Tag Archives: project bookshelf

Project Bookshelf: Valerie Lick

valerie lick project bookshelf pic

I had to make some difficult decisions for this project. Should I pretend I typically organize my books in any way other than “there’s room here”? Should I remove the objects that probably don’t count as literature, such as the packets of instant noodles? Should I move my potted plants into the frame so it looks like I at least have my aesthetic together? In the end, however, I decided to keep it authentic.

Let’s start with the bookshelf. You’ll notice that, rather than being suspended in the air like any self-respecting shelf, it simply rests on the surface of my desk. By the time my university saw fit to grant me a bookshelf (three maintenance requests into the year), the supports on which I could hang the shelf were already occupied by other important things like my ridiculously large scarf collection.

Next: the contents. This is, as the ramen suggests, a dorm room bookshelf. Many of the books I grew up with are a hundred miles away. I still have a pretty solid, eclectic collection here in Knoxville. They’re all mixed together: writing manuals and government directories and best-selling mysteries. There’s a copy of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God found in a used bookstore’s free bin and annotated by three different owners. There are two gigantic literary bibles, one of Shakespeare and one of theoretical approaches, both of which are on their third renewals from the university library because no way am I paying for that kind of paper. Also pictured: my university’s literary arts magazine, an account of my hometown’s strike history that I’ll definitely get around to reading someday, and a copy of The Great Gatsby fairly studded with sticky notes as a result of a paper on classism and sexuality that nearly killed me from exhaustion.

A couple of these books and authors are the reason for my English major. I was a bookish kid but from eighth grade through tenth grade I was deeply ashamed to be caught reading for fun. But in the summer before eleventh grade, I picked up an anthology of Toni Morrison novels (the one slightly to the right of the ramen) and read the entirety in a week. Since then, I’ve gone back to reading widely and wildly. I’m very into American literature from the latter half of the 20th century, but I’ll also always be in love with modern literature, especially if it’s a sci-fi thriller or it references Appalachian folklore. I have yet to find a book that combines both qualities, so please send me your recommendations!


Valerie Lick, the artist currently known as Val, loves those tall, weedy plants that are kind of like daisies except the blooms are really small. She can be found looking mean and studying literature at the University of Tennessee, where she is a rising junior. She thinks that there should be more intersections between science fiction, Appalachian folklore, and fashion journalism.

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Project Bookshelf: Laura Villareal

lauravillareal shelf

I enjoy reading across genres, but I mostly own poetry books. I love reading YA, nonfiction, and adult fiction, but I don’t usually read them again so I check them out at the library. Essay collections, short story collections, and poetry books are endless sources of inspiration for me. Those are books I like to keep on my shelves. I come back to the books on the top shelf often. I’m also a return reader of literary magazines like Poetry, Tin House, and One Story.

Here are some of my top shelf books:

Coin of the Realm by Carl Phillips

Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler

SanTana’s Fairy Tales by Sarah Rafael García

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Beast Meridian by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal

Hour of the Ox by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello

Hum by Jamaal May

All of Ada Limon’s books

In the Garden of the Bridehouse by J. Michael Martinez

mxd kd mixtape by Malcolm Friend

Our Lady of the Ruins by Traci Brimhall

Dancing in Odessa by Ilya Kaminsky

Under that I have one cubby for Popchyk and two cubbies for poetry books. The other shelves are for miscellaneous books. There’s really no order to them. I have books like:

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother by Amy Stewart

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Hunger by Roxane Gay

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami


Laura Villareal is from a small town in Texas with more cows than people. She earned an MFA from Rutgers University-Newark. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Apogee, Black Warrior Review, Breakwater Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Freezeray, Reservoir, The Boiler, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and scholarships from The Highlights Foundation, Key West Literary Seminar, and VONA/ Voices. She’s also a reader at Winter Tangerine.

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Project Bookshelf: Jeremy Michael Reed

jeremy's bookshelf

This small bookshelf is the one that sits next to my writing desk at home. On top are items that make a little kind of home altar, things from important moments in my life that I look at or think about while I write: some rocks from a river in Montana I used to go swimming in, a marker from a long-distance pilgrimage route I hiked, and some notes from friends. Underneath these are the books I’m thinking most often about lately.

