Monday, November 12, 2012

Well-Worn by Meredith Doench

Technically it’s not a bookshelf, but a collection of paperbacks stacked beside my nightstand. Most second-hand booksellers would term the current state of these paperbacks as well-worn. Multiple pages of these works are dog-eared, while the margins are filled with my scribbled thoughts and connections. The covers are permanently bent, torn, and haphazardly mended after so many harried shoves inside my cluttered book-bag. When I think of this book collection, I’m reminded of how my favorite music looked before the invention of the Ipod. My beloved tapes and CDs had been played so much, most of the printed material had rubbed off. Littered with cracks and scratches, it wasn’t hard to tell which tapes or CDs were a favorite at any given time. For me, well-worn equals well-loved.    

I like to think of this corner heap of literature as a greatest hits hoard similar to one of the multitudes of playlists on my Ipod. Always in flux, the collection grows and diminishes with different works. I have rigid rules for inclusion, though. Without these strict guidelines the pile would quickly grow beyond my ceiling or spill onto the nightstand, which is solely reserved for current books I’m in the process of consuming. 

Rules for the pile:
1.     I must mourn the inevitable end of the book. I’ve been known to slow my reading down to a crawl at the last leg of the book in order to savor every word: Please, please, please, don’t let it end!

2.     Even though my reading experience with the book may cease, my obsessive thoughts of the story and characters do not.  It must beckon my return to re-join the shelter of that conjured world.  If I’ve conducted multiple Google searches on any aspect of the book and/or author, it’s a keeper.

3.     The book must change me in some way.  James Joyce may have been known for his use of epiphany with character, but readers also need them.

So, you ask, what books are in my corner heap of literature?  What’s the central core of my well-worn books?

·      Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges aren’t the Only Fruit and Written on the Body. 
·      Tana French’s In the Woods. 
·      Stephen King’s It and Four Seasons collection (mostly for “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body”). 
·      Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. 
·      Gary Gach’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism, third ed. 
·      Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. 
·      Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. 

In my life, music and literature have always been connected. Both offer a sense of shelter—a rabbit hole of pure adventure. Similar to the way The Indigo Girls, Bruce Springsteen, and Alison Krauss are able to transport me to inspiration-land with the mere sound of their voices, my pile of literature takes me there with only a well-turned phrase. It serves as my foundation as a reader and a writer—as I grow, my well-worn collection will, too. It’s as alive as me—fluid and dynamic—even vivacious at times. Still, no matter how much I grow as a reader and writer, I’ll always return to this core of literature next to my nightstand where I’m set on SHUFFLE CONTINUOUS REPEAT. 
Meredith Doench writes and teaches in Dayton, Ohio.  She has published in literary journals such as Hayden’s Ferry Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and So to Speak, among others.  She is one of the fiction editors of the literary journal Camera Obscura:Journal of Literature and Photography.   

Monday, September 17, 2012

One Bookshelf: Something Old, Something New… by Julie Patterson

I am drawn to antiques (hence the barrister bookcase) and anything that loosely resembles eavesdropping on someone’s personal stories—my favorite bookshelf exemplifies both. I’ve been buying old books for two decades, though I had little understanding of what constituted “rare” or “collectible” until I met the man that is now my husband and, in turn, discovered his mother’s collection of first edition, hardcover Pulitzer Prize winners. Now I have a more discerning eye for what I want.

The first book on my shelf is, in a way, a nod to my mother-in-law’s inspiration. The Pulitzer Diaries: Inside America’s Greatest Prize by John Hohenberg (copyright 1997, first ed.) chronicles the author’s twenty-two years as the administrator of the coveted literary prize. It is as much a history lesson as it is a literary insight.

The next three books—The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald edited by Matthew Bruccoli (1978, first ed.), The Journals of Sylvia Plath edited by Ted Hughes and Frances McCullough (1982, first ed.), and A Writer’s Diary: Virginia Woolf edited by Leonard Woolf (1954, first American ed.)—have all helped me get inside the heads of some of my favorite authors. I love knowing the thinking behind the craft decisions they made.

The fifth book on the shelf is a piece of my own ever-evolving story. The plain black cover and duct-taped spine give no hint of its contents, but I inherited the New Practical Dictionary for Crossword Puzzles (1975) after my maternal grandmother died. For years I had called her for assistance with the last nagging blanks—or, more often than not, the muddled corner of obviously incorrect answers—that prevented me from finishing the daily puzzle in our newspaper. These phone calls were very formal. When she’d answer, I’d say, “Is this the Crossword Puzzle Help Line?” She’d giggle and reply, “Oh yes, it is. What can I help you with today?” We kept the conversation limited strictly to the business of crossword puzzles.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943, first ed.) is on my shelf because I am a teacher of writing—and a teacher of teachers of writing—and I am motivated in my work to “correct” and/or counterbalance teachers like Ms. Gardner who mistakenly tell young writers, like Francie, to write only what’s “beautiful.”

