways of now-dead Tumblr, I learned I was transgender and non-binary, and then it was basically the final nail in the coffin for any lingering aspirations of becoming a bookworm in the traditional sense.

It’s a matter of representation. It would be bad enough looking for representation by-and-for cisgender gay Southeast Asian-Americans, but it’s essentially impossible for a transgender one that doesn’t end with the involvement of a shovel and a six-foot grave. I also vastly prefer to read fantasy, and I have no tolerance for Eurocentricism in my fantasy or for non-Asians’ Orientalism.

But as a child, I was quite a happy bird when it came to books, and the books I read then still influence me now. The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix and Tithe by Holly Black have been extremely formative for me for the type of fantasy I aspire to create. They were written decades ago, but still remain quite subversive in the modern Game of Thrones-dominated landscape of fantasy. Nix’s series features teenage girls using necromantic bells to raise the dead or lay them to rest in the process of saving the world. Black’s series is a keystone of urban fantasy since the modern setting is used as urban grit, and the otherworldly aspects remain brilliantly ethereal, with such majesty that gets lost in what most people think of as urban fantasy: the fantastical made mundane through such things as Paranormal Investigation Agencies and vampires going to high school.

I’ve kept tabs on what the big boys of publishing put out, and there’re some trailblazers for QTPOC in fantasy, namely TOR, but I can’t help but keep my reservations. The publishing world is a lot different now than it was 15 years ago, but is different enough? Is change happening fast enough? For some, it is. And I’m happy for them.

But if I had to have my say, I’ll stick to my childhood favorites and the wide and well-tagged world of fanfiction.


Xuan Nguyen | FEYXUAN is a disabled fey orchestral music composer, writer-poet, and illustrator-designer. Their recent projects have involved the solo development of aesthetic interactive fiction games exploring the nuances not exclusive to the following: power, trauma, madness, nonbinariness, divinity, and monstrosity. LIAR, LIONESS (Feb 2021) and the demo for OCHITSUBAKI【落ち椿】(March 2021) are out now. Their books include LUNG, CROWN, AND STAR (Dec 2020, Lazy Adventurer) and THE FAIRIES SING EACH TO EACH (Feb 2021, Flower Press). Xuan Nguyen is the Art Director of Lazy Adventurer Publishing, and they help Grimalkin Records as a Graphic Designer.

Project Bookshelf: Lee Anderson

I once organized my aunt’s library room by color when I helped her move, sweeping ROY G BIV around black shelves and bubble-wrapped packages I was expressly warned not to touch, much to her irritation. I was young, so I didn’t quite understand how or why that might be annoying, but now that I have bookshelves of my own to place, it makes more sense. I have three wide rows of a living-room-turned-office bookshelf that I share with my girlfriend sorted by genre: notebook, cookbook, scientific nonfiction, creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. In a perfect world, each genre would be organized by the author’s last name, but I once forgot how many letters are in the alphabet while I was teaching, so that dream hasn’t been realized just yet. For the most part, this system works. I do love that most of the books I’ve found and adore have brightly-colored covers. They are little gems, bright pops of jewel tones nestled together like the world’s best literary supermarket.

Most of my favorite fiction novels have been passed down to my youngest sister, a bookworm after my own heart, but I’ve kept a few close to me—a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s best gifted to me by my childhood best friend, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz—and am regrowing my collection as I stumble upon more. I’m always trying to find and read more creative nonfiction, and gems like Sarah Minor’s Bright Archives that play with form are what keep me going as I test out my own form-based experiments in essays. My sort-by-genre system has been falling apart the more I learn about and invest in non-traditional literature, however. Where does a hybrid chapbook go? What about an essay collection that braids pedagogy with real science? If it exists outside of formal constraints, does it have a home? I don’t have a solution for this yet, as silly as that sounds. I’ve been trying to make gradients between genres, like one big loop, where teal fits between green and blue, and it’s both working and not.