I’m at the point in my PhD that I’m writing my dissertation, and the books that are most important to me and to that project are here. Across the top shelf are some complete favorites: Olio by Tyehimba Jess, Whereas by Layli Long Soldier, Sand Opera by Philip Metres, One with Others by C.D. Wright, and Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey. Others on the top shelf are newer finds that have really shaped my thinking: Testimony by Simone John, Hardly War by Don Mee Choi, Persons Unknown by Jake Adam York, and Blue Front by Martha Collins.

Across the bottom shelf are some books that are old favorites (Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, and Adrienne Rich) but mostly the bottom shelf has books I’m still super excited to read: Taylor Branch’s trilogy on King and the Civil Rights movement, Kevin Young’s Brown, Tarfia Faizullah’s Registers of Illuminated Villages, and more. In the bottom right corner you’ll see an abandoned system for keeping track of poems on index cards and on the top right are tucked some of Robert Caro’s life’s work, his biography of Lyndon Johnson, that I’ve been really enjoying reading in small pieces while working on other things.

Jeremy Michael Reed is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee. His poems are published or forthcoming in Still: The Journal, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere, including the anthology Bright Bones: Contemporary Montana Writing. He lives in Knoxville, where he is the editor-in-chief of Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts, assistant editor of Sundress Publications, co-director of The Only Tenn-I-See Reading Series, and assistant to Joy Harjo. You can read his work at: www.jeremymichaelreed.com

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Project Bookshelf: Snigdha Koirala



My current bookshelf marks a transitional phase in my life. Having moved away from home (and thus having to limit the books I could bring with me), I had the problem of any other bibliophile in this situation: an understocked bookshelf. Around the same time, I was listening to various podcast interviews of one of my favourite writers, Jhumpa Lahiri. She explained that she too faced the dreaded understocked bookshelf after her move to Rome from New York. As an antidote, she displayed covers of books, which took up more space on the shelf, and simultaneously created an art installation of sorts. And in true fashion of a devoted fan, I did the same.

My books are organized in no particular order. Most recent reads tend to have their covers displayed, and eventually move to the side or are stacked under other books as I add more to the shelf. There are, of course, a few that I never move, particularly Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. These books, apart from having colourful covers and being stunning visual pleasures, have played a significant role in my young life, shaping me as a reader, a writer, and a person. Their placement on my shelf (and forgive my sentimentalism) is an ode to their influence.


I also have a small stand-alone shelf on my wall. Here, I place books I am most excited to read. Most of them are attached to a vivid memory of their purchase: Bharati Mukherjee’s Leave It To Me and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth bring to mind a trip to San Francisco with my two best friends; Anita Desai’s The Collected Stories a day in London with my mom; and Jean Rhys’ The Collected Short Stories a perfectly uneventful summer afternoon in Toronto. In many ways, this shelf (again, my sentimental self makes an appearance here) is a diary, which logs happy days waiting to be revisited.


Snigdha Koirala is a third year student of English Literature. Born in Nepal and raised in Canada, she is currently living in Scotland, where she is pursuing her degree at The University of Edinburgh. Her love affair with prose and (more recently) poetry has led her work to appear in The Ogilvie, The Inkwell, and other publications. In her spare time, she can be found wandering the streets of Edinburgh, watching cheesy Rom-Coms, and reading bell hooks.

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Project Bookshelf: Tierney Bailey

My bookshelf is small but mighty (and always growing beyond what it should actually be able to handle). Almost every single one of these books have a story attached to them, but let me attempt to distill them to just the essentials.

Tierney Bailey Bookshelf 1The top of my bookshelf is actually vaguely in order, at least (or, really, especially) in comparison to the rest of the shelf. The upper most shelf begins on the left with school books and my reference books—a girl should never go anywhere with an AP Style Guide, The Copy-editor’s Handbook, or The Chicago Manual of Style—but moves quickly on to books from different franchises I enjoy, including Supernatural, Welcome to Night Vale, Alien, Dragon Heart, Being Human (UK, definitively not the US version), Red Dwarf, and, of course, Star Wars.

The second shelf is also mostly organized. A few newer books lay in spill over territory, but for the most part the shelf is reserved for science fiction and poetry (plus literary magazines—mostly those I’ve been on staff with). Favorites of mine on this shelf are: my father’s copy of Foundation by Isaac Asimov, Octavia’s Brood on social justice-related science fiction from Bitch Media, Shrill by Lindy West, and all the poetry books I’ve ever truly loved. The journals that I worked with on this shelf include Etchings from my undergraduate institution, Ploughshares, and now Redivider, who I recently joined as production editor.

