Tag Archives: project bookshelf

Project Bookshelf: Athena Lathos

Though I love the concept of Project Bookshelf, I am slightly embarrassed to share my own shelves with the internet. In a purely aspirational dimension of the universe, an ideal version of myself maintains a beautifully curated book collection, properly whittled down to only the most worthy titles and complete with the most aesthetically pleasing editions faced out for the benefit of my house guests.In fact, I recently saw an Instagram post from one of my favorite poets, Kaveh Akbar, in which he showed off his and his partner’s gorgeously lit, museum-like library, and I thought to myself yes, that is what I would like my books to look like. The key here, of course, is that they don’t. My partner and are I not a literary power couple, but a couple of twenty-somethings who just moved into a ramshackle house from the 1920s in semi-rural Oregon. And, admittedly, neither of us are particularly neat. Our books are cherished. But they are also scattered everywhere.

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You may see here that I’ve attempted to organize some childhood books, poetry collections, and nonfiction titles on the white bookshelves, along with my slightly embarrassing collection of Plath biographies (a teenage obsession that I know is considered a writer’s cliche). The other bookshelf, though, the light brown one, has a decidedly pragmatic function. It is protecting a mixture of my partner’s and my own books from moving- and construction-related damage. Look more closely, and you might see a fair amount of doubles in this mess of a library, an issue that was undoubtedly caused by two graduate students in English moving in together.

Once, while talking with my dad about getting rid of all of these extra copies of Walden and Leaves of Grass and To the Lighthouse, he looked at me with concern and said, “I don’t know, honey … are you sure you are ready for that?”I think my dad’s reaction is pretty indicative of my abiding love for these mostly beat-up tomes. Like many of us here at Sundress, my physical books tell stories other than the ones that they harbor inside them, and my humble library—though not so pretty to look at—is the most valuable feature of my home.




Athena Lathos is a poet and nonfiction writer from Santa Maria, California. She currently lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where she works part-time as a Student Accessibility Technician at Chemeketa Community College and part-time as a freelance writer and editor. Her work can be found in Enizagam and Verseweavers, as well as on her blog, Bertha Mason’s Attic. Her recent blog post about the job market, “I Applied to 200 Jobs and All I Got was this Moderate-Severe Depression,” was featured as an Editor’s Pick on Longreads. Lathos completed her MA thesis, “A Sea of Grief is Not a Proscenium: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and the Spectacle of Racist Violence in Cyberculture,” at Oregon State University’s School of Writing, Literature, and Film in May of 2017. Lathos was a finalist for the 2016 Princemere Poetry Prize.


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Project Bookshelf: Riley Steiner


I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision to use it like this, but growing up, I realized that I only allowed my bookshelf to house my most-loved books. A book had to have earned its place on my shelf—captured my heart and my imagination in some spectacular way. Anything short of that went to the basement.


As a result of this buildup of my favorite books over time, my various bookshelves tell a kind-of-chronological story.

Each book reminds me of a certain point in my life when I look at its spine nestled among the others, even though the books may not be strictly organized in the order in which I read them. I can see evidence of my growing love for fantasy in The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit; my adolescent years (where the books all have kick-butt high school heroines); and the point in my life where I discovered my passion for rock music and the stories behind it.

The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye are beloved holdovers from my high school sophomore-year English class, where, like all of the best educators, my teacher transformed these routine reading assignments into lifelong favorites of mine. You can see, in my collection of memoirs by (mostly women) actors and comedians, where I became interested in who the people I watched on my television screen really were—not only their filmography but how they impacted the world beyond a movie set.

IMG_5142.JPGAnd then there are my ever-present (and ever-growing) piles of books I want to read or re-read, stacked on the floor after I ran out of shelf space. These are old and new books, books I’ve borrowed from friends and books of my own. These paper towers contain everything from books of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Hanks to Dave Eggers’ The Circle and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. No matter how much time I spend reading, these piles never seem to grow smaller, but I’m okay with that—it means I always have something new to throw myself into. Tellingly, there’s a beige plastic bag sitting on my floor at this moment, partially enveloping my recent purchases of Circling the Sun and The Age of Miracles.