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940, first ed.) is one of my favorite books, and this collectible edition was an early courtship gift from my husband. (So, really, it is his fault I spend my paychecks on books; he encouraged me early on).

My copy of Joan Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer, though not a first edition, is signed and privately printed—special, too, because it came from the famous Brattle Book Shop in Boston during my MFA graduation weekend.

The two books set horizontally, My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams (2007, first ed.) and Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (2002, first ed.), are wedding day mementoes. My husband and I combed these collections for excerpts (note the blue flags still marking some pages) that we then assembled into a dramatic reading for our reception. Three actor friends read it for us, knowing us well enough to add the appropriate emphasis to lines that most reflected who we are as a couple.

Last but not least, there is an intentional open space at the end of my shelf. I hope some day to add a few books with my own name on the front cover.
Julie Patterson is a writer and teaching artist working with students and teachers in grades K-16 in Indianapolis, Indiana. She serves as associate director and writer-in-residence for the Indiana Partnership for Young Writers, an adjunct instructor in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, and a visiting artist for both Young Audiences of Indiana and the Indiana Repertory Theatre. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Lesley University. To learn more, visit

Monday, September 10, 2012

Keeping the Bookshelf Alive by Deng Xiang

Have you ever gazed up at the stars and thought how beautiful they looked? Sure you do. I revel in their beauty the same way I look at the tottering book stacks on my bookshelf. One book in particular that strikes my eyes is an eight-centimeter-thick, dog-eared, physics assessment book, listing recondite questions and pithy solutions that I referred to thousands of times in preparation for the grueling examinations. It will always stay on my bookshelf, a memory of my time perusing physics, an equal reminder of my determination and resilience.

My bookshelf is just as mercurial as humans. Humans are always in a state of flux, while our blood courses through the numerous blood vessels in our bodies. Similarly, my bookshelf changes monthly. Borrowed books get returned to the library once a month. Typically, I limit myself to checking out ten at a time, or else I would never be able to satiate my love for books. As I place them into the bag, causing it to bulge, I often have a paranoid feeling that others might think I’m a demented bibliophile.

At home, I dutifully place my books onto the bookshelf. If I have free time, I’ll indulge in a story, picking any of the books from random. It might be perceived as drudgery to my friends, since they habitual play online multiplayer games. I try to see it from their point-of-view, but I don't even have a mild interest in online games. I do read fantasy books, but that doesn’t mean that I play fantasy games. To me, the gory images and bloodshed induced from meaningless combats stay in the mind, and can even affect sleep. On the other hand, when I read fantasy books, equally gory at times, I get to imagine the story for myself, learn about creative writing, and also steer clear of eyesore caused by staring at the computer screen (at least with paper books).

At the end of the month, I might not finish all my borrowed books. Nevertheless, I return them to the library, and renew my favorite, undiscovered gems. Bookshelves shouldn’t be left to collect dust. Rather, they should be cleaned off and mended periodically. Although my bookshelf isn’t bedecked with glittering diamonds, or made of high-quality maple wood, what matters most is having books at my disposal, in any genre, to savor whenever there’s time. 
Bio: Deng Xiang speaks, writes articles, poems and stories while sharing his passion for all things erudite and salient. Mainly, his subsistence comprises of highbrow literature from chemistry to pure mathematics. His appetite for knowledge never ceases, even if he got an accomplishment worth showing off.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Our World: My Encyclopedias by Carmen Welsh

Yes, this is an encyclopedia set. The World Book Encyclopedia, copyright year 1972, to be exact.

It traveled all the way from Bronx to Miami.

When I was five, and reading a favorite series, I asked my mom about a word, and she pointed to our bookcase—it is the same one that now sits in our sunroom in our Miami home—and she pointed out our dictionaries, and often opened one. Never mind that my little hands could barely move the hardcover and turn its delicate pages. It felt half my size.

Mom said, "Any word you need. Any words you don't know the meaning of—use this book."

When I read more, and needed more, I asked for other titles, those with identical binder design—dark brown, gold outline and lettering—and was similarly told by Dad that I could use the “big people” books.

What were other pre-k to first graders reading? I wouldn't know. I learned almost all the known dog species by second and third grade; I also learned about the cat breeds a little later.

When a seventh grade science teacher paired me up with my friend, also a classmate, for a science project, my friend said we needed to go to the local public library for research. "No,” I told her. “We can go to my house. We have a library there." She must've thought it was just three books by the look she gave me.

