Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Kris Dinnison’s Library: The Married Shelves of Bibliophiles


Reader:  Kris Dinnison
Location:  Mid-Century Modern house in Spokane, Washington
Collection size:  No idea. Oodles.
The one book I'd run back into a burning building to rescue:  An oversized edition of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Gustave Dore.
Favorite book from childhood:  Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.
Guilty pleasure book:  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I know it’s a classic, but the guilty pleasure part is how many times I’ve read it. It’s embarrassing the number of times I go back to