Oh, well. My floor has been home to my cluttered array of books for so long, I think it’d feel bare without them. One day, maybe I’ll be able to even out my ratio of books purchased to books read—but I doubt it.


Riley Steiner is a senior at Miami University, where she studies Creative Writing and Media & Culture. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she enjoys baking, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and spending way too much money at Half Price Books. Her creative work is forthcoming in the Oakland Arts Review.

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Project Bookshelf: Jenna Jankowski

As a kid, a visit to the library was exhilarating. Each row of shelves was overwhelmingly, beautifully stocked, and I relished walking down the aisles, trailing my fingers over the bumpy spines of neatly aligned books (a sensation that I still believe is one of life’s best and simplest).

Once, after finishing Because of Winn-Dixie, I wrote a note on the slip of paper I had been using as a bookmark and left it halfway in for someone to find. Every time I returned to the library I’d check to see if anything had changed, and after countless visits, the note finally disappeared. There was no answer left behind, but I was satisfied; I had loved a story and left a trace of myself behind, and now I had definitive proof that someone else had opened the book and fallen in love, too. Reading is a personal yet universalizing experience—I knew it then and I know it now.


Looking over my own personal library, I find that it is littered with pieces of myself. It’s simple to trace each book back to a certain period of my life: I’ve held on to my copy of The Cricket in Times Square since I was little, and my shelves are full of classics I bought for school. It is also apparent from my shelves that I love Eliza Haywood, an author from the eighteenth century whose licentious stories contained biting social commentary—two elements that, when published by a woman, enraged male artists of the time. I have an assortment of her novellas as well as her longer works, like Love in Excess, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, and The Adventures of Eovaii.

Then, there are books that I fell in love with outside of academia. I have my worn copy of Persuasion that I read every December, Merrit Tierce’s Love Me Back, which I read in one sitting in lieu of studying for a final, and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which I recommend to anyone who will listen. But even better yet are the books that sit on my shelf that are still unread. The ones that I picked up on a whim and immediately felt I needed to claim as my own, but haven’t had the chance to open. These ones are heavy with potential, and when I’m in a romantic mood, I feel as if they reflect a part of a future yet unknown to me.

Most of the books on my shelves, read or unread, are either purchased used from second-hand shops or library sales, or have been passed on to me by family. Nearly all of the pages have been flipped by hands other than my own, and their stories have been loved by more than just me. Among these books are assorted items that, while cluttering my shelves, serve as remembrances. An old pair of drumsticks that I don’t use anymore rests on a row of hardcovers, and a birthday card from years ago shares the space as well. Old ticket stubs that I used as bookmarks but never threw away reside in back covers, and a packet of coriander seeds given to me by a little cousin sits by a dish that a friend of mine made in pottery class, both of which somehow ended up on my shelf and stayed there. Some of my favorite photos of my favorite people rest here, framed by the books themselves. When I look over these shelves or run my fingers over the rows of my books, I am comforted by where I’ve been, and excited to see where else I can go.

Jenna Jankowski is a graduate of Lawrence University where she earned a BA in English with a minor in Russian Studies. While studying at Lawrence, her fascination for 18th-century literature led to a string of research sessions and subsequent paper, which was later recognized with the Tichenor Prize in English. Always passionate about reading, at school she served as the editor of an on-campus literary magazine, and she has since worked with Sourcebooks and Browne & Miller Literary Agency managing a plethora of tasks, including evaluating query letters, writing reader reports, styling text extractions, storyboarding, and developing media pitches. These days, she can be found scouring used bookstores for new finds. Consequently, she can also be found anxiously surveying the ever-growing stacks of to-be-read books on her shelves.

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Project Bookshelf: Eva Weidenfeld

I have always enjoyed making lists. Often it’s for the appearance of organization amid the unkemptness of my mind which would prefer to roll up all of my to-dos and have-dones and should-I’s into a lumpy, shapeless ball and sit atop of it majestically while eating macaroni. But sometimes, faking that you have your life together (even if it’s only to yourself and your phone’s Memo app) can produce the best results. Thus, the lists persist.