By then, my dad had acquired another set, discarded by my junior high's library. We also had an older set, dating earlier than the World Book collection. But I had learned early on not to use those often. This particular set barely had photos, and most were poorly drawn illustrations—I did not realize, at the time, I was a budding artist—and what little photographs the books had were in black and white.

That afternoon, I led my friend into our house, to our sunroom. She gasped when she saw our three-piece bookcase. She grew more excited by our reference shelves.

"You weren't kidding!" she said.

"Then let's get started." I ran my finger over the binders, reciting which letter and secondary letter of the encyclopedias we would use for our class work research.

The next day, my friend bragged about my bookcases in science class. Our teacher was surprised by the level of research we had done.

"It's because of Carmen's library." My friend gushed to the teacher. "She has HUNDREDS of books! Like a real library!"

Carmen Welsh, (a.k.a. Kayfey, Angry Goblin, In Pretty Print, and Goblinrant), holds an Associate in Art Education from Miami-Dade Community College and a Bachelor of Science from Barry University in Information Technology. She's published stories and artwork in fanzines, anthology magazines, and e-zines. One of her earlier short fiction became a podcast. Carmen also contributes to various blogs and is part of a hive of nerdy/geeky writers for the Nerd Junk Food Blog. She tweets updates about latest projects and enjoys updating her own website: without calling tech support. Carmen is a member of the Furry Writer's Guild.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Bookgiver by e. l. kaufman

Maybe it happens to all writers eventually—suddenly you realize that you’re the “book giver.” I think it happened to me once I started going to birthday parties in elementary school—I remember wrapping lots of Baby-Sitters Club books. And I still gift books more often than not. Birthdays? A book. Probably not a BSC book anymore. Hanukkah? A book. Possibly eight. I can’t help it—I love books and I want everyone to read my favorites. If I could buy Rainer Maria Rilke’s Stories of God in bulk, I would.

I have a one-year-old niece, Maya, and I’m starting her out young towards a life of bookshelves. Here’s one shelf that I’ve stocked with some of my childhood favorites:

1.   Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw. I remember reading this book with my sister, before I could even read. I’d help her turn the pages and chime in on the repeating refrain, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always…” Of particular entertainment to my child self was the little boy on the cover, gleefully flushing a watch down the toilet. Actually, it’s still funny now—some things never get old, I guess.

2.   Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola. I’ll confess that as a little kid, I didn’t really understand this book. Apparently my mother did not use it as a tool to “introduce children to the concept of death” but rather read it with me because of the wonderful illustrations and beautiful text. I loved Tommy and his grandmother being strapped to their chairs when they ate. Reading it as an adult, it strikes me as much sadder than I ever picked up on—when I give this book to children, I warn their parents to read it first. Nothing worse than realizing, in mid-sentence while reading aloud, that you’ve just killed off Nana.

3.   The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. This is a classic that everyone loves. And now a major motion picture! As a child, I liked the “everyone, everyone, everyone, needs!” The cotton-candy colored tufted truffula trees also held a sugary, silky, sparkly fascination for me. I loved the little Lorax too—so angry! so passionate! I thought this book would be a particularly good choice for Maya, who, growing up as my sister’s child, is bound to be concerned about animals and the environment.

4.   The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson. Is there anything more enchanting than being able to truly believe that someday your beloved toys will come to life and be real? No. (There’s a reason that Toy Story is so successful.) I was the type of child who talked to all of her stuffed animals, who cried when seams ripped or fur rubbed off. The book comforted me. Recently, I had the privilege of reading an excerpt from this book in my best friend’s wedding, and even as adults, many of the guests described the book as “magical” and “moving.” And I still like to think that DD—my beloved doll—is real.

As Maya gets older I plan on continuing to fill her bookshelves with the books that I loved as a kid—Shel Silverstein’s poetry, Noel Streatfeild’s art-centered adventures, Natalie Babbitt’s comic short stories, Beatrice Potter’s whimsical collection—and still love today. 

e. l. kaufman earned her BFA from Emerson College and is currently working towards her MFA at Lesley University. She writes subversive, experimental stories featuring vivid characters exploring feelings of outsiderness, the loss of home, and living on the verge.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pappa's House by Paul Peppers

To describe my bookshelf I have to write a little about my grandparent's place. When I was a kid I spent many weekends at their two-story house. It was a comparatively modern place and a carbon copy of the houses to either side of it, but through the eye of my imagination the nights were crowded with monsterssuch as "the great old ones” from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, vampires from Bram Stokers Dracula, and pirates from Treasure Island. My small bed became the only safe haven on Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau. In that upstairs room I discovered the first book I can remember reading just because I wanted toThe Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The cover art was done by Roy Krenkel, Jr, and the picture captured my imagination. After reading it, the small plot of grass behind my grandparents house became a prehistoric land peopled with savage animals and savage men—a land where I battled the half-man Tsa to free my princess from his bestial clutches.

