No matter how many screws and nails I bore into it, my bedroom bookshelf seems to always be overburdened to the point of collapse. I have yet to resort to the most durable and cost effective method of book storage my mother utilized in our old home, in which she stacked concrete cinder blocks and pine planks to great effect. When she moved out of that house, she counted 36 boxes of backbreaking literature. I am steadily on my way to a similar heft, with two other book shelves of the same size pictured above completely full. My bookshelf usually looks as if it’s been plundered and ransacked, but it’s only out of love.
I usually reserve the tops of a bookshelf for keepsakes. A sketch of my favorite graphic novel character, Scott Pilgrim, as drawn by my friend and illustrator A.J. Chaos, sits proudly alongside my bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Springfield. And Boba Fett? Someone has to keep my prized collection safe.
By “prized collection,” I do not mean a mere collection of paper I boast a quirky fondness for. They are old friends, bindings, and their attributable memories hold their real worth. The hard copies we gather take on a life of their own, a uniqueness in their ability to trigger past places, sounds, and people. My copy of Charles Bukowski’s Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit summons the smell of a Colorado book shop, hail at 6,000 feet above sea level, and a punk band called Lost Years from Gary, Indiana. The band named a song after Bukowski’s poetry collection, this anthem becoming the soundtrack to my honeymoon. It’s beyond cool when art causes these kind of unexpected convergences.
There’s a copy of A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti I bought because Mary Jo Bang told me to. I was at a book signing of hers hosted at the University of Illinois Springfield. Judy Jordan also visited the same campus during my two years in the Land of Lincoln. A signed edition of her book, Carolina Ghost Woods, lies tucked above Maus. Both Mary and Judy taught me that the greatest heroes are also the most humble.
Sandra Lim’s The Wilderness is suspended precariously above Smaug the Terrible on the cover of a Hobbit edition I have flipped through since I was eleven years old. You won’t find Sommer Browning’s Backup Singers on the shelves, because I am too busy eating it up at my bedside. There is a copy of Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash that I still need to return to its rightful owner, a book borrowed for at least two years. Or maybe it’s been three.
Music journalism and leaps into band biographies have always pulled at my heart strings. One of my coolest books is Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs, given to me by an equally cool John A. Logan College English professor. He wrote inside the cover in May 2010, “I hope the future finds you at the confluence of your two passions: music and writing.” I may not be a music journalist, Matt, but I plan to be a poet.
And to that end, and this blog post’s as well, I have to thank every teacher who has filled my home with unexpected, powerful words. I have wondered into so many emotive journeys, paths I would never have found on my own. Like a Fish by Daniel Crocker, Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen, The Bat by Jo Nesbo, The Branches, the Axe, the Missing by Charlotte Pence, 420 Characters by Lou Beach, Streets in their Own Ink by Stuart Dybek, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, They Could No Longer Contain Themselves from Rose Metal Press, and all the writing/craft books I leave around the house to stub my toes on.
Jacob L. Cross lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He studied creative writing and publishing at the University of Illinois Springfield, where he served as editor of The Popcorn Farm Literary Journal. His work has been featured in Still: The Journal, The Alchemist Review, and elsewhere. More recently, his poems are due for release in Clash by Night, a poetry anthology inspired by the punk staple, London Calling. He enjoys hiking with his wife, traversing Zelda dungeons, spoiling his dogs, and half-priced sushi.