When I was assigned this project, I glanced at my various book-holding mechanisms with no clue as to how I would summarize my collection until I remembered my love of lists (which, I admit, took much longer than one would probably expect).


THE ONES I WILL NEVER READ (or touch, other than to move):

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

I think my exact wording to my mom was, “If I’m going to be an English major, if this is what I want to do with my life, I have to at least own Atlas Shrugged.” I own it.

Robert Newton Peck, A Day No Pigs Would Die

A friend from my early college days lent this one to me, and I admit, I did attempt to read it. On the plane to my hometown, Las Vegas. It was a two-hour flight and that book put me to sleep within the first two pages. I have not returned to it since nor returned it to him, because I never figured out how to tell him that his enthusiasm wasn’t enough to convince me to read it.



Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell

Bukowski’s raw, unforgiving language always causes me to come back and reread his poems. I remember letting a friend borrow it and his response being, “He talks about horse racing too much.” Though I agree with this sentiment, Bukowski’s obsession with such a passive hobby speaks to the sadness and alienation he suffered from.

Gwendolyn Brooks, Blacks

Unlike many of these books, Blacks was a recent addition to my collection. I was lucky enough to take a course on her at my university—lucky because I might have never found her otherwise, as she is (somehow) forgotten amongst discussions of poetry and literature. I have never spent so much energy on a single line of poetry before, and I loved every second, as the meanings in her words ebb and flow each time you read them. She is truly extraordinary.

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

No novel has made me laugh out loud so often while also causing me to ponder the absolute frivolousness of humanity. Vonnegut’s careful balance of cynicism and hopeful humor has placed and kept him at my Number One Author spot for years.

Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

I often title a lot of books “The Most Influential One,” but House of Leaves took over my soul for the couple of months I spent poured over its contents. Sometimes, when casually reading, I tend to skim longer paragraphs and don’t worry myself over the spaces between each word. To get through this one, to enjoy everything it offers (and doesn’t offer), one must be patient. I cannot wait until I have enough free time to reread it, to make more notes, to get sucked in again.


THE ONES LOST (but definitely not forgotten, and pined for every day):

None of these are technically lost, but you get the idea.

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

George Orwell, 1984

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

These four books, among a stack or two of others, are currently waiting for me in an unlabeled box in my parents’ garage. When I drove up to Bellingham from Las Vegas, I chose to leave some things behind and tried to only bring along books that I hadn’t yet read. I have always been a book lover, but I read these four during my first few years in high school and they had a lasting effect on me as a reader, a writer, and a searcher for all things innovative and strange and impactful.

Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Remember that friend I mentioned a while ago who gave me the farm novel? In return, I gave him my copy of one of my favorite books, one that builds up slowly but demands your full attention, one whose ending carved out my stomach and replaced it with a 20-pound weight that I carried for days, one whose movie adaptation actually does an incredible job of portraying. But, similarly to how I have grown apathetic regarding returning his book, he has with mine. My hope is that my friend has read it and is too attached to Kesey’s words to give it back. I know I would feel the same.

Eva Weidenfeld is a senior at Western Washington University. She will complete her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature with additional concentrations in Film Studies and Sociology in June of 2019. She is a reader for the 55th edition of WWU’s student-run Jeopardy Magazine. When she isn’t focusing on school work or editing gigs, you can find her at the local arthouse cinemas or somewhere scenic with a book (and a beer) in hand.

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Project Bookshelf: Annie McIntosh

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.

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Project Bookshelf: Stephanie Marker

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.


Project Bookshelf: Nikki A. Sambitsky

My bookshelves house more than just books: they hold my life’s journey upon their shelves. Though the shelves themselves are beginning to buckle under the weight of the books, knickknacks, and magazines, my two bookcases still stand tall and proud. On one shelf sits a pile of Poets & Writers and The Sun magazines, while another holds a stack of cookbooks that were both purchased and handed down to me in my early 20’s.