I suppose my mom and dad sent me to stay at my grandparents to get a break from me and my teenage attitude. But then again maybe it was to look after poppa. The old man was beginning to get a little forgetful and had a tendency to wander off, if left alone. There were many years of living between me and my granddaddy, but we still enjoyed each other’s company. We had an unspoken agreement—he talked and I listened. I can still picture the old man in his liberty coveralls, felt hat, and shiny black shoes. In my mind’s eye I see him frozen in time, sitting on the front porch swing with a flyswatter in one hand, and a glass of ice tea in the other—alone in my memory, until I place my own form in the swing beside him, or see my thin legs racing across the yard to show off my new sneakers. I remember glowing with pride when he praised my efforts—calling me ‘hoss’ and ‘stout.’

Poppa was in the National Guard when the race riots were going on. He told me enough about what happened back then to make me want to read more on the subject. That old man wore many different hats in his life. He built bridges for the county, worked at a saw mill, roofed houses, and made moonshine. I guess he was my bookshelf. The stories he told allowed me a glimpse of a wider world beyond my own cares and problems; an exciting world where anything was possible and anything might happen. Hell, I even learned how to make moonshine.
Paul Peppers is a diesel mechanic working in Cartersville Georgia. He holds an Associate of Applied Science Degree from Coosa Valley Technical College. He is fifty-three years old. His work has appeared in The Western, Larks Fiction Magazine, and Drunk Monkeys.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Simple Shelf by Gary Hewitt

Imagining a world without books is like living in a world of no colour and sound. Where would we be without the joys of Dickens, Shakespeare, Hardy, Lovecraft, and goodness me I could go on. Put simply, life without books is no life at all. This makes me ponder what books I would gladly have on my bookshelf.

For me, books have to excite, entertain, captivate and leave you gasping for more. There is nothing better than having the feeling of oh, just let me turn one more page. My favourite book of all time would have to be Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings. The language has been accused of being over-indulgent and publishers today would probably balk at the thought of a 1500 page behemoth flowing through their hands.

I would agree there are moments that are annoying, (Tom Bombadil for one), yet the imagination and storytelling for me are what makes it truly magical. I first read LOTRs when I was about seventeen or eighteen, and it was pretty much the first time I had a book I could not put down, considering it was so damn big. Anyway, after a couple of weeks or so I had finished it, and also experienced one of the best-ever endings. (spoiler) The hobbits return home to find the shire at the mercy of old Sharkey. (Why, oh why, they strayed from this in the Peter Jackson films I’ll never know—it was one of the stand-out moments of the book for goodness sake!)
Another series of books that makes my list of all-time favorites would be the wonderful Henry II Trilogy by Sharon Penman. Her attention to detail is fantastic and I found myself totally absorbed in the world of Simon De Montfort in his pious battle with these troublesome kings. The first novel sees the emergence of Edward from a feisty youth into one of England’s mightiest kings. The second focuses mainly on the Welsh insurgency until Edward’s patience finally snaps with disastrous consequences for Wales. I would certainly recommend reading her novels.
The next book I offer is the bizarre brilliance of Bulgakov in The Master and Margarita. This is a story featuring some of the most surreal images I’ve ever come across. What makes it special is that it was written at a time of supreme suppression in the USSR; it’s a satirical assault on the regime of the times. The world Bulgakov creates is populated by Pontius Pilate, gun-toting human-sized cats, a talking severed head, the devil and of course, Margarita. If that hasn’t tempted you to read this brilliant piece of insanity, then nothing will.
The time has come to sum up. I love reading. I also love writing. If I never learned the art of reading, and being taken away to distant far away places, I sure as hell could never write. To me though, reading books is simply dreaming with words.
UK writer, Gary Hewitt lives in a small village in Kent. He has had several stories published including editions of M-Brane and Morpheus Tales. His style does tend to be dark and is rather unique. He is a member of the Hazlitt Arts Writers’ Group.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My One Bookshelf by Tom Cleaves

What does my one bookshelf hold? Interesting question since I don't even have a bookcase. All my books are stacked on the floor, in the corner, or on the table. Does this bookshelf have to include only books I currently own or have read? If that's the case, then I only have a few I can choose from. If I was asked this a few years ago, before my apartment building burned down, then I'd have some three hundred books to consider. But I will do my best to give you my bookshelf using only what I have today.

The first book on my "shelf" is Tales of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It is one of my favorite books of all times. It is a tale of a man, who in my mind, is the ultimate and true hero, Sydney Carton.

Next are two "journey" books, Homer's The Odyssey and Dante's Inferno. Are our lives similar? A journey to our "real" home, paved with obstacles, or the latter, a journey through our own hell, that we would not survive without guidance.

