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.

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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.

 

Project Bookshelf: Erica Hoffmeister

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I am a hoarder; I am the opposite of Marie Kondo. I like my tangible objects. I like old things. Clutter soothes me. My things bring me joy—every single one. When I run my fingers across my trinkets, books, odds, and ends, I immediately transport to the time and place I bought it, found it, and experienced something for the first time, found a space for it in my life, on a shelf. They are like all of my memories, outside of my body, organized neatly in little corners of my life.

This project is actually hilariously timed. As you can see, my several shelves have bowed under the weight of the more, and more, and more books that somehow keep piling themselves up onto the cute little bookshelves my husband built for me…until the bottom one finally recently collapsed.

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My collecting was fine as a single person, but as a wife and mother, I’ve had to parse my collections down. My books, however, I have the hardest time minimizing. How could I betray The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry that a regular at a bar I worked at gifted me over a decade ago that I’ve never cracked open? How could I abandon the used copy of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde that I absolutely despised reading in grad school and suffered through with a disappointing B+? What if my daughters prefer one edition of Peter Pan over another, and I only have one version?

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You might not believe me when I explain these are meticulously organized: the top shelf is my antique-y collectible books.  My second shelf is mostly grad school texts: I keep these because as a teacher I think I need to, though I’m not sure I’ll ever teach Faust. The third and fourth shelves are fun-reads, novels, and my Young Adult books—my favorite genre to read. The bottom shelf was mostly soft covers, easy-reads, and books I plan on passing onto my daughters, or some books that are already theirs, like the (very-heavy) Harry Potter illustrated editions they get for Christmas each year. I loan books too often, and there are many gaps—I have a list, in a box, with all my bookmarks, of books I need to re-buy. Really, I need a book room (ahem—a library/office).

I used to have more personal effects like trinkets, pictures, etc. but alas, compromise. That said, I think the bookshelf itself is a testament to my personality: misshaped, scattered, a hodgepodge of various genres, styles, and authors, all bowing from the weight of too many memories that I refuse to let go of.

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Erica Hoffmeister is an intern at Sundress Publications.

Project Bookshelf: Bailey Martin

I am not always capable of admitting when I have a problem.

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When I was first instructed to write a piece about my bookshelf, I thought, “No problem. 

My bookshelf is two drawers, and those two drawers are among the most organized baileybookshelf2spaces in my room.” Feeling confident, I took my phone, camera app open, into my bedroom.

 

These two drawers, I am proud of. They’re holding an impressive amount of books, the space aggressively utilized to its maximum potential. There’s nothing to write home about with regard to my tastes, which vary wildly from graphic novel to biography to baileybookshelf3the complete box set of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Nonetheless, these drawers are respectable.

 

Then, I remembered my bedside table. It’s stocked with some short fiction and what I call “emergency poetry” for putting me to sleep or waking me up. Fine.

 

 

 

 

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Oh, right, there’s also the stack of New Books, purchased anytime over the past six months which I simply cannot fit in my drawers and which have yet to be elevated to bedside status.

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It’d also be irresponsible for me to forget the haphazard mess under my desk, which is where I store art and photography books, my Joan Didion collection, some errant novels and nonfiction, and some more emergency poetry.

 

 

 

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It was upon noticing the stack of books on the floor next to the stack of books under my desk that I thought, “Okay, this might not look so good after all.”

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I left my room thinking I’d captured it all, only to find four more art books, five poetry collections, and a journal on my living room table. That, and the open sociolinguistics book on the couch, the Sartre and Glück in my backpack, and at least six tabs of short stories currently open on my laptop. 

All this being said, I am open to more recommendations.

 

 


Bailey Martin is a writer and English student at the University of Tennessee. She was awarded the 2019 Michael Dennis Poetry Award and Margaret Artley Woodruff Award for Creative Writing. In her free time, she enjoys learning about linguistics, taking photos of cows, and thinking about the circus.

PROJECT BOOKSHELF: PARKER ANDERSON

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My bookshelf might look a bit small, but this is a fraction of all the books I own! Most of my books are still at my mom’s house, as I’ve been moving around a lot throughout college. Choosing which books to bring to college and which to leave behind was challenging – it was so hard to prioritize which books to bring! As you can see from the stickers on the spines, I get most of my books from Thriftbooks, which is one of the best places to buy books hands down! However, I don’t buy books as often as I’d like to – ever since I came to college, I’ve usually checked out books to read from Hodges Library.