Yes, my bookshelves tell the story of my literary evolution. I can stand in front of them and pinpoint the exact moment when I stopped being a journalist and began being a creative nonfiction essayist.


I believe that transition takes place somewhere where The Elements of Style by Strunk and White bumps up against Bluets by Maggie Nelson.

Look even deeper among the neatly organized rows, and you can see where my love of unconventional nonfiction began and my need to read traditional creative nonfiction ended. That, I believe, can be seen in my second bookcase on the first shelf where Wild by Cheryl Strayed touches Book of Mutter by Kate Zambreno, which touches On Looking by Lia Purpura, which touches Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes. (Please also see Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak, and Lying by Lauren Slater, which are both located on the smaller bookcase, second shelf down.)

I’m proud to say that my bookshelves showcase growth, evolution, a deep desire to stretch, read, learn, imagine, and fly. 

Nikki A. Sambitsky earned her MFA in creative writing, specifically focusing on the lyric/fragment essay (creative nonfiction) from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Sambitsky holds a BA in journalism from Central Connecticut State University. She is currently working on her collection of lyric/fragment essays, which center on mental illness, her family, and her husband and two autistic children. Sambitsky enjoys writing essays that explore family, family issues, and autism. Her journalism work and creative nonfiction has appeared in many publications including The Helix, Gravel Magazine, and West Hartford Magazine. She was a scholarship recipient to the 2018 Slice Literary Writers’ Conference, and her essay, “Happy Birthday (Numb)” was selected as a finalist in the nonfiction category for the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference Emerging Writers Contest. Sambitsky was also a scholarship recipient to the 2018 Murphy Writing Workshop of Stockton University. Her most recent essay, “Penny Drop,” is slated for publication in Longridge Review, in November 2018. She lives with her husband, two children, and way too many animals in a peaceful, rural, area of Connecticut.

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Project Book Shelf: Hannah Kitterman

My book shelf went through a massive downsizing after I graduated. I moved back to Clarksville to live with my parents for the summer, and most of the books that I had collected throughout my literature-based classes are still in boxes in their basement. When I got my service position with AmeriCorps, I went through those boxes in an attempt to only bring the books I could not live without which also had to fit in my car. After a good deal of soul searching, the books that made the journey with me are ones that are related to moments in my life. These are books, or plays, that I like to revisit often.

I know most of Much Ado About Nothing by heart, but I can never part with my copy because my dog tried to eat it when he was a puppy. I have my used copies of Dubliners and Ulysses, both books that I read in my last semester at UTK which held my hand as I prepared to graduate. I have a copy of Mindy Kaling’s newest book, Why Not Me,which is hysterical and something I should not read in quiet places. I have my collections of poetry by Rupi Kaur and Mary Oliver, both of which I can rely on to lead me on an emotional roller coaster.

My cookbooks were a necessity and I am a very big supporter of using baking to relieve stress, much to the pleasure of my friends and roommates. On top of my book shelf are odds and ends that I have kept up with, all which either hold some small memory like the bottle cork from my graduation party or, like my swimming goggles, are just something I use regularly. I still feel a little sad to not have my full collection of books in Knoxville with me, but I am also looking forward to the greatest luxury not having my immense catalogue of literature has forced me to get: a library card.

Hannah Kitterman is a native Tennessean currently living in Knoxville. She graduated from the University of Tennessee last May where she studied English Literature and French. During her time at UTK Hannah was a member of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band where she played the trombone and gained experience with heartbreaking losses and feverous fandom. Hannah is currently serving as a member of AmeriCorps with I Bike KNX, a nonprofit that advocates for safe bicycling habits. You can find her at various intersections in Knoxville counting the number of pedestrians and people riding bicycles or reading with a cup of coffee while on the lookout for dogs to pet. She has never met a burrito or a dog that she did not love.



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As you can see, my bookshelf isn’t so much a bookshelf as it is multiple bookshelves and stacks of unplaced new buys. As a virgo sun, I am extremely anal about having everything in alphabetical order (by authors last name, of course) to achieve the feel of a real home library. However, as a gemini moon and sagittarius rising, I can never buy just one book! Because of this, I often end up purchasing books by the tens and twenties, resulting in the stacks of books haphazardly thrown on shelves while my anxiety screams about how disorganized it is as well as how long it will take to organize.