The next book is Moby Dick by Melville. Do we have our own inner Moby Dick that we are so obsessed with that we lose all sight of reality and rationality?

The next books I have piled together are very important to me: The Jungle by Sinclair, Handmaids Tale by Atwood, and The Good Earth by Buck. All really good books, that tie together the theme of women's rights. Of them, Handmaids Tale, affected me the most.

The next three books, reflect who I am. Atlas Shrugged and Anthem by Rand, and Walden by Thoreau.
And that's my bookshelf right now. The books I've read and enjoyed and discussed. Next year it could be totally different.
Tom Cleaves is an avid book reader and philosopher. He is an administrator for the Tea & Pee Bookclub, although, he often doesn't get much of a say in the books that are chosen. He's hoping to change that in 2013.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Brian Michael Barbeito’s Bookshelf

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have a bookshelf. My dream has been to have a large room covered from floor to ceiling in bookshelves, accompanied by a few ladders that slide horizontally.

This bookcase has five shelves and is one of two cases in our current home. The top shelf has a few books that tell stories to me in addition to the ones printed inside the cover.  Three of them are of special interest to me.

The Big Red Book, by Rumi, was sent to me as a gift by the American poet and translator Coleman Barks. He is the translator for the volume and several other Rumi texts. The gratitude that I felt upon receiving this edition from him is, to use a cliché, beyond words. I can remember finding out it was on its way, and the first moment I held the package. Most of all I savour the inscription the author wrote; it goes without saying the actual book was also a treasure.

The second special book is For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Hemingway. The copy is a bit tattered, the pages having suffered some from travel. I read this book many nights, in Puerto Morelos Mexico, while sitting under the soft, yellow glow of lights. A few curious lizards rested nearby, and we were happy there in the long stretch of blackness with only the sounds of the sea coming up towards us. Thousands of books have passed through my hands in my adult life, and I have read hundreds in their entirety. Never had I experienced writing such as this. Sometimes a sentence or passage was so perfect I would just stop and stare out to the dark in amazement.

The third special book is Death on the Installment Plan, by Louis-Ferdinand Celine. I have carried this book since adolescence. On the first page when Celine remarks that it has rained, and he wishes it would rain harder and knock the whole place down, I was hooked. In love. Maybe something in him and his words, such as “I wish the storm would make even more of a clatter, I wish the roofs would cave in, that spring would never come again, that the house would blow down,” and in what I call, the physicality of the book- its cover, size, photo artwork, or maybe all of that, felt in sync with an angst ridden adolescent poet.

Those are three. If the fates ever have it that I receive the wall to wall bookcases with the sliding ladders, I shall afford every one of the shelves’ inhabitants with just as much reverence.
Brian Michael Barbeito is a resident of Ontario, Canada. A Pushcart Prize nominee, his fiction writing is forthcoming in the magazines Kurungaaba, Bare Root, and Otis Nebula.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jarrett Neal's Bookshelf

For many years, the only books in my grandparents’ home were the Bible, the Yellow Pages, and catalogues from Sears and Montgomery Ward. My grandmother only skimmed the Bible or back issues of Our Daily Bread late in the evening when her favorite television programs bored her, her eyelids drooping despite her best efforts to stay awake. My grandfather was barely literate and always demanded that someone read all of his correspondence to him. 

When I was about eight years old our local grocery store began selling encyclopedias for children. They were long slim volumes about half an inch thick and featured Peanuts characters.  Titled Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedias, each volume focused on topics including animals, transportation, holidays, health and wellness, science, and clothing. The books cost ten dollars each, a small fortune for a family as poor as ours, but whenever Granny and I went to the A & P, she managed to set aside just enough money to purchase a book for me. My mother gave her the money whenever she could spare it, and sometimes one of my aunts would accompany Granny and me on our trips to the grocery store and buy the book for me.

Of the fifteen volumes in the complete set, I managed to collect twelve of them. I kept them stacked in order on the small white desk in my bedroom where I did my homework. I’ve no idea what happened to these books. I assume, as I began to mature, the books started to mean less and less to me, though now, as an adult, I wish I still had them in my possession, if only for sentimental value.

Thinking of those encyclopedias now fills me with tremendous affection and sadness. Maudlin demonstrations aside, those encyclopedias symbolize my early experiences with reading and my grandmother’s intrepid self-sacrificing nature more than any other material possession. 

Granny was wise.  She knew books were as valuable as food and that in order for me to achieve anything worthwhile in life, I had to acquire as much knowledge as I could and remain forever intellectually curious. Poverty has the ability to stomp this feeling out of individuals.  Wealth, I believe, has the same power. Yet my mother, grandmother and school teachers refused to allow me to get caught up in the anti-intellectualism that robbed so many African American boys of their chance to obtain knowledge and success.