Tierney Bailey Bookshelf 2The third and fourth shelf are much more haphazard; books are placed more or less in an order, though not necessarily discernable. Authors and series are placed together while genres are generally together but much less obviously. Many of these books are very important to me or are not yet read but deemed probably going to be enjoyed immensely. The standout of these shelves are my childhood copy of Treasure Island, the first book I remember reading on my own and another book snared from my father’s collection. Also worth pointing out on this shelf is a Korean philosophy (maybe, I’ve yet to actually try to translate any of it) book I bought to start helping me really learn the language as well as a gift novel from a book-swap party between myself and other graduate students from the publishing department in December. The book looks great, but it remains unread as of right now. (It will be read soon, Tanya, I promise.)

Tierney Bailey Bookshelf 3The bottom shelves are all too-big books or books that aren’t referenced as often or books waiting to be read. Books that are important to me on this shelf include the hard-to-see bind up of the His Dark Materials series by Pullman. Also important are the much more obvious Pit Dragon Chronicles by Jane Yolen and the Feed series by Mira Grant. These shelves also contain my small but deeply loved collection of romance novels (mostly paranormal because, well, I love werewolves, okay).

Tierney Bailey Bookshelf 4The last shelf I have at the moment is at my bedside. These three small shelves include the newest acquisitions, books I’ve recently taken off the big bookshelf for one reason or another, and books I’m actually currently reading. The second shelf does not include any actual reading material, but houses most of my Korean pop albums (mostly from GOT7 because I adore them). The bottom shelf has a large pile of journals ready to be used, a couple of spill over Kpop albums, and my Korean language learning books.

Tierney Bailey is a Libra, a lover of science fiction and poetry, and studies Korean in her spare time. Amongst her pursuits, Tierney is currently the production editor at Redivider Magazine and a copyeditor at Strange Horizons. As a graduate student at Emerson College, Tierney is studying publishing in the Writing and Publishing program. True to her Midwesterner roots, Tierney still smiles upon the slightest bit of eye contact, makes small talk in lines and elevators, and exclaims “ope!” with barely any provocation at all. If you can’t find her on a train somewhere between Providence and Boston, she can easily be found screaming into the void on Twitter as @ergotierney.

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Project Bookshelf: Cass Hayes

bookshelf 2

For the last five years, my life has been on the move. For three years, I lived in dorms at the University of Texas at Arlington, getting my bachelor’s in English, and for the past two years I’ve lived in campus apartments at the University of Central Arkansas, getting my MFA in creative writing. So every winter and summer break, I move out and return to my parent’s house, my childhood home—where my actual bookshelves, packed in total with hundreds of books, reside.

The sparse offerings pictured here are what I decided to bring from home a few weeks ago, when I returned to Conway, Arkansas and my campus apartment. In the picture above, the stack on the right is comprised of all my books for my classes, except for Dracula, which I am supposed to be reading for a class right now and so is on my desk. The stack on the left is a personal TBR pile, about half comprised of books I stole from my mother’s bookshelf at home (and promise I will return), and also two personal essays anthologies—I have become obsessed with the personal essay form after taking a creative nonfiction class last semester—the Writing about Writing textbook, and a book called A Literature of Sports, which my dad—a baseball fanatic and a high school baseball and football coach—gave me. There is also a bowl of Reese’s minis, my favorite candy (especially when I’m stressed with school stuff), and in the back a Robert Johnson sheet music book.


Pictured above is my more immediate TBR pile, stacked on my desk. The first two books are by Kazuo Ishiguro, recent Nobel Prize winner who I’ve never read anything by (yet). Then there is a mix of history books, such as the Abraham Lincoln biography and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time, screenplays—Lincoln and Magnolia—a collected stories book by fellow Texan Katherine Anne Porter, a poetry book by Rubén Dario, and an anthology of film criticism and theory.

