Project: Bookshelf with McKelle George

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we’re hearing from McKelle George, a writer friend I met after we both interned at The Friend magazine. McKelle writes, among other things, dynamite Shakespeare retellings for young adults, and we have bonded over our shared love of the Bard, steampunk, and, as we learn in this week’s post, book thievery. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

  • Genre: Adult historical fiction
  • Where I got it: Rescued from the free book box at my former bookstore
  • What I thought: Ugh. I wanted to love this because I love historical fiction. This book reminded me a lot of Z, about Zelda Ftizgerald, since they’re both books about famous guy’s wives that straddle the line between historical fiction and non-fiction. And that’s not a  good thing. There was no plot structure, and almost everything in this book was told in summary so you really couldn’t feel for any of the characters. Plus anachronisms. Ugh.

To keep up with my Project: Bookshelf reading, follow me on Goodreads

And now, meet McKelle and her bookshelves!

I like yoga and meditation and lot of my “Zen-thinking” friends are into the idea of minimalism, particularly the challenge to keep your personal and worldly possessions down to 100 Things. I would die, if I did this—naked, deprived, unhygienic, surrounded by a hundred books, and a little irritated about the ones I’d needed to sacrifice.

I’ve tried to keep my book collection under control. My parents divorced when I was 17 and each moved into separate places, shortly after which I went off to college and adulthood (one is still pending, I’ll let you guess which). In short, I’ve lived in a lot of places and had to pack up my books. Each time, I decide what books I can bear to part without. These are almost always thriller paperbacks my stepdad lent me or books that were given to me as a gift and it turned out I didn’t like it that much. And even though I downsize, I still seem to end up with more than what I have room for.

Right now, after much shuffling, my books are located in four separate locations.

The primary location, where I put my books when I shipped off to England, is at my dad’s:

Picture 1

80% are my books. My dad has squeezed in his Louis L’amour and Zane Grey collection where he can and I forgive him. He better hope I don’t pick any of them up and like them, or he might find they’ve become permanent additions.

Get a load of this bookshelf, by the way. It belonged to my Great-Grandpa Humphrey. This is no plywood decorated with wood-looking paper. This is the real deal, solid carved oak. I inherited it as a teenager by being, without question, the biggest reader in my family (nobody knows where I came from). It’s really heavy and until it relocated in my dad’s house, everyone who ever helped me move hated me and it.

The second place is at my mom’s, where I stayed briefly after my England trip while I did an internship in Salt Lake City (she lives only half an hour away):

Picture 2

I came with only three books. A copy of Jane Eyre, Great Expectations and a collection of Wordsworth’s poems. From ENGLAND so how could I resist?

I only stayed four months, but now it looks like this.

The third place is my current apartment. Again—I ARRIVED WITH ONLY TWO BOOKS. A collection of C.S. Lewis’s nonfiction works and Greenblatt’s collection of Shakespeare comedies. I had access to three different libraries within the area and I knew I’d only be staying six months (still true!) so I shouldn’t bring a box of books with me.

But THIS has happened (it’s been four months):

Picture 3

This is the stack of library books I currently have checked out:

Picture 4 (1)

And finally, last but not least I include my Kindle:

Picture 5

There are 159 books on my Kindle right now. So technically when I said I only came to my mom’s with three books and to my new apartment with only two, that was a lie. I actually have a portable library with me at all times and that’s why I can feel comfortable traveling to a new home with but a handful of books. I know many book aficionados shake their fists at the e-book, and I, too, will always, always prefer to read a book with pages I can see and touch.

I adore my grandfather’s massive bookshelf and heavy boxes of books I will inevitably have to cart somewhere, but in the meantime, it sure is nice having a library that slips neatly into my purse.

I blame my book hoarding on two things:

First: Books, to me and to many, many other readers, are like friends. I reread them. My sister never rereads a book. Once she knows what’s going to happen, it’s not as entertaining. I read Winter’s Tale every winter (usually around Christmas). I’ve read Jane Eyre and Speaker for the Dead and Howl’s Moving Castle 3 or 4 times each. I read Princess Bride every year, no exceptions. My family never owned the movie and I discovered Princess Bride in high school, tucked away in the juvenile section of my library—this beautiful maroon book, no cover jacket, just the gold embossed title. For years I totally believed William Goldman was actually just abridging a historical fairytale. I WROTE THE LETTER ASKING FOR THE REUNION SCENE. I could go on and on about each book. The point is, I love them. And I like sharing them. My family always asks, “Listen, do you have a book I can read?” and we go to my bookshelf and pick just the right one I think they’d like.

Second: I don’t admit this casually, but . . . book thievery. Not the good kind. Not the endearing Liesl Meminger kind. I mean, I flat-out, no apologies used to steal books. A few years ago, when I made the conscious decision to become a professional writer, I vowed to never steal another book because I was robbing beloved authors of their living. I have (mostly) lived up to that. But back in the day, we were poor, my family didn’t treasure books the way I did, and I lived in a small town with small security at libraries, etc. I would borrow books and “lose” them; I’d read them at libraries, at community shelves, at doctor’s offices, at stranger’s houses, and just walk out with them.

One of my favorite books I stole from a prison. Not kidding.

My dad works in a prison as a caseworker and I was waiting around in this employee hang-out room. There was one of those spinny-shelves of books, like the kind they have in gas stations. Mostly westerns and thrillers, but one had a gun and a ribbon on it (clearly a female book). I opened the cover and the author had scrawled over the title page: John—just close your eyes over the “nasty” part. Enjoy!

I was 17. Of course I grabbed that thing. It was called the Dark Angel, by Robert Kirby, and judging by the cover I thought it was going to a historical, moralistic romance thing about a bandit with a heart of gold or something. But I ended up loving it. I still love it, read it several times now. I can’t tell if it’s a really good book or I love it because of my history with it, but whatever, I love it.

Anyway, sad to say, the majority of my collection I did not pay for, but I have since mended my ways. I use libraries, or I go without food (if necessary). I’m going to shut up now, because I could literally keep talking about my books and how they’ve shaped who I am for many, many more pages. But that’s what’s great about books—and what’s great about this blog series—books are simultaneously universal and personal, they help us connect with other people, but they’re a reflection of who we really are inside.

mgeorgeMcKelle George is a senior editor at Jolly Fish Press and is an author repped by Don Congdon Associates, currently working to get her YA novelA Merry War on submission. She reads like a carnivore, loves Shakespeare and yoga, and retains an unwavering belief in the transformative brilliance of a good book. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or her website

Join us next week for more Project: Bookshelf. In the meantime, congrats to Katja (@katjawlockjaw) the winner of the first giveaway! 


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