Their efforts yielded great results. Today I am a professor, a reader, and a writer. I think of the bookshelves that line the walls of my home library as vaults securing treasure, arsenals housing weapons, future lovers and old flames. I lust for books the way others lust for nubile bodies. I will never read all of the books I own, nor write all of the books carelessly piled in the shadowy realms of my mind. Yet I know wherever there are words there is possibility, hands reaching across the foggy distance as comforting as those of my grandmother.
Jarrett Neal earned a BA in English from Northwestern University and a MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Q Review, Chelsea Station, Copperfield Review, Nolos, Lucid Moon and other publications. His essay, “Boys’ Dolls,” will appear in the forthcoming anthology, For Colored Boys, edited by Keith Boykin. He lives in Oak Park, Illinois.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Bookshelf from Eric Norris

Counting down from the top, shelf number two appears to enclose the entire spectrum of literature in the space of three feet.

On the right, toward the kitchen, in an inexpensive glass and brass frame, sits a souvenir sepia-toned postcard portrait of Wilfred Owen I purchased in London in 1996. Wilfred Owen was my first love. He introduced me to poetry, just prior to the passing bell from 1st to 2nd period on Monday, November 4th, 1985. I was seventeen. We had just finished reading ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ in AP English. The textbook we were using was Sound and Sense, edited by Laurence Perrine, 4th edition, 1973. When the bell rang, I moved mechanically to Calculus. The rest of the day dissolved in a fog.

On the left, a Kodak print—my boyfriend and me—smiles in an identical frame, at about the height of my pillow. We are sitting on Ayano’s bed in the East 50s on New Year’s Eve in 2006. I am wearing a beer-drinking grin and he has closed his eyes because he hates flash-photos.

Around midnight, maybe just after, we will have a vicious argument involving mochi (a Japanese rice cake, a traditional holiday treat) that will escalate into nuclear war. I will storm out of his apartment and stagger to Grand Central and board a train for Stamford, Connecticut, where I am living at the time.

We will not speak to each other for two months. In early February of 2007, a fever will break out. He will call, coughing up his lungs—sick with bronchitis—having made himself extremely ill over many sleepless nights. Seventy-five minutes later, I will be rising to his apartment in Manhattan with a carton of Minute Maid orange juice.

This trip in the elevator will trigger another memory, of another magical evening, one early in our relationship, the night he told me that his father was a young kamikaze pilot who was saved from suicide by the atomic bomb. I will transform that moment—the exact moment I realized that I loved him—into a poem of 924 lines, 66 sonnets. Takaaki will be my first book of poetry.

Empty as my apartment may feel sometimes—Takaaki had to return to Japan three years ago to care for his elderly father—this is my home. I am more or less happy here. This is where I Skype. This is where I type. This is why I type. When I look up from my laptop, I see myself, I see Takaaki, and I see Wilfred Owen. The reason I have no other pictures on display is that I am a finicky housekeeper and I hate dusting. I can see everyone else in my family when I close my eyes.
I suppose it is no coincidence that exactly in the middle of that shelf, between my two great loves, you will find the spine of Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir, Speak, Memory. Everyman’s Library. Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. 

ERIC NORRIS is the co-author (with Gavin Geoffrey Dillard) of Nocturnal Omissions, available from Sibling Rivalry Press. He is also the author of two books available on Terence, a comic translation of A.E. Housman’s, A Shropshire Lad, and Takaaki, an epic love poem written in the style of Alexander Pushkin. His poems have appeared in: New Walk Magazine, The Raintown Review, Softblow, Q-Review, Umbrella, The Flea, among others. Eric is an occasional contributor of essays, poetry, memoir, and dramatic dialogues to the webzine, The Nervous Breakdown. He is a founding editor of the poetry journal KIN. Eric is the co-host of Carmine Street Metrics at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York City.
Links to Eric's books:


Monday, February 27, 2012

Roz Bellamy's Bookshelf

My bookcases are the most important part of my home. Whether they are in the living room, study or bedroom, depending on how cramped an apartment I happen to be living in, the room automatically becomes the place that I hover around and feel most comfortable in. When I move, I head straight for the boxes of books and begin contemplating the order they should be placed in before I bother looking for the bed linen or saucepans. I associate many of my books with people I care about, and smile when I come across some of the obscure books I have been given by friends. I think about my late grandmother when I discover books she leant me years ago. Books can be more personal than photographs and other sentimental objects, because they often come from someone who wants to share the joy they felt when they read the book.

The shelf that I have chosen to write about is from my new bookcase. My other bookcases reached capacity and it was becoming impossible to take out a book to read without dislodging ten others. I splurged and ordered a quality bookcase. It was worth the expense – one of my home-built bookcases leans forward rather dangerously – and was filled quickly. I have put my newest (and by this I mean newly purchased, not published), most tempting reads on its shelves.