The books pictured here are all a sort of random mishmash of stuff I’m interested in right now—either because I’m just randomly interested or because I’m being forced to be interested by a class. It’s annoying and a bit ridiculous, a bit Sisyphean, lugging books from Waxahachie, Texas to Conway, Arkansas every three or so months, especially when I’ll probably not even read half of them—instead becoming interested with a topic or author that I can find plenty of resources on in the campus library—but I can’t help it. I love being surrounded by books, and don’t feel at home otherwise.

Cass Hayes is a writer from Waxahachie, Texas. She attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program at the University of Central Arkansas and works as the managing editor of the online literary journal Arkana. Her fiction and poetry appears or is forthcoming in various online and print literary journals, including Five:2:One, Work Literary Magazine, and Déraciné Magazine.

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Project Bookshelf: Tierney Bailey

Tierney Bailey bookshelf

Before I moved away from home, I had five bookcases all along my bedroom walls filled with books and knick-knacks. Any little bit of spare money went to books. A move across the country, from the Midwest to the East Coast, meant that I could only take some books—mostly things I wanted to immediately read next or couldn’t imagine being parted with. (The books I left at home are now in my childhood closet, but some of those will slowly follow me to my new home.)

The first novel I read on my own was Treasure Island. I own a couple of editions, though the most important one is the one I brought with me to the East Coast. It’s really my dad’s but it’s been on my bookshelf for as long as I can remember. I would have never left home without it.

Science fiction anthologies and poetry also stand on my bookshelf, managing to be the majority at the moment. Some are guilty pleasures—looking at you, Harry Harrison—while others are based on social commentary and revolutions, like all of the best science fiction is at heart. Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, and Octavia’s Brood (not pictured on my bookshelf because it’s actually on my bedside table at the moment, waiting to be finished) are leaning together with Nnedi Okorafor and Mary Shelley. Folktales, young adult, romance and non-fiction all mingling in semi-order because I haven’t organized the shelf again since I moved in last year. Notebooks, loose paper with useful information, a magazine I designed entirely on my own, and books turned every which way to make as much room as I can for more books take up at least a quarter of the room on the shelf. My bookshelves are messy despite a constant effort to keep the disorder in check, but the continuing input of new books makes it almost impossible to keep tidy.

Eventually the books will spread once more from the bookshelf and my bedside table and into piles on the floor (or, preferably, another bookshelf), but, until then, they will make do with the space I have.

Tierney Bailey is a Libra, a lover of science fiction and poetry, and studies Korean in her spare time. She currently copyedits for Strange Horizons. Tierney is also a Writing, Literature, and Publishing graduate student at Emerson College. As an East Coast transplant from Indianapolis, Tierney still smiles upon the slightest bit of eye contact. If you can’t find her on a train between Providence and Boston, she can easily be found on Twitter as @ergotierney.

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Project Bookshelf: Emily Corwin

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My boyfriend, Joe and I just got this bookcase from a friend who is moving to Poland. We’ve been looking for an extra bookcase for months since we both have so many books (and, let’s face it, we’re going to keep buying them). For now, I’ve been putting favorite books and recently-read books on this shelf. My goal this summer is to read through all of the poetry collections I gathered during the school year. Some recent favorites on here:Blues Triumphant by Jonterri Gadson, Forest Primeval by Vievee Francis, Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open by Diane Seuss, Gilt by Raena Shirali, Careful Mountainby Sara June Woods, Take This Stallion by Anaïs Duplan, Meet Me Here At Dawn by Sophie Klahr, Wasp Queen by Claudia Cortese, Bestiary by Donika Kelly,Wunderkammer by Cynthia Cruz, Landscape with Headless Mama and Protection Spell by Jennifer Givhan, and Sugarblood by Liz Bowen.


Emily Corwin is an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University-Bloomington and the former Poetry Editor for Indiana Review. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, Day One, Hobart, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, THRUSH, and elsewhere. She has two chapbooks, My Tall Handsome (Brain Mill Press) and darkling (Platypus Press) which were published in 2016. Her first full-length collection, tenderling is forthcoming in 2018 from Stalking Horse Press. You can follow her online at @exitlessblue.

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Project Bookshelf: Danielle Alexander


The shelf came from my mother. It’s a heavy, sturdy piece, pulled from a dumpster in her retirement community. There are rings on all the shelves from the many glasses of Coke she set on it when she owned it.

The top shelf is home to vintage, hardcover books, as well as anything I’ve recently purchased and haven’t read yet. Half this shelf holds copies of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry. Since high school, Edna is the writer I always look for first in a used bookstore.

