When I moved from my (incredibly cozy) dorm at LMU back to my nearby home at the end of this past semester, my first thought upon trying to get settled in was: wow, my room is a MESS. I hadn’t lived in it regularly for quite a few months, after all; clutter that I couldn’t be bothered to tidy up had gradually piled up during my weekend visits, along with a thin layer of dust. The state of my desk drawers and closet were despicable enough, but the mess in my room that made me cringe the most was my bookshelf. It took me a while to get around to the task, but once I had cleared away the old papers, empty binders, and barely-used sketchbooks that I had left there once upon a time, I turned to the actual books themselves. Some were new, some were older, some never read, and some…missing.
In my mind, at least, the books I’ve read are a way of tracking how I’ve evolved as a person. Having so many chunks of the metaphorical narrative, at least more recently, was a bit disconcerting. I decided to bring a few of the books I had long since stored away back out into the open air, and a few trips to the attic later, I had a newly-organized bookshelf and a trip down memory lane before my eyes.
The top shelf is now filled with nothing but manga volumes, manga magazines, and other such graphics novels, as became tradition in my middle school years once I began my ongoing love affair with Japanese media. After carefully categorizing them by genre or author (everything by my favorite manga artist CLAMP go together, for instance, regardless of genre), it became apparent that my collection is very sporadic – I only have two full series’ collected, for example – but every volume I have holds a very special memory of one kind or another. I’m very reluctant to part with even the manga that I hardly read anymore; it would almost be like giving away a part of my body. It also became obvious that my collection of American comics is…lacking, to say the least. The Star Trek: The Original Series and Captain America: Winter Soldier omnibuses are the extent of my collection.
The next section was the easiest to organize, as it’s the genre I own the most of: fantasy. This shelf contains many stories of its own: a newly-bought omnibus of The Chronicles of Narnia replacing the old falling-apart scholastic paperbacks I once owned, a mass market paperback of A Clash of Kings sitting on its own since the friend I lent A Game of Thrones to still hasn’t returned it. A more recent addition, The Mortal Instruments series, stands one book short of a full set since my pre-order of the final volume won’t ship until approximately November (and it’s driving me insane because I need to know what’s going to happen to Alec and Magnus!). The Lord of the Rings refuses to stop staring at me, reminding me that I haven’t finished it yet; Harry Potter is no better, nearly begging me to reread it and make up for all the time we lost back in elementary school when my parents wouldn’t allow me to read it. Perhaps the most colorful and nostalgic series stands out among the rest: The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, all gorgeous hardcovers that I bought to replace the worn-through paperbacks I began reading in middle school and devoured again and again, entranced by the dreamlike places and the characters’ enduring charm and hope. I definitely want that story of a boy and his dragon to last, if no others do.
The next shelf down is full of stories I’ve relived many of times, stories that haven’t finished, and stories that haven’t even started. This is my “miscellaneous” collection of books separated into genres that I don’t have enough of to warrant their own shelf: science fiction, historical and realistic fiction, drama, mythology, you get the picture. The most prominent feature is my extensive collection of The Babysitters’ Club series, which had been hiding in my attic for most of my high school years; I was scarcely without one of those battered 80s-era paperbacks during middle school (perhaps it was these books that gave me my in-school reputation of being an incurable bookworm, a role I eagerly embraced). Three novels of a six-part series of teenage spy books sits waiting to be finished, along with scarcely opened copies of Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and Le Morte d’Arthur that we had meant to read in my senior English class but never had the time to get through completely. What I like to call my “social justice” fiction books are grouped together: the children-fighting-to-the-death epics Battle Royale and The Hunger Games trilogy, and the massive Les Misérables, put together because they all made me realize just how much I empathize with revolutionary idealists who fight for social freedom and equality.
On the bottom shelf, beside a few nonfiction books on writing, an omnibus of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and my collection of books on alternative spirituality, sits the final series I fished from my attic: The Twilight Saga. While it’s unlikely I’ll actually go back and reread them anytime soon, this early high school obsession serves as a wonderful reminder of how far I’ve come in my literary pursuits.
What we add to our bookshelves – and what we choose to leave off of them – can be a wonderful and interesting monument to our interests, growth, and ongoing self-discovery. What are the books that stand out most in your collection? Is there any special meaning to how you arrange them? Are there any that you go back to over and over, any that you scarcely touch or that you’ve been meaning to dive into? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!