A bookshelf holds the narratives of our lives; it cradles the words that have helped us through hard times, it organizes the vessel of our imagination. I am not even 19 years old, yet I can thank my unfinished bookshelf for being a persistent place of knowledge and advice.
I am convinced that it is unhealthy to not own a well stocked bookshelf. Given a bookshelf’s anachronistic qualities, and the growing popularity of online readers, I am painfully aware that owning a crowded bookshelf is growing rare. It hurts to know that something so necessary is so fleeting. However, its ephemeral nature does not deny its utmost importance in every home and apartment.
I have a fervent passion for reading. My personal library is a divergent collection of moments, and I pride myself in thinking it has something for everyone. I have three bookshelves in my childhood bedroom, which have gone from just serving the purpose of organization to cradling the stories I cherish.
The first books one places on their bookshelf are the foundation of who they become. Most of these have faded sleeves and worn pages, lacy annotations that stick out on yellow paper from the corners of the dog eared stories.
“Peter Pan,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Catcher in The Rye,” “To Kill a Mockingbird”: These are my building blocks, teachers, mentors. Through Neverland or the struggles of West and East Egg in the 1920s, I was taught to be adventurous, brave; I learned about happiness and morality. To me these stories are necessary for every growing reader’s shelf —prompting young children to be a catalyst for action in society like Scout Finch, and a curious soul who longs for adventure like Holden Caulfield. My shelves are organized, unintentionally, in a fashion that matures as I did.
Without forgetting the humble beginnings of Neverland, one must move on from tales of adventure and imagination. A young adult with a sudden hunger for words, sentences and observations needs a way to fill every open second. The second shelf is lined with three copies of “Wuthering Heights.” A copy of George Orwell’s famous essays. A book of the great works of Shakespeare. Two Hemingway novels. “Les Miserables.” “The Bell Jar.” “Anna Karenina.” A faded copy of collected poems by Walt Whitman. Books that prompt intellectual thought while fulfilling a need for new information. Catherine Earnshaw taught me to be fierce and strong willed. Orwell taught me about how we must challenge ourselves, and to fight for the things in which we believe. The books on the second shelf satisfy a hunger for information, a desire to learn and a love for challenges.
The classics of the second shelf meet with the tales of adventure of the first in order to create the third shelf. A collection of stories and narratives that are so different, their only association stems from my own mind. When a good reader exhausts all the classics, they often move on to something new. I have a group of contrasting and wonderful personal essay books, translated French literature, a dozen books set in London, a collection of first edition Beat Generation novels, contemporary poetry, old poetry and memoirs. It’s important that a reader branches out, that their bookshelf reflects every trial and tribulation of their life.
Some books do not fit on my shelf yet, and they shouldn’t. It’s okay to have new books or hidden gems stacked on the floor, on your desk, in your bag. I like to read books and let them settle — I like to let them sit before I revisit them. Sometimes they don’t have a space on my shelves at all, I’ll find room for them, as readers we always do.
I have a fourth shelf in my childhood bedroom and it is in limbo, waiting for the next chapter of my life to fill it with all the things that guided me, that pushed me along, that angered and confused me, that made me cry.
One day I am certain I will move away from my childhood bedroom, and I’ll be faced with a new apartment and a new bookshelf. As I reorganize this new bookshelf, the stories will lie around my feet as I grapple with which place each should occupy. Gatsby will always be on the first shelf, right next to “Peter Pan,” far from “Wuthering Heights” which is near “Emma” but nowhere near anything by Jack Kerouac –– because in my mind, and on my shelf, that is exactly how it should be.