When I peruse the titles housed in my bookshelves, I see the rooms in which I first stacked and sorted them, hear the music that was playing the first time I cracked their spines. These books have traveled with me widely, from state to state, from life to life.
I’ve had them piled against countless walls across countless uneven, warped wooden floors. I’ve had them packed away in totes and torn Amazon boxes in the back of my car. I’ve stacked them on makeshift bookshelves, in kitchen cabinets, under bathroom sinks. As my life has taken on new and unfamiliar shapes, so, too, have my book stacks.
I have friends scattered throughout these stacks and professors that I’ve admired. I’ve edited a couple for publication. I’ve reviewed one or two for literary journals and zines.
My own work is packed away in these volumes, tiny notes scribbled in narrow margins that turned into articles and essays and degrees. Hours and hours of solitude stretched across years upon years upon years. Like most writers, I live through words. These are the books through which I’ve constructed my ever-expanding reality.
These books are heavy with history. I didn’t write, or even contribute to, the overwhelming majority of them. But there is a sense of ownership that comes with collecting literature. These are my books. Not just in physicality, but in spirit. The stories I’ve shaped in my readings of these texts are mine alone. Nobody can see what I see in these spines. This is the intimacy of accepting the life of a writer, of choosing to experience the world through the internalized processes of a dedicated reader. There’s plenty of pain in these shelves, but there’s comfort there, too. These books will continue to take on new shapes and new lives as I do. There’s breath in these shelves.
Stephanie Marker received her MFA in fiction from Bowling Green State University in 2010, and her PhD in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2017. Originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, she now resides in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with her partner and their two puppies. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Third Coast, and The Collagist, among others.