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 Amy Garvey, whose book, Cold Kiss, knocked my socks off and you should all read it immediately. I am so excited to have her on the blog! But prepare yourself–she has a rather tragic tale of books loved and lost.
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…
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
- Genre: Young adult post apocalyptic
- Where I got it: It is on long-term loan from a friend who rescued it from a box of homeless books
- What I thought: This book was excellent. The landscape of the novel is unbelievably detailed and imaginative. I have not had this much world building envy since Scorpio Races. While this book definitely had its issues, they paled in comparison to how complete and real and gorgeously gritty the world of this book was. Love.
The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Cavern by S. S. Taylor
- Genre: Middle grade adventure
- Where I got it: Purchased when the author and illustrator did a signing at my former bookstore
- What I thought: In spite of the fact that this might be the most beautifully designed book I own, the story itself was not as pretty as the packaging. While this was by no means a terrible book, I think I was just too old for it. Ten year old me would have loved this, but adult me could not suspend my disbelief far enough to swallow it. Also there was 100% more cursing in this book than any other middle grade I’ve ver read. So that’s something.
Jackaby by William Ritter
- Genre: Young adult historical fantasy
- Where I got it: Picked up from a box of ARCs at work. Sadly for you, this book doesn’t come out until September.
- What I thought: Why did I read this book? Well it was pitched as Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who so……it’s elementary, really. This book was so charming, witty, and a very clever play on genre while still being it’s own thing. I really loved it. I took a bit of issue with the end, and with our narrator as the central character, and the romance (just leave it out!!!!), but in general it was so much fun. An essential read for Conan Doyle fans.
Blackwood by Gwenda Bond
- Genre: Young adult urban fantasy
- Where I got it: Once upon a time I read queries for a literary agent, and she sent me this book as a thank you.
- What I thought: While the premise of this book is dynamite, I hate to say I quit after one hundred pages because I could not get over how unrealistic everyone’s reactions were. About fifty pages in, our main character’s father is brutally murdered. That night, she is giggling over this boy and almost kissing him in his driveway. Um, nope. Life’s too short to read a book you are just not buying, and I could not get over that.
And now, meet Amy and her bookshelf!
I don’t remember life without books. One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell is of me sitting on the plastic potty she used for toilet training—with a stack of picture books on the floor beside me. I don’t doubt this, although I’m glad there’s no photographic evidence. In elementary school, I was that girl, the one who came to the dinner table still reading, the one who knew exactly when the Scholastic Book Fair was scheduled, the one who volunteered in the school library during recess. I inherited a lot of my mom’s books, well-worn copies of the Nancy Drew mysteries and Black Beauty and The Five Little Peppers and Little Women, and my daughter shelves are now full of my copies of the Little House books, among lots of others.
My point is this, I guess. If someone asked me what my interior decorating style is, the best answer would probably be “books,” with a subcategory of “furniture upon which to read books.” I’ve had more than one mover look at my boxes of books with something like true despair. I’m the kind of person who likes to go to the bag sale at the library and come home with multiple bags. Being a writer has always justified the purchase of any book—one day, I could be writing about a 17th century parlor, so The Illustrated Guide to Furniture Through the Years was clearly an essential book to own, am I right?
But over the years, I have accumulated some other stuff—kids, for one, who come with their own array of paraphernalia. Suddenly making room for an entire wall of IKEA shelving takes a back seat to finding a place for said kids’ to sleep and play and store their toys (and books). Culling became a necessity. A painful, time-consuming necessity, but a necessity nonetheless.
A few years ago we moved, and a lot of books ended up in in boxes in storage. I had chosen the absolute essential books to keep in the house—things like my Chicago Manual of Style and my childhood copy of Little Women, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and The Big Book of Dates—as well as books I hadn’t read yet, because I figured this was a good time to give them a little love.
And it worked! I read a whole slew of books I had bought on impulse and had never gotten around to reading, although I also bought more new and used books, because…well, because that’s what I do. I slept soundly at night knowing that the rest of my books were waiting for the day I would have the chance to display them all again.
Then I discovered that many of the boxed books had suffered water damage. Hundreds of books were moldy and swollen into monstrous Hulk versions of themselves. And I was soon a raging Hulk version of myself, frantically trying to salvage whatever I could. The survivors weren’t anywhere near as many as I wanted.
The bookshelf I use today is another IKEA special, a big black rectangle of cubes that holds everything but the currently-reading pile next to my bed and a collection of mass market paperback favorites that live in a hand-me-down bookcase in the hall. I don’t know if it’s the cubes or my own tendency to compartmentalize, but my shelving system is unique. I have all of my poetry (and biographies of women poets and writers) in one cube, and all of my books on writing in another or reading in another. There are two cubes for YA books (one paperback, one hardcover), a cube for graphic novels and anything oversized, and a cube Harry Potter shares with vintage children’s books. And every one of these cubes is double-shelved—that is, there are two rows of books in each, and sometimes books laid on top of the rows. I’m not even going to get into what’s on my Kindle. The cube with the wicker basket is winter gloves and hats, because I figure everyone needs a little room to grow.
One of my favorite cubes is where the books I’ve written live, and even some of those are missing—foreign editions of some of my romances, a copy of the first romance I wrote, which I published under a pseudonym, and the first volume of a YA series I wrote a long time ago through a book packager. When I’m sitting at my desk, I can turn around and seen them at eye level, more or less, and they’re an important reminder of not only what I’ve done, but of what a lifetime of reading and writing has meant to me.
I’m learning to live without books I loved—my collection of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley mysteries, for instance, which would have been perfect to loan to my mom, and a bunch of older contemporary novels that were never bestsellers were true favorites, like Summer by Lisa Grunwald and Points of Light by Linda Gray Sexton. It’s harder to deal with my mom’s copies of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights being gone—they were oversized hardbound editions with woodcut illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg, and when I was a kid I pored over them for hours. Those are books I’d like to find again someday, simply because the books themselves were so beautiful, even though I have the text version of both books on my Kindle.
All of which is a long way of saying that time and the water damage disaster have taught me a few things about my books. One, books are, for the most part, replaceable. The text of them, anyway. Two, particular editions of specific books can sometimes mean something more, like the faded paperback copy of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs which I’ve had since I was about twelve. I don’t really believe there’s any truth to astrology anymore, but picking up that book with its cracked spine and dog-eared pages takes me right back to junior high, when I was certain I could figure out everyone in my life if I just knew their birthdays.
Does that make it less a book and more a memento? I don’t think it matters. Some of my books are for reading and reference, and some of my books are a window into another time, when hardbound copies of Grimm’s Fairy Tales were something my mom actually used in her second-grade classroom. What I’m trying to do now is create my ideal bookshelf, even though it means buying new copies of books I loved but don’t have anymore, the ones I can’t stop thinking about. It also means giving books I’ve never read or won’t read again a new home when I can, possibly because I’ve seen Toy Story 3 too many times. No book should sit on a shelf forever unread and unloved, right?
I think one of the moments when I knew I had actually grown up (well, sort of) was when I realized that I wasn’t going to desperately adore every book that crossed my path. It makes the ones I can’t part with that much more beloved.
Amy Garvey is the author of nine novels for kids and adults, including Cold Kiss from HarperTeen, as well as essays, novellas, and some bad poetry she doesn’t let anyone else read. If you run into her, she’ll probably be reading something. You can find her on Twitter, and on Tumblr.
Thanks for tuning in, and be sure to join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf!