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.

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.

Project Bookshelf: Mary Sims

One of my favorite pastimes to this day is exploring local second-hand bookstores. In middle school, my mom would take me to a small store close to our house, blending our time there with the small coffee shop across the street. My summers were spent rotating between them both and my local library, which was also within walking distance. After all of these years, I can’t count how many books I have bought from that store, but I know it was enough to have filled my childhood bookshelf.

Presently, I still visit that bookstore, and I love it just as much. Perhaps the biggest change I’ve experienced in the routine is the shift in content on my bookshelves. My days of Percy Jackson and John Green were left behind for my growing love of classics and poetry. Woolf and Wilde replaced Rowling; Mary Oliver and Danez Smith took the place of C.S Lewis. My break from middle school was marked by my transition into new genres. I became obsessed with classic literature and contemporary poetry. Kay Ryan’s The Best of It was the beginning collection that steered me into poetry. Even now, the book is still on my shelf, crowded against the more recent collections I’ve enjoyed. 

In taking one look at my bookshelf, my favorites become obvious. Poetry and plays litter the upper shelf, organized carefully so that no author overshadows another. Sarah Kane is able to meet Tiana Clark without distraction and Mary Oliver sits beside Franny Choi in an organized chaos of styles. This shelf is not only important to me because of the community they represent, but because these collections have inspired me to pursue poetry. Louise Gluck’s The Wild Iris introduced me to the importance of movement within a poem. I would spend my time reading this collection between my classes and job, marveling at her ability to shift within her stanzas; I remember sitting out on my university library’s steps and highlighting lines in the sunlight.

In addition to Gluck’s collection, Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf is one of my most treasured books. This collection was my gateway into contemporary poetry as it showed me how to love poetry in all its different forms. I was fortunate enough to get it signed in January and keep it displayed proudly. Sitting beside Akbar’s poems is another one of my more recent purchases: Franny Choi’s Soft Science. This collection taught me the imperative role form plays in conducting the message of a poem. Beyond what I have learned from it, this collection holds a special place in my heart as it contains one of my favorite poems: Introduction to Quantum Theory. The first time I read this poem, I felt the world around me melt away. Predictably, reading Soft Science had the same effect as I tore through it. 

Many other notable books I still find myself enraptured by are Richard Siken’s War of the Foxes, Araclis Girmay’s Kingdom Animalia, Sarah Kane’s collected plays, and Hieu Minh Nguyen’s This Way To The Sugar. Siken’s collection was a gift I received two Christmases ago after I had devoured his first collection Crush in under a day. His ability to condense emotion into action devastated me, and I simply had to have more of it. The relationship of the speaker and the reader seemed foundational to Siken’s emotional construction. Oftentimes, his poems gave the impression of an intentionally fragile structure, waiting to be torn apart. Similarly, Girmay’s collection is one I had on my list for a long time. I finally purchased my copy for a directed study course I took with one of my favorite professors. As expected, her collection was hypnotic. I was fixated on her use of images to place her reader into each poem as well as remove them just as quick. Her ability to deconstruct interaction within her own work was breathtaking, and I couldn’t tear myself away.

This past fall I was able to visit with family friends in Seattle, Washington — one of my favorite places to be — where I picked up a copy of Nguyen’s book at a local bookstore I come to each time I’m in the city. I carried his collection across the city and then over the ocean as I started to read it. Of course, it’s no surprise how quickly i became immersed. Nguyen’s use of careful violence in each poem entangled me, leading me to continuously marvel at each image he crafted. Sarah Kane’s plays were something I discovered indirectly, but I am very glad I did. Last summer I came across her work in a short quote shared by a book-review blogger I follow. I was so entranced; I hadn’t read many plays outside of school assignments, and I wanted to correct that. I ordered her collection, finishing the whole thing in two days. I was torn apart; I was resurrected. There is no other way to describe how I felt reading her work.

