First, start with your favorites on the top shelf—the necessities, the classics, the underwear drawer of your book collection, the books that had to exist for anything you read to come after, the first titles your eyes search for from across the room.
You feel a little guilty giving preferential treatment, but you reserve only the best bookshelf real estate for that beautiful, hardcover edition of Jane Eyre (not to be confused with the torn-cover, broken-binding paperback edition with yellowed pages and that lovely, dusty smell that hides in your bedside drawer to protect more of its old pages from falling out).
Next to Charlotte, you decide she wouldn’t get along with that high fantasy series and so you go back and forth, from left to right, taking care to match imagined author personalities and egos. Octavia Butler and Maya Angelou and Jane Austen would have had some tea to spill with each other, right?
There’s the copy of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men with the library sticker you’re still ashamed of, even after paying the past-due fine and replacement fee when you thought you’d lost it, but the feeling somehow fits in with all those footnotes.
You style Ulysses and Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars haphazardly, but intentionally, so any guests to your apartment know exactly what you’re reading right now. Through the years, books here and there will always move down to lower shelves, either fallen from grace or just outgrown: Junot Diaz, Voltaire, Extended Universe Star Wars novels from the 1990s. But the core authors of the top shelf — the ones that took little pieces of who you are and reshaped them—always keep their place.
The second shelf gets messy. There are nonfiction and collections from classes that you just can’t part with because you might, one day, maybe, maybe need your annotations again.
Organization doesn’t matter here as much as just finding the room. But you’re out of room on the shelf. You’ve accidentally collected 9 copies of Wuthering Heights and three French-English dictionaries. So now you start looking for alternative spaces, anywhere you can stack. Like the back of your futon. Like your windowsill. Like the stacks next to the bed: books to-be-read, authors to-be-met, characters to become. Every shelf and stack like photo albums of who you were, who you are, who you might be.
Annie McIntosh is an English major at Franklin College, where she writes about gender-queer studies in science fiction. She is the Lead Poetry Editor of Brave Voices Magazine and a Fiction Editorial Intern for Juxtaprose Magazine. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming from Okay Donkey, Theta Wave, Digital Americana Magazine, carte blanche, and others. She recently received her first Pushcart Prize nomination and was named one of Indiana’s Best Emerging Poets for 2018. Currently searching for a publication home for her first chapbook, she lives in Indianapolis with her partner and their dog, Jackson.