My poetry collection has some works by poets whom I admire. Lucille Clifton’s Blessing the Boats was one of the first books that got me into writing poetry seriously. Jasmine An’s Naming the No-Name Woman and Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf are both filled with powerful poems that are definitely worth the read (and reread!) and have been formative to my own craft. In the future I hope to acquire more poetry books, especially works by queer and trans poets.

I have many of my favorite fiction works on my shelves. Growing up I read lots of fantasy, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series has been my most-loved fantasy series thus far. I have a lot of nostalgia for the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, and I like to revisit them every so often. Currently, my favorite fiction book is Hector Tobar’s The Tattooed Soldier, which I read for a course at UT last year.

The rest of my books are miscellaneous short stories, essays, and other works. When I came to UT, I started reading more short stories, since I can usually read one or two in between readings for class. The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda by Sonia Rivera-Valdes is my favorite collection of short works, and I’m always on the lookout for more short stories to read!

After I graduate, I hope to move somewhere where I can keep all my books together and accumulate even more! There are many authors and poets who inspire me, and it feels good having a few of their works on my shelves.

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Parker Anderson is a queer writer and English student at the University of Tennessee. They are an emerging poet and essayist who loves reading, spending time outdoors, and playing video games. Most nights, you can find them experimenting with spices in their kitchen or chatting about dogs behind the front desk at Pendergrass Agriculture and Veterinary Library.

Project Bookshelf: Athena Lathos

Though I love the concept of Project Bookshelf, I am slightly embarrassed to share my own shelves with the internet. In a purely aspirational dimension of the universe, an ideal version of myself maintains a beautifully curated book collection, properly whittled down to only the most worthy titles and complete with the most aesthetically pleasing editions faced out for the benefit of my house guests.In fact, I recently saw an Instagram post from one of my favorite poets, Kaveh Akbar, in which he showed off his and his partner’s gorgeously lit, museum-like library, and I thought to myself yes, that is what I would like my books to look like. The key here, of course, is that they don’t. My partner and are I not a literary power couple, but a couple of twenty-somethings who just moved into a ramshackle house from the 1920s in semi-rural Oregon. And, admittedly, neither of us are particularly neat. Our books are cherished. But they are also scattered everywhere.

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You may see here that I’ve attempted to organize some childhood books, poetry collections, and nonfiction titles on the white bookshelves, along with my slightly embarrassing collection of Plath biographies (a teenage obsession that I know is considered a writer’s cliche). The other bookshelf, though, the light brown one, has a decidedly pragmatic function. It is protecting a mixture of my partner’s and my own books from moving- and construction-related damage. Look more closely, and you might see a fair amount of doubles in this mess of a library, an issue that was undoubtedly caused by two graduate students in English moving in together.

Once, while talking with my dad about getting rid of all of these extra copies of Walden and Leaves of Grass and To the Lighthouse, he looked at me with concern and said, “I don’t know, honey … are you sure you are ready for that?”I think my dad’s reaction is pretty indicative of my abiding love for these mostly beat-up tomes. Like many of us here at Sundress, my physical books tell stories other than the ones that they harbor inside them, and my humble library—though not so pretty to look at—is the most valuable feature of my home.

 

 

 

Athena Lathos is a poet and nonfiction writer from Santa Maria, California. She currently lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where she works part-time as a Student Accessibility Technician at Chemeketa Community College and part-time as a freelance writer and editor. Her work can be found in Enizagam and Verseweavers, as well as on her blog, Bertha Mason’s Attic. Her recent blog post about the job market, “I Applied to 200 Jobs and All I Got was this Moderate-Severe Depression,” was featured as an Editor’s Pick on Longreads. Lathos completed her MA thesis, “A Sea of Grief is Not a Proscenium: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and the Spectacle of Racist Violence in Cyberculture,” at Oregon State University’s School of Writing, Literature, and Film in May of 2017. Lathos was a finalist for the 2016 Princemere Poetry Prize.