My second shelf is a little more disorganized, which also reflects my relationship with fiction. There is a blend of university assigned readings, high school fascinations, and ‘to-read’ piles all pressed together. This shelf contains my collected fiction and non-fiction. Writers like Jamaica Kincaid and Bram Stoker meet each other within the chaos. Last year I became very invested in non-fiction; I picked up the exploration that was Cat Marnell’s How to Murder Your Life and snowballed from there. On my bookshelf is one of Terry Tempest Williams’ books Refuge, which continues to inspire me even a year after my first reading. I was stunned by her ability to blend dreamscapes with reality while remaining within her non-fiction genre. The structure of each realization throughout was framed by a careful preciseness, leaving the reader with a constant impression of standing at the edge of a cliff and refusing to look directly downwards. 

My love for fiction fluctuates between fixation and fascination. During my sophomore year of university I set a challenge to read fifty books I hadn’t read before. J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher and the Rye was something I had been recommended by a friend in passing and thus became the first on my list. Though the novel is surrounded by controversy, it is still one of my favorite classics. Stream of consciousness is something I lean heavily towards — my annotated copy of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway speaks for itself — so it may come as no surprise that I found Holden Caulfield’s narrative intriguing and relatable. Lastly, lying beside Catcher in the Rye is another classic that influenced me heavily— Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I started this novel in high school after one of my best friends recommended it to me; I would finish my classwork early to read it at my desk, glancing over at my friend occasionally as if to say, can you believe this? She would simply raise one eyebrow across the room, and I knew we were in agreement. 

Literature is an imperative piece of the person I am. If I were to explain my personality in objects, books would certainly be a necessary part of the picture. I am sure these pictures of my bookshelf reveal more about me than I have written, but I do hope that the stories I’ve tied to each book help to shape a perspective. I think the most important part in my journey with literature is where it started. I didn’t learn the importance of literature from my school system growing up, but rather I learned it from who I discovered each genre with. I found literature with the people I care most about: my mother and that bookstore, my best friend and Wilde, my coworkers and I arguing over Stephen King’s inability to write a decent ending. 


Mary Sims is an undergraduate writer working towards her BA in English at Kennesaw State University. She is currently a poetry editor for Waymark Literary Magazine and a former student editor for the Atlanta based magazine Muse/A. Her work has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Poetry Annals, Peach Mag, and more. She can often be found filling her shelves with poetry collections, roaming antique stores, or laughing over raspberry cappuccinos with friends.

Project Bookshelf with Editorial Intern Kathleen Gullion

When I fantasize about home ownership, I dream of bay windows in which the cats will sunbathe, hardwood floors that heartily creak, and a massive library for all my books. 

A key part of this fantasy is owning enough books to fill an entire room. Currently, I own enough books to fill two small bookshelves.

These are some of my books. The bookshelf itself was purchased in a parking lot for $12. It’s wobbly and chipped, but it was the first bookshelf I bought on my own.

Most of these books were given to me by friends, or salvaged from giveaway piles, or bought secondhand. Some of the more yellowed ones belonged to my dad. I’d like to think they capture my essence pretty well, from the Dolly Parton biography to the Susan Sontag to the Miranda July to The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories

In March, at the start of the pandemic, I drove down to Houston to be with my family, thinking it would be a short trip and I would return to Chicago in a few weeks when the pandemic blew over. Since that hasn’t happened and won’t happen for a while, I ended up deciding to stay and make Houston my home. 

This is the bookshelf I have in Texas. The rest of my books are back in Chicago with my roommate, waiting for me to come back for them.

The bookshelf itself was my mom’s when she was a kid. The tchotchkes are mine (including the fake diploma from Sunnydale Highschool). These are the books I brought with me when I drove down to Texas and the books I’ve purchased since the start of the pandemic. And some more of my dad’s books. When Houston issued a stay-at-home order, books were a welcome escape, and I relied on them to inspire emotions in me other than the usual cycle of boredom and anxiety. Some of my favorites have been Bunny by Mona Awad (Heathers meets The Craft meets bougie MFA program) and The Girls by Emma Cline (cults, girlhood, the cult of girlhood).