The second shelf has writing books on the left side of the basket. As you can see, I have a thing for spies and espionage. To the right of the basket are poetry books, plus a signed first edition of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River, which is the book I always tell people is my favorite when they ask. (When you have a used bookstore/online book business, people ask you this question a lot, and it’s a tricky one to answer.) Next to Bonnie Jo is a copy of Amy Hempel’s short stories. I always keep these two books together. I remember reading them the first time and thinking “Oh! I can write about my life! My redneck, northern Michigan, backwoods upbringing can be written about in a universal, literary way!” Whenever I’m stuck in my writing, I turn to these two books for inspiration.  

In the basket are all the zines, artists’ books, and chapbooks I’ve purchased over the last few years. I have so many favorites. Whenever people come over to my house, I pull the basket out to show them.

The third shelf from the top holds my Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings books, as well as a few nonfiction books I’m fond of. There is a Harry Potter snow globe I got when I was eleven, featuring Harry catching the golden snitch. The shelf below is a mix of contemporary fiction and nonfiction, as well as all my Jane Austen books. You could say I have a thing for Jane – my cats are named Jane and Austen.

The shelf second from the bottom holds the heavy art books and more vintage hardcovers. The bottom shelf is a mess of kid’s books, both vintage and contemporary, for when my friend’s kids come over.

My mother passed the shelf on to me when I opened a used bookstore a few years ago. In the bookstore, the shelf held all the poetry books. It sat by the front window and had a gorgeous philodendron on top; easily my favorite shelf in the shop. Now, it sits next to my favorite window in my house, and holds the books I love the most.

There is something magical about keeping all your favorite books together, a little out of order, placing them by how they feel, how they connect to the books next to them.

How do you shelf your books? Tell me in the comments below!


Danielle Alexander is a writer and the owner of Grey Grey Books, an online and pop-up shop that sells used books, zines, and handmade journals in Michigan. Her writing has appeared in The Bandit Zine’s Love & Heartbreak Issue and The Aquinas College Sampler, where her poem “Mother” received an American Academy of Poet’s Honorable Mention. She has self-published two poetry chapbooks—Sunlight Gets Through (2016) and Chasing Rabbits (2016); two collaborative artist’s books, We Sit Together, At the Table (2015) and White Walls: Entelechia (2015); and recently self-published Ten Lists: A Workbook for Anxiety (2017). Danielle holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in English and Creative Writing from Aquinas College and will be pursuing an MFA in Nonfiction or Poetry in 2018. Her work can be found at reygreybooks.com.

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Project Bookshelf: Katie Culligan

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My bookshelf, more than any other thing I own, is a museum of all blueprints I’ve ever had for my life. Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Time 100 photo watches over everything, cataloguing the time I thought I was going to be an environmental scientist, a movie musical star, a professional corsetiere. The top shelves are a novel-heavy mix of genres, with essay collection taking second place. They are in no particular order because I have made peace with my own mortality.


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The bottom shelves are treasured miscellaneous, but not leftovers: a shoebox full of all the nickels and pennies I’ve carried around since the eleventh grade, always meant for something exciting. Not one, but seven college prep books (only opened once in a panic very specific to the year 2013). Every Chicken Soup for the Soul that I snuck out of my mother’s room when I was in middle school. Those books are brilliant and I stand by my desire to keep them near me at all times, still to this day.


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Moving northeast, I have a story I wrote in the first grade that my grandparents had bound into a book, wherein I turn myself into a giraffe by eating magical gummy bears. Everyday I think “How am I going to top this?” and everyday I conclude that I am not. Directly underneath in the glass compartment is every Vogue from 2011-2014 because Lady Gaga’s meat dress made me think for a long time that I was interested in fashion; it turns out I’m just interested in weirdos. I also have a traffic ticket taped up because if I don’t make a move on that thing very soon, I will be in a legal situation. Life is a balancing act, or something like that.


Katie Culligan is currently young and terrified at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she is a junior studying creative writing. Her favorite responsibilities are NCAA rowing, big sisterhood, and believing unwaveringly in ghosts. Her writing is informed by this age of indestructible men, though she likes to think her life isn’t. She also thinks if you haven’t tried fig newtons with peanut butter yet, you really should.

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