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.
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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. http://bellarozz.blogspot.com.au/

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.
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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.
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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!
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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: http://www.jhtrumble.com

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.
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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 www.tornworld.net.  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 wyld-dandelyon.livejournal.com.