These bookshelves are humble, and that’s because I rarely purchase books. For reading material, I usually check out books from the library. In 2019, I read 43 books. Out of those, 37 were checked out from the library. The Chicago Public Library has a branch in every neighborhood. There’s the Harold Washington Library downtown with its gargoyles and arched windows, and my local branch with its no-fuss brown brick. Generally, no matter where you are, a library is within walking distance. And in the fall of 2019, they eliminated all late fees to increase access citywide. Without the threat of fines, a book that had been overdue since 1934 was returned. 

My favorite emails to receive were the ones that told me my holds were ready. I loved walking to the library and seeing all the books set aside for me in the “holds” section. Every time, it was like my birthday. There were my presents, all wrapped up in laminate.

When I left Chicago, I had a copy of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West’s letters to one another checked out. I had checked it out months ago at my girlfriend’s recommendation, and since I figured I would be back to the city soon, I didn’t bother returning it. My girlfriend is a devoted lover of Virginia Woolf, and our courtship process included making Woolf memes, reading Mrs. Dalloway together, and reading snippets of Woolf and Sackville-West’s letters aloud to one another. 

Once a month, I receive an email from the Chicago Public Library telling me The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf has been automatically renewed. Because of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to explore the Houston Public Library yet, but I look forward to seeing if their collection of Victorian gay letters compares. 

As a kid, I was no Matilda. I’d check out a book from the school library every now and then, but it wasn’t a place I frequented. In college, the library was where I went to do homework, but I rarely checked out books. It wasn’t until my senior year that I fully realized I could read literally any book I wanted. For free! I checked out Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior and reveled at the idea of pleasure reading at no personal cost.

The library isn’t just amazing because of the free books. It’s amazing because it’s one of the only public spaces you don’t have to pay to use. Even without a membership, you can still enjoy the space. It’s open to anyone and everyone. When most institutions prioritize profit, an entirely free public space is a rare and special thing.

One day, I hope to have a sprawling library, books lining each wall. But no matter how large my personal library grows, I’ll always use the public library. It will always be my other bookshelf. 


Kathleen Gullion is a writer based in Houston. Her work has appeared in the Esthetic Apostle, Coachella Review, F Newsmagazine, and others. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Project Bookshelf with Social Media Intern Mary B. Sellers

As an only child with two working parents, books quickly became my constant and beloved companions growing up. I began establishing myself as A Reader early on in elementary school, thanks to a program called Accelerated Reader. The premise was an annual, ongoing “contest” where we could check out books from the library each week and then take short online reading comprehension quizzes about them. Each quiz earned us points that were evaluated at the end of the semester, totaled, and first, second, and third place winners for each grade were announced. While the prizes varied from getting to eat lunch with the principal and “special” lunch hour field trips to local restaurants, those weren’t what interested me.

I was a shy child; the last thing I wanted was to have to eat with our principal, be compelled to make small talk with a man 50 years my senior, and know the entire lunchroom could see that I spilled some tomato soup on my collar. I was driven to read by something small and secret and new to me at that point in life: pride. The breathless intellectual satisfaction of knowing I was reading a book that high schoolers usually tackled and understanding its plots and themes on some basic, instinctual level. When I ran across a vocabulary word I didn’t know, I logged in on a piece of notebook paper. Soon, I began anticipating the types of questions on the quizzes; I assigned myself weekday and weekend books; read in the back of my mother’s minivan on the way to and from my after school ballet classes.

I read. I read constantly. I read obsessively. It wouldn’t be until much later that I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but I’ve always suspected that these reading binges were probably one of the healthiest ways of expressing the disorder’s compulsions. It was also nice to be known for something, as I wasn’t much good at math or science and even worse at the games we played in P.E. I wasn’t popular or especially well-dressed like some of the girls in my classes with their Limited Too and Abercrombie jeans. Instead of long golden hair, mine was a nondescript brown and cropped into a short bob vaguely resembling a mushroom. In short, it just wasn’t happening for me at that point.

I ended up placing either first or second place from fourth through sixth grade. I got to see my name on the big bulletin board outside the front office each day. My parents got bragging rights and it felt lovely to be referred to as something other than just myself. More than that, though, it was the first time people started calling me adjectives like “smart” or “bright.” My teachers and the other students were starting to notice me, to approve of me, which led, of course, to learning to approve of myself.

