Lover Man and I finally bought two bookshelves for our place (yea, end of year bonus!), and, at long last, I was able to unpack and reorganize my books. When I put the final book on my favorites shelf (that would be “No Place For Me” by Barthe DeClements), I was choking back tears. It was just overwhelming, seeing the literature that shaped me as a writer, as a human being, all together. I mean, Baudelaire and Bunnicula on the same shelf? In my mind, they are equally important, and so yes, together they shall go.
But maybe we should start from the ground up….
My bottom shelf was the perfect size for all of my research/scholarly type books. I picked up a lot of these at library sales and half.com. I love finding old books and random anthologies. The Vampire Encyclopedia was given to me by one of my best friends in high school who passed away a couple of years ago. She wanted me to publish a novel and gave it to me for research and inspiration. One of my staunchest supporters, even when I was at my most insecure. There are also some more horror novels: The Haunting by Shirley Jackson, World War Z, The Amityville Horror, etc.
Next up: Young Adult Wonderland!
Fuck Yeah, Sweet Valley!
So, My YA collection requires two full shelves, and that’s not counting the YA stuff I put on the favorites shelf. YA lit is a mixed bag right now, but that’s true of any genre. I love YA lit when it is done right. And before you say anything about my beloved Sweet Valley: those books are brilliant trash. I’ve had some of those since I was 10 years old. I’m actually missing a few, which makes me sad. I adore seeing how beat up they are, especially the sagas. Okay, so they kind of fucked with my expectations of high school, but Saved By The Bell didn’t exactly help in this area, either. Growing up, I always thought I was the perfect mix of Elizabeth and Jessica. I also loved that Jessica was the bad girl. Made me feel better about having like, THE MOST COMMON NAME EVER. I was such a goody two-shoes, but I had an inner hellion that clawed its way out during college. I did that devious Wakefield proud.
Christopher Pike. Dude. His work blew my mind. I loved his female characters. They were all so ballsy and flawed and real. He was a master of science fiction and horror, and I loved his takes on religion and high school.
In terms of modern YA, there is some quality work out there. A few of these are to-reads, and I’m currently reading Sunshine. This book gives me hope. Smart female protagonist, ace world-building, fresh rendering of vampire myths. I’m hooked and hope it gets even better. In other news, Return to Oz is the shit. I loved the movie so much more than The Wizard of Oz as a kid, and the same goes for the book. And no library is complete without Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Talk about a fucking genius. I also have some John Green and Libba Bray on this shelf.
So, where are all the “grown up” books?
Who says Harry Potter isn’t adult fiction? But anyway. Behind these books are the books which I’ve read and needed to retire for a bit. A lot of the books on this shelf are “to-read,” so putting them up front was a pretty obvious choice. A good mix of classic lit and modern literary fiction. I’m excited to read these and wrap myself in beautiful prose and plot twists. Perhaps I’ll review a few. Obviously, Good Omens is a perennial fave, I just thought it looked nice and snug tucked in with faerie lore and modern lit. Then there’s Maggie O’Farrell’s “After You’d Gone.” Lawd. I clung to this book for dear life during the darkest time in my life. I felt like someone understood my pain, that we could cry and rage and grieve together, even though Alice wasn’t real. To me, she was very real and understood what I was in too much pain to express. I thought about putting that book on the top shelf, but I rather like it next to O’Farrell’s latest, which I shall be reading soon. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn is up there as well, and I really want to read it already!
I think the thread the runs throughout all of these books is the yearning to survive, finding the magic in even the most horrific circumstances. It’s a shame you can’t see some of the books on the shelf, such as House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, Drown by Junot Diaz, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (both the Signet Classic and Illustrated editions), etc. I love how fucking weird all of these books are, from Davey Wexler climbing the rocks to escape the pain of her father’s death to Shari Cooper solving the mystery of her own murder. Baudelaire’s filthy, depraved Paris. Block’s sparkling, sumptuous Los Angeles and other worlds. DeLint’s magical Newford. Shakespeare’s forests and Austen’s elegant England. Houses the grow from the inside and out and little girls that drown in their own tears. Can you tell that I’ve read Catcher in the Rye about a billion times? That copy is the one I bought way back in 1994 when it was assigned for freshman English. I got that copy of Pride and Prejudice from my high school library not long after I graduated, when the school was set to close for good. It’s the best thing I received from that school. These are all the books I revisit on a regular basis, books that make me cry and dream and feel no matter how many times I read them. My copy of Dangerous Angels is falling apart. I found 3 of the 5 individual volumes at a library sale for ten cents each! I love Echo so much. That book saved my life. It was while I was curating this shelf that I noticed that I don’t own Primavera, the follow up to Ecstasia. Apparently, I had taken it out of the library. Why, oh why, don’t I own it? It’s one of my favorites! I must get on that.
Oh, and is that a signed, first edition Stephen-King-writing-as-Richard-Bachman perched atop the mighty shelves?
Why, yes. Yes it is. Worth every second of camping out overnight outside the Union Square Barnes & Noble.
Also, the jaunty little cat guarding King’s autograph was given to me by a writer family whose child I taught one year. I thought it was so cool that they didn’t get me an Eiffel Tower or something like that. It was so random and quirky and feels right to have my little literary kitty watching over my collection. I have some other autographed books in the collection, and I considered posting them here, but…they feel personal. The Stephen King one does, too, but I think I’ve gotten used to telling the story of how I met King, and what a force he is in person, that it felt okay to share.
Writers are my rock stars. There is an energy at book signings that is hard to duplicate. To hear the author’s words from their own mouths, to get a peek into their process, to shyly proclaim my longing to be a writer and actually have support, no matter how brief…these are the things that excite me. To hear them say that they were once like me, struggling and lost and building these worlds with words out of this burning need to create, to tell stories, to make sense out of even the smallest curiosities, keeps me going. Even when I’ve wanted to do other things, like be a fashion designer, I looked to literature and writing to help me survive the dark, sleepless nights, the hellish days, the disappointments and mediocrity. What a thrill it is to be able to say, “Thank you” to all of the writers who helped me survive. I haven’t been to a reading/signing in a long time. That really needs to change.
What’s better than getting your favorite author’s autograph? How about, say, having that author choose your story for her anthology? Yeah, all these months later, I still get emotional when I think about it. Thank you, Francesca Lia Block. Thank you. Also: buy it!
When I had my own moment to read my words out loud and explain my own process a bit, it felt so surreal and scary, but so right. For a moment, I was like the authors whose autographs live inside these shelves. It’s an addictive feeling; I’m itching to do it again, even though I know I will be sick with worry and stressed out beyond belief. And okay, even though Love Magick, the anthology with my story is an e-book, I will totally print out the title page and sign it for you. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a book with my name on it, and ivory sheets with bold black type telling my story. Someday.
Sometimes, it’s hard to talk about my writing. I brought up the anthology the other day, just for the hell of it, at dinner with some coworkers, and I got a whole lot of blank stares, so I changed the subject. I’ve also gotten a lot of positive responses from other people in my life, so I guess it’s all about taking a risk. No one’s going to read my work if they don’t know it exists!
In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and gazing lovingly at my collection, pondering what to read next, what fits my mood and, most importantly, what books I’m going to buy to join my lovelies.
Back to work!