These are the books that I acquired in the last year, some during my overseas travels where I managed to buy so many books I had to buy an extra suitcase and post books home to Australia. You will see some Australian authors (Geraldine Brooks, Christos Tsiolkas, Cate Kennedy, Fiona McGregor and Steven Amsterdam) and many other nationalities. I was lucky enough to hear some of the authors speak and have my books signed, both in Australia and on my travels. I went to Ann Patchett’s talk at the staggering Powell’s Books in Oregon, a book lover’s place of worship, and found her to be inspiring and quite hilarious. Etgar Keret’s book is ready to be read in anticipation of his talk in Melbourne in March.

There are books specifically about travel, and some about authors in specific eras, such as the Lost Generation of American Authors in Paris. There are the books I purchased at the Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium in Vancouver, where I was excited to find independent Canadian books by gay authors. There is Joan Didion’s latest book, Blue Nights, which was published just before I came home from my trip. You will see all four by Canadian author, Camilla Gibb; her settings and characters are always unique, and I marvel at the worlds she creates. Finally, there is Garth Stein’s, The Art of Racing in the Rain, bought at the San Francisco Airport, when I found myself rooted to the floor of a generic airport shop. I had picked up the book out of curiosity, was put off when I saw it was told by a dog’s perspective, but then continued reading when the book hit me powerfully and painfully. It expertly captures the grief and despair of losing an elderly dog.

This is my most loved shelf at the moment, if only due to the fact that each book has been carefully chosen and I have genuine excitement to read, or reread, each book. It is this shelf that I eye when I get ready to go out, already longing for the moment when I sit down and prepare to start the next one.
Roz Bellamy is a writer from Australia. She's written a variety of short stories and poetry for several anthologies and literary journals. She is currently working on a travelogue about her five and a half month trip, as well as her first novel.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Janet Pocorobba's Bookshelf

The bookshelf exemplifies something I heard recently: that someone who is happy or smiles a lot is very wise. The tiny shelf sits by my desk where I work part-time for a low-rez MFA program. I work with writers—around 100 students and 35 faculty—and two writer colleagues, my “partners in crime.” Writing is my world, and yet most of my day is spent on the computer navigating hundreds of emails, advising students, contacting editors and agents, and planning fairs and workshops. This shelf keeps me company. It’s more of a shrine than a bookcase, a holder of wisdom and fun.

There’s an illustrated Tao Te Ching, which, when things are busy, I like to close the door, put my feet up, and open at random. It always tells me just what I need to hear and centers me when academic life gets absurd. There’s a faculty handbook bookmarked to the “sabbatical” page, which I’ve been consulting a lot as I apply this year, a Webster’s collegiate and two old thesauri. I collect old books on writing. Sometimes I pick up the 1950s book of synonyms (mint condition sky blue dust jacket, from the Book Cellar on Beacon Street in Brookline) and flip open to a random page to get inspired and remember my love of words. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the feel of the book itself, its creamy smooth pages, the old-fashioned typeface, and the weight of it in my hand that energizes me as much as the words. And something called The Children’s Hour, with color illustrations and Reader’s Digest-type stories about wolves and horses and all kinds of adventures. I want to remember that spirit in life and art.

To cap it off I added Scottie bookends (from a Home Goods store) that are both crusty and frivolous, a miniature Zen sand tray just for fun, and my all-time favorite: a platinum-framed black & white print (off eBay) of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers doing “the Yam.” Voila! Instant elegance and joy!
I love this space that I made. It makes office life gorgeous. Books are an oasis, like the Zen sand tray that everyone likes to rake when they come visit. As they comb the grains, I can see their breathing quiet, their faces soften and their eyes get a dreamy detached look. The shelf makes us all a little happier.
JANET POCOROBBA is an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program, Division of Interdisciplinary Inquiry at Lesley University. She holds an M.F.A., Lesley University; M.A., Northeastern Illinois University; A.B., Smith College. She is the Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Intercultural Relations Program, and Division of Interdisciplinary Inquiry.

Monday, February 13, 2012

J. H. Trumble's Bookshelf

I don’t regard books as sacred objects that must be held onto at all costs. So I purge my bookshelves frequently. But some books linger longer than others, and some are there to stay, and some are just passing through. Come on; I’ll give you a tour.

On the left is my favorite book of all time—Stephen King’s The Stand. I’ve read it twice; I’ve highlighted passages; I even wrote about it in grad school. There’s just something about an 1153-page book that gets under your skin.

Cozied up next to The Stand is The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. I’ve only read about eight of the plays, but I just feel smarter and more cultured with it there.

A few books about writers, writing, and the language are scattered here and there. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird was instrumental in giving me the confidence to write my first novel. It’s staying.