I didn’t have the best grades, but I had read the most books.

I spent months with Nancy Drew and her sensible, 150-page mysteries; I read The Three Musketeers and Little Women and Tolkien’s trilogy, which led to my developing a taste for magic and world-building. Years later, as I sit here writing this, months away from turning 30, it’s easy to see what was happening: I was discovering myself, my tastes, my personal curiosities through reading about others. I’d lived hundreds of lives by the time I turned 12. It didn’t matter if they were fictional. That’s not how empathy works. When we read, we practice the art of empathy, of taking a walk in someone else’s shoes. It’s something so essential for both children and adults to learn and practice and actively use throughout their day-to-day.

We all want an identity; even as kids, we cling to certain things that make us feel sturdier, more tethered to this world. Books became that for me.

As for my bookcase these days: it’s smaller than I’d like it to be. With approximately 405 square feet to work with, however, options for interior decorating are slim. Forgoing “real” furniture, I decided to build one out of two sets of display shelving units I found on sale at Target. The instructions claimed their assembly would take me under 45 minutes, but because I’m me (with little to no engineering capacity or instinct) the project took me a little over three hours. It was oddly enjoyable doing something with my hands and I surprised myself by how absorbed I became in the whole process. It was a Tuesday night in October. I drank two glasses of pinot grigio and watched re-runs of The Office and felt truly capable for the first time in months. I only slammed my finger with the hammer once.

As for organization? Well, I don’t really have one specific system. As a Libra, I’m drawn to aesthetics. To colors. I wanted to make my bookcase one of the focal points in my studio apartment and so I thought for a couple of days before beginning the shelving process. Up until that point, my books were kept precariously stacked in three big liquor store boxes I’d had shipped across the country via the Greyhound bus shipping service. It took three weeks for them to arrive, the boxes were badly torn and stained with god only knows what, but it was cheap and effective. As a recent creative writing graduate without a job, cheap was optimal. Moving from Mississippi to Seattle meant I had to be scrupulous in what I chose to bring, so the books I have with me now are especial favorites—a smorgasbord of dog-eared, highlighted-to-an-inch-of-their-life novels, college and graduate school textbooks, and ones from childhood I couldn’t bear to part with. I’m defensive about how few there are, and oftentimes find myself overexplaining to guests that I own “so many more, I promise,” like the overly earnest literary snob I (unfortunately) sometimes am.

I finally decided to organize my books by shades of color. I have the Capitol Hill library in Seattle to thank for that: it’s a stunning building with high glass windows and a huge shelf organized with book spines ranging from ballet pinks to marigolds to dusty blues. It’s truly gorgeous—definitely Pinterest-worthy. I caught my breath the first time I walked past it, immediately took out my iPhone, and snapped a photo. Finding this organizational hack in my local library was the best, most wholesome sort of inspiration. It was fitting in a romantic and bookish way that real life rarely is. As an intensely visual person and learner, organizing by color rather than author or alphabet made far more sense. And besides, it was pretty.


Mary B. Sellers lives and works in Seattle, WA, and is at work on her second book, a novel of autofiction. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Mississippi and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Louisiana State University. Most recently her writing has appeared in Psychopomp Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Grimoire, Third Point Press, Sidereal Magazine, and Young Professionals of Seattle.

Project Bookshelf: Kanika Lawton

When my parents moved from Vancouver, Canada to Washington last year, they asked for my help because, in their words, “You’re good at organizing and getting rid of stuff.” It’s true, except it only really applies to clothes; fashion comes and goes, and I don’t fit into a lot of my older clothes now, so I don’t feel a sentimental attachment to them.

I can’t say the same about books. Books helped me get through large parts of my childhood and teenage years, so the thought of letting go of any of them is unthinkable. So much of my life and memories are stitched within their pages, so getting rid of them feels like getting rid of parts of myself.

I’m good at organizing until it comes to my books, which you can see in my little bookshelf in my apartment in Toronto. I moved to Toronto in the summer of 2018 for grad school, studying and teaching cinema studies at the University of Toronto.