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I love collecting odd trinkets that catch my eye for whatever reason whether they be weird, interesting, or funny. Various shelves are adorned with these trinkets such as my hungry hippo, old lost photographs, glowing alien toys, and carved wooden stump. Similarly to my fascination with odd trinkets, I have a fascination with odd books. Many books found on my shelves are those found browsing places like yard sales, GoodWill, and McKay’s. Funky books like my ombré, vapor-wave copy of Hamlet, my copy of The Practical Guide to Tarot and the Runes, and a copy of Woodburning with Style add a fun flare to my collection and opportunities to read on fun things I might not have normally picked up.


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Additionally, I have many books of sentimental value that have been passed along through my grandmother, aunts, my mother, and finally I such as my collection of Steven King novels or original copy of A Night to Remember. These books have been well taken care of for many years and you can feel the love in the pages. They mean so much to me as the first novels I ever owned – though perhaps that is slightly macabre. Similarly, I have an unfortunate obsession with Franz Kafka and own every book he has published, including a completed work of texts just to be absolutely sure i’ve missed nothing! I even own a collection of aphorisms that I carry around like the world’s worst bible.

The rest of my books are miscellaneous selections left over from English and Philosophy classes taken previously at UT. As a double major in two reading and writing intensive studies, i’ve managed to amass quite the collection of novels and academic texts, all of which I still enjoy reading to this day despite the fact that they may of been attained for a simple freshman 101 course. If you asked me to pick a favorite book from my shelves, I don’t think I could do it; I simply have too many to decide!


Nik Buhler is a queer poet from middle Tennessee who attends the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where they are a senior who studies English Literature and Philosophy. When they are not at home chainsmoking, drinking beer, and playing with their adorable cats, Buhler can be found in coffee shops and libraries craving fries, furiously typing out papers due the next day, and screaming about the existentialist movements influence on modern literature.

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Project Bookshelf: Grace Prial

Admittedly, this project felt at first to me like one of the most intimate get-to-know-yous I’ve ever experienced. Nonetheless, after some hedging about it, I decided to be transparent, rather than shy away or curate something––if I’m feeling shy about it, it’s because it’s probably also one of the most effective get-to-know-yous I’ve ever experienced. I love my bookshelf. More than just the stories on the pages, it’s got the fabric of my life folded into it.

It goes something like this: 1) whatever I consider “classics,” from ancients to romantics to modernists, 2) prized possessions, 3) coursework books and contemporary lit, 4) history and political theory, and 5) art, poetry and anthologies, plus a small pile I’ve been looking at recently and can’t fit back on the shelves. Really, I could, if I took down shelf 2’s corner for photographs, art made by people I love, and treasure boxes, but that would be impossible. I need to be able to see those as much as I do my copy of Decantations, an essay collection by my paternal grandfather, my first edition copy of Timebends, Arthur Miller’s autobiography gifted to me by a college professor, the weightless yet 1,164-page complete works of Shakespeare, printed on onion paper and used by both my father and me through our respective English degrees, my high-school copy of Lolita, read so many times now it’s held together by a rubber band, a Spanish workbook from 1935 gifted to me by my maternal grandmother called El Patio de los Naranjos… And others. This prized collection is held up by a makeshift bookend: two pieces of metal unevenly welded together by my younger brother when he was still learning.

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I have no doubt that a complete investigation into this bookshelf may very well reveal everything there is to know about me. I’ve listed some of the more precious items by way of introduction, but truly every title on these shelves points to a moment in my life when I learned something profound, when my worldview changed or expanded, when I was challenged, comforted, incited, or inspired. These shelves are my journey up to this point, they reflect what I know, how I think, what I love. Now, that said, it’s time to add more.


Grace Prial is a graduate of Rutgers University–Newark with a BA in English. She lives in New Jersey and is passionate about her studies on the reflection of political movements in literature.


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