To the right of my desk, opposite the big bookshelf, are two floating shelves. My “academic bookshelf” lives on the bottom. This is where I keep books that I’m actively reading (Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Lavery) that aren’t on my bedside table (currently The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang), composition and rhetoric books I’m teaching, and books that I need for my own MFA classes. Right now, most of these books are for my thesis—Queer Phenomenology, Pale Blue Dot, Assuming a Body, and more—whether I am drawing inspiration from their form, style, or simply trying to wrap my head around the theory. The “dog” plant pot and tiny hand are for keeping the books upright and me smiling, a simultaneous bookend and serotonin slot machine. The shelf above keeps my mug collection in one place, because what is an office corner if not also a coffee station? I use my mugs as decor, in teaching my freshmen about twisting genre and tone, and for their standard purpose as drink vessels. If I think about it hard enough, they become part of my bookshelf gradient, tying the corners together by wrapping up all of my loose ends.

I keep two books on my desk with my darling marble queen pothos, color-coordinated calendar, and peach rings always in reach. Despite not being a poet, the beauty of poetry is so concentrated that it is my favorite way to re-inspire myself. Mary Oliver is one of my all-time favorites, and her anthology Devotions has enough familiar and new material that opening to a random page, reading the poem(s), and sitting with the images for a few moments is enough fuel to keep me going on long nights. I’ve done this recently with torrin a. greathouse’s new release Wound from the Mouth of a Wound and Clementine von Radic’s Mouthful of Forevers, too.

If poetry can’t save my writing brain when the wiring is faulty, though, my tarot cards can. I have a deck themed after the 2013 movie Pacific Rim, each card painted by a different artist, and take a moment, shuffling them through my hands, staring up at my big bookshelf until it feels right. I draw a card, read the interpretation from Michelle Tea’s fantastic Modern Tarot, and watch how adjusting the placement of my perspective gives me the opportunity to try again.


Lee Anderson is a nonbinary MFA student at Northern Arizona University, where they are the managing editor of Thin Air Magazine. They have been published sporadically but with zest, with work appearing or forthcoming in The RumpusColumbia Journal, and Back Patio Press.

Project Bookshelf: Eliza Browning

My bookshelf is an assorted jumble of the books I’ve accumulated throughout the years from a variety of different sources, representing my shifting tastes and needs through high school and college. A revolving collection split between my home bookcases and my dorm room shelves, my books often undergo frequent purges and additions to compensate for limited space. Borrowed library books, a few old favorites, novels for English classes, and textbooks for my art history major crowd the mantel I use for storage in my dorm, while the rest of my books live year-round in two bookcases at home.

At the end of high school, I purged my bookshelf of most of my children’s lit and young adult books, saving my favorites and donating the rest to Little Free Libraries or my mother’s high school classroom. I retained my favorite books, some which were presents, and literary classics needed for my English major, many of which I inherited from the college collections of my mother and grandmother. I buy most of my books secondhand from the Internet or local used bookstores, which allows me to save money and buy more while purchasing books for class or pleasure. I also collect nineteenth-century books with embossed covers, many of which I find in antique stores or at the Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut.

Many of my books have come to me by chance, gifted by friends and relatives, foraged from Little Free Libraries, or stolen from unused piles once owned by family members. Before leaving college, one of my friends gifted me almost his entire collection of philosophy and classics, dog-eared and coffee-stained. My collection ranges from classics to contemporary, poetry to nonfiction, theory to memoir, textbooks and Andy Steves’ Europe: City-Hopping on a Budget. I hope to one day have space for my own library in my future house or apartment, allowing my book collection to further expand and grow.


Eliza Browning is a student at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, where she studies English and art history. Her work has previously appeared in Rust + Moth, Vagabond City Lit, Contrary Magazine, and Up the Staircase Quarterly, among others. She is a poetry editor for EX/POST Magazine and reads poetry for COUNTERCLOCK Journal.