Next, two books by a lovely man, James Howe. Totally Joe was the first LGBTQ book I ever read. I fell in love with Joe Bunch, and it was that book that set me on a path of reading every other LGBTQ book I could find, and then writing my own. Jim signed Totally Joe for me on my birthday. I treasure that book.

I got to meet David Levithan just this fall. He signed The Lover’s Dictionary for me, a book that completely captivated me from the first word to the last. I highly recommend it.

A little ways down is Andy Rooney’s Pieces of My Mind. Word for Word is actually my favorite book of his essays, but I loaned it and never got it back.

Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America is a touching book that I doubt I will ever part with. It became my primary research tome for my debut novel, Don’t Let Me Go.

Sex: A Book for Teens, because, well, I have teens, and one day . . . you know.

I got to read an early copy of Brian Farrey’s With or Without You. There it is on the shelf with the working title Chasers. Great book. Brian is my friend on Twitter now and he’s a sweetheart! Read his book!

Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watson’s Go to Birmingham—I never get tired of that book. I got to talk to CPC on the phone one day. He told me to quit bothering him. (He was kidding!)

And finally, the twin Don’t Let Me Go’s, Catherine Ryan Hyde’s and mine, released three months apart. Catherine is also an online friend. I greatly admire her!

Lying on their sides are a couple of my journals and some library books, including Gayle Forman’s If I Stay. I got to meet Gayle a few weeks ago. Beautiful book; beautiful woman.

By the way, I’m a huge fan of public libraries. Go hug a librarian today! But not in a creepy way. Libraries allow me to read so much more widely than I could ever afford to otherwise!

There you go. There’s my shelf. Hope you enjoyed the tour!
J. H. Trumble is the author of Don’t Let Me Go"Trumble's debut is a deeply moving and in-depth look at the perils and anxieties of being gay in high school . . . Layered with the gritty everyday details of teen existence . . . ." -Publishers Weekly (Starred Review). For more information, visit:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Finding the Treasure by Deirdre M. Murphy

When I was younger, there was a bookstore full of used books.  It felt magical. Don’t get me wrong, all bookstores are magical—but this one was special. It was up in the high second floor of a building where the first floor was tall—and the second extended into the attic. It was more than twice as high a space as one would think a bookstore needed.

The owner must have been a carpenter by avocation. He built bookshelves in all sizes and shapes—tall bookshelves. He built in stairs and ladders—but also narrow walkways and bridges.  He built well. No matter how odd the structure looked, it always felt solid. It never creaked or groaned or swayed—but I have a fear of heights, and many of the books I wanted were up high. I couldn’t reach them without climbing, without braving the ledges, without leaning out over an edge, stretching my body out above empty space, without a safety net. 

Oh, I suppose I could have asked for assistance, but even if I’d gone into the store knowing what titles I wanted to buy, that felt wrong. It would have been cheating—not cheating someone else, but cheating myself. The store was like stepping into one of my books, stepping into adventure. I was exploring a strange and delightful land, never knowing what might lie around the corner, or what might hide in some nook that was totally inaccessible to the people who stayed safely below.

I spent hours there, sitting with my legs dangling, looking at book after book, slowly accumulating a pile that rose tall, a stack that—like the shelving—promised adventure. 

I went back, just a few years ago, and found the remaining ledges had been made wide and given handrails; the quirky, twisty stairways had been replaced by straighter, safer ones. I no longer had to lean out into space to reach the science fiction and fantasy at the beginning and end of the alphabet. It was still a tall, unique, and quirky bookstore, but it had been tamed.  It had, no doubt, met a safety inspector or insurance adjuster—and been adjusted. 

I bought a book or two, but it wasn’t the same. There are used bookstores everywhere, after all, and an endless selection of books on Amazon. I didn’t have to travel back to the city of my birth and brave the traffic there to just to get a book to read. I had yearned for adventure, though my mind was focused on finding new-to-me authors and titles.

I thought the treasure I sought that day lay solely behind bright cover art—but I was wrong.  I learned that the true treasure in a story is the experience. It doesn’t matter if the experience is lived first-hand in the flesh or brought to life by the words in a book--if you make the adventure safe, it’s not an adventure at all.

Deirdre Murphy grew up reading all sorts of books, but mostly mythology, mysteries, and speculative fiction. Her love of the far, strange places of the imagination influences her creative work.  She has stories and poetry in venues including MZB's Fantasy Magazine, Crossed Genres, With Painted Words, and The Best of FridayFlash Volume One.  She is one of the primary creators of Torn World, a shared science fantasy world that includes fiction, poetry, art, and worldbuilding at  She has stories in the first Torn World print anthology, Subversion, and Re-Vamp.  You can find her musings about life, creativity, and publishing at