Location: Manhattan apartment
Collection size: 400 or 500 (and steadily growing)
The one book I'd run back into a burning building to rescue: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (I’m imagining mine is a signed first-edition)
Favorite book from childhood: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Guilty pleasure book: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I grew up in Ohio in a house crammed with books. The bookcases my dad built on every wall of the living room actually sagged from the weight. We spent weekends and vacations going to bookstores and almost never gave a book away. I loved living in such a full house. To me, books have always represented home. They’re the last things I box up when I move, the first I unpack.
For the past ten years, I’ve lived in New York City. In that time, I’ve had six different apartments. First was the room in Harlem that fit a double bed and a folding table desk; I could squeeze between the two only if the desk chair was pushed in all the way. Next, a creepy, dank room one block over, big but full of leftover furniture, none of which was useful, none of which I was permitted to throw out. That was followed by a windowless bedroom in Bushwick, another closet-sized room in Bed-Stuy. You get the picture. By necessity, I had to get strict with my book addiction, an effort aided by my limited funds. The Brooklyn Public Library became my library. Only the most beloved titles were boxed up and taken from one apartment to the next, and even then, I had to periodically cull the stacks on my floor.
But now, finally, I have some room to expand. After spending three years in a 500-square-foot place on the Upper West Side, my husband and I moved into a two-bedroom last summer. And our library is spreading out.
In the living room we have three large bookcases and one small bookcase leftover from our last apartment. One of the large bookcases belongs to me, one to my husband, and one’s communal, with the small bookcase for spillover. The designations are rough. For example, Russell Banks lives on my husband’s bookcase even though he’s one of my favorite authors. My husband likes him, too, but his list of favorites is shorter than mine, so I’m willing to give him Banks. When we first moved in, we put books together by author and genre. I’ve never been so organized as to alphabetize, but I have a lot of respect for those who do. Over time, our order has loosened. Sometimes that bothers me and I’ll go on a grouping frenzy. Most of the time, though, I’m OK with the encroaching chaos.
After years of necessary deprivation, I’m pleased by how our library is growing. We have a long way to go before the sagging shelves of my childhood, but for our first semi-permanent feeling NYC apartment, we’re doing a pretty good job of creating a space that feels settled and rooted, like home.
Courtney Elizabeth Mauk is the author of two novels, Orion’s Daughters (Engine Books, 2014) and Spark (Engine Books, 2012). Her essays and stories have appeared in The Literary Review, PANK, Wigleaf, and Five Chapters, among others. She lives in New York City and teaches at the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. Click here to visit her website.
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