A lot of the books here are tied directly to my degree: on one shelf you’ll see books on film criticism and theory, peer-reviewed film journals, Film Art: An Introduction, a textbook I used as an undergrad (my edition has Inglourious Basterds on the cover), an encyclopedia of essential films, and so on. Cinema studies owes a lot to philosophy, so I also have books from Deleuze, Irigaray, Derrida, and Foucault (shout out to one of my friends who helped me complete my collection of Foucault’s History of Sexuality, which brings me to another thing; I have to make sure any books I get in a series match one another!).

Even though a lot of my books here are academic because, well, I moved to Toronto for academics, I also managed to grow my fiction and poetry collections. One thing I love about Toronto is how many used bookstores there are. I can usually be found wandering around BMV Books near campus, leafing through their huge selection of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction books. This is where I was introduced to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (one of my favorite collections of poetry) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s essays on utopia. Also, since I practically lived in the library while writing my master’s thesis, I took advantage of the library’s numerous used book sales, which is how I got my biographies on the Borgias and Lord Byron. I group anything that isn’t strictly academic together, so this shelf has a nice mix of poetry and short story collections, graphic novels, anthologies, and fiction.

This bookshelf isn’t nearly as big as the one I had in our old house, so I started playing Tetris with my books. You can see them piling on top of one another, and I have stacks of books strewn all around my bedroom. Still, I love growing my own personal library, especially since I can trace who I was through their cherished pages.

This bookshelf holds just a fraction of my collection. I’m currently in our new house in Olympia, Washington, my childhood favorites pushed up against my bedroom walls. I’ve started sorting through the boxes and boxes of books the movers packed for us, reminiscing on how much they impacted me. How many times did I reread Master and Margarita to the point where the spine is falling apart? How many summer days did I spend nose-deep in one of my favorite encyclopedias, absorbing information? (Yes, I collected encyclopedias and books of lists as a child). Just the other day we bought new bookshelves, which will inevitably house the books I’m currently surrounded by. Even so, I can’t help but feel a surge of nostalgic contentment whenever I turn the pages of the books I spent so much of my time with. I can’t part with such memories, especially when I can pick them up whenever I want.


Kanika Lawton holds a BA in Psychology with a Minor in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia and an MA from the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute. She is the Editor-In-Chief of L’Éphémère Review, a 2018 Pink Door Fellow, and a 2020 BOAAT Writer’s Retreat Poetry Fellow. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper MagazineVagabond City Literary JournalGlass Poetry, and Cosmonauts Avenue, among others. 

Project Bookshelf with Editorial Intern Emma Hudson

I’m going to start by admitting the image on the left is not my bookshelf. When I texted my mom to ask if she could take a picture of my high school bookshelf so I could write this transformative article about my finely-tuned reading material she sent a picture of my 16-year-old sister’s bookshelf.

Mom: Cate said hers is more artsy.

I had to laugh. We have the same black wood-finished bookcase from Target, but somehow, hers surpasses me in a made-up ‘Artsy Bookshelf Contest.’ I guess fairy lights must be the sole determiner of coveted ‘artsy’ titles.

Yes, my sister always had a talent for complimenting me and insulting me in one sentence—a quality I ultimately love about her. On one hand, the art on her shelf is art I made back in the days of free time, but on the other, she’s insinuating my bookshelf aesthetic is no match for her elephant tape dispenser

Maybe she has a point. I organize books by where they fit on my shelf. My one back home (the ‘high school’ one) is two rows deep on the top two shelves. Thinly painted metal bookends try to contain the young-adult chaos from overspilling.

My college shelf continues on the legacy of trying to contain the chaos with thin chicken-College shelf with bodiless Chimmycoup wires ( a ‘steal’ from Homegoods is what my mom calls it). Some books I have yet to read, others are textbooks of semesters’ past, and I have a good stack of albums I regard with childhood remembrance to my latest Waterparks album with catchy and personally unrelatable tunes like “I Miss Having Sex But At Least I Don’t Want To Die (a hit radio-bleeped classic).

A further example of my love for music is displayed on the middle outward-facing encasement at the top is specifically saved for my collection of treasured BTS albums. The brave yellow-hooded BT21 character, Chimmy, is bodiless, but a good guard nonetheless.

Again, I organize by where everything can fit in a somewhat immaculate state. The position of honor for my most beloved books does not stay on the shelf. They float.

Since my freshman year in the cramped, yet warm space of my Hess Hall room is where this concept and artistic need initialized. Books and music are my ultimate loves even if I’m not an expert in creating either, I admire their mere creation.

close-up of floating books

The grayscale posters surround my favorite book series. Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne, is a series that shaped my interests in emotional and apocalyptic storytelling. The same descriptions apply to Issac Marion’s Warm Bodies. Zombies have been on my mind since my early middle-school-age fascination with “The Walking Dead.” As for a zombie who would learn love and understanding is the cure, I like to believe those words can cure all apocalypse epidemics (fictional and real as idealistic as it sounds).

Like my personality and appearance, my shelves have always been a semi-functioning mess with an element of chaotic good to keep things interesting—and on some appealing artistic level. Chimmy will remain guard with his fearsome tongue if anyone thinks they can touch my BTS albums without my permission.


Emma Hudson is currently a third year student at the University of Tennessee working on her double concentration BA in English: Rhetoric and Creative Writing, along with a minor in retail consumer science. She’s a busy bee; she is the Editor-in-Chief of the up-and-coming Honey Magazine. Emma is also a long-time member and leader in UTK’s Creative Writing Club and on the Executive Board for UTK’s Sigma Tau Delta, Alpha Epsilon chapter. In her free time, she figures out how to include K-Pop group BTS into her research projects and watches “reality” tv shows.

Project Bookshelf with Editorial Intern Peyton Vance

My bookcase is black wood, made to look smarter and sharper than it truly is. They say readers treat their books like they do their lovers. I hope that isn’t the case.

While some may highlight their favorite lines, dog-ear pages they reread, or annotate the work until it is a kaleidoscope of paper, I take a different approach.

 I slide off dust covers when reading, as to not damage the books. I do my best not to touch the pages, in fear of ruining the delicate paper with my oily hands. Don’t get me wrong, I do love books. Part of me wishes I could slide a novella in my bag, and read it on the beach, underlining sentences I wish I had come up with. But I’m not that brave. I’m not an Andy who plays with his toys. I’m Al, from Al’s Toybarn, keeping my toys behind a thin pane of glass.

From bottom to top, my bookcase is arranged strategically. Level one is the most haphazard, closest to the ground and least likely to be seen. This is where I keep “smart books”, year books, and paper books I collect coins in. The “smart books” are The Sun Also Rises, Frankenstein, The Grapes of Wrath, and other works that make me feel inferior. 

Above them, is the kid’s shelf, with books I love that are simple. I keep them knowing, hoping, that my kids will enjoy them too. 

Above that, on the third level is my YA section, with killing, love, and everything except sex. Level four is strictly reserved for Stephen King, on a life sentence.

The highest level is the Geek shelf. Where Watchman sits next to Fall of Reach, which sits next to Darth Plagueis… If this didn’t clue anyone in, then the massive Master Chief helmet I bought on eBay for much more than it was worth, will. 

It’s organized, but messy. The levels sit on top of one another with not one thread of cohesion. I’ve even got bastardized shelves around my room because I ran out of space.

Next to my bed, there’s the shelf that holds every Walking Dead volume, right beside my George R.R. Martin shelf with all five books, with one space left for another that may never come.

 I’m clearing off a space, now in my closet for future books to be read. And it’s growing slower than I want it, but faster than I know.

Peyton Vance is a senior at the University of Tennessee. He’s had five pieces published this year and is also currently the prose editor at the Phoenix Literary Magazine. He loves writing in any form whether it be poetry, prose, photos, plays or any other word that doesn’t start with a P. Peyton wants to eventually get into production and screenwriting and does not want to become homeless when he grows up. His favorite food is pizza.

Project Bookshelf: Megan McCarter

Megan Desk Bookshelf

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.

Megan Tall Bookcase 2The 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 Megan Black Bookcasestill 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 Short Bookcase


Megan McCarter PictureMegan 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.