Location: Celo, North Carolina
Collection size: Whatever can fit into 17 boxes
The one book I'd run back into a burning house to rescue: The Hermit's Story by Rick Bass and Wilderness by Rockwell Kent (okay, two books)
Favorite book from childhood: Morris' Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells
Guilty pleasure book: Not a book, but still requires being "read"--USGS topographical maps of national parks I'd like to visit
In 2009, I stored 17 boxes of books in my parents’ attic along with my banjo and guitar, fit everything else I owned into my Volvo, and hit the road. I spent 31 out of the next 36 months hopping between writing residencies, friends’ couches, and the backcountry—making occasional appearances in the classroom or at the podium. When it was all said and done, I’d crossed the Rockies four times, earned membership in the Volvo High Mileage Club (200,000+) for my ’89 wagon, and found a publisher for my first book, Flashes of War.
I’d also purchased my first “home”—a 31-foot 1970 Airstream Sovereign. I found it for the shockingly low price of $2700 and had it towed to my parents’ five acres bordering the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. She was a fixer-upper, for certain, but she didn’t reek of cat piss or smoke and even came with a book left behind by a previous owner, The Gunsmith by Henry J. Kauffman (1959, Century House). The subtitle offers a glimpse into its contents: “Being a Treatise on the art of the Gunsmith in America in the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth century, together with a description of his tools and his Establishments.”
I’ve lived in the Airstream for one year. More than any other challenge trailer living provides, organizing my library pains me the most. In lieu of an extra bed, I had a few bookshelves installed. Like everything in an Airstream, the space doubles as something else—in this case, where I practice meditation. But what matters here are the books. The far left holds field guides, poetry, Buddhist texts, and back issues of Oxford American and Creative Nonfiction. Working from left to right, the top main shelf holds Unread Nonfiction all the way over to Jack Driscoll’s How Like an Angel (just below the little green army men who are protecting the flower vase from an ambush), wherein begins the collection of Books Signed by Authors I Know and Love. These include Claire Davis, Pete Fromm, Judy Blunt, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Benjamin Busch, Molly Gloss, Doug Stanton, and Jaimy Gordon. The lower main shelf continues Unread Nonfiction, then switches to Unread Fiction at The Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig, through the end of the row.
Several things are out of place: oversized books cluster in the upper left corner of the shelf, and empty space is reserved on the lower right for new purchases. Books that fit into the Cannot Live Without category, rest where they may on the shelves: Hemingway’s The Nick Adams Stories and anything by Steve Almond, Junot Diaz, Aimee Bender, Ursula Hegi, or Thom Jones. (Dear Thom: Are you still out there? The world needs more of you. Please. I’ll box you for another story, even though it might kill me.) There’s more to this list, of course, but I’ll leave it to Nick Hornby’s character Rob, a record store owner (played by John Cusack in High Fidelity), who says this about the comforts of sorting: “I can tell you how I got from Deep Purple to Howlin’ Wolf in just 25 moves. And…if I want to find the song ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac, I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the Fall of 1983 Pile…but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”
Here’s a morning snapshot of my Currently Reading Pile. Coffee and The New York Times before food, then: The Watch by Joydeep Roy Bhattacharya, Portlandia for laughs, Mount Mitchell & The Black Mountains by Timothy Silver for regional reference, The Book of Men poems by Dorianne Laux (how else am I going to find a man when I’m hidden here in the middle of nowhere?), and Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing because it is the best book on process (for educators) that I have ever found.
But what about those 17 boxes? Enter: the sorting system. My parents’ attic now contains about 10 boxes of books labeled: Read Fiction, Read Nonfiction, Unread Nonfiction, and Unread Fiction. Twice a year, I haul the ladder out, hoist the books up, and swap those previously Unread Books (now Read) out for different Unread Books. I hit my head against the insulation. I scrape my back on the rafters. I make agonizing decisions about which Unread Books to liberate and which to keep in confinement. Then I put the lids back on, say a silent prayer of apology to the authors I’m keeping in the dark, and head back down the ladder.
My Library is an intimate look at personal book collections. Readers are encouraged to send high-quality photos (minimum 150 dpi) of their home libraries or bookshelves, along with a description of particular shelving challenges, quirks in sorting (alphabetically? by color?), number of books in the collection, and particular titles which are in the To-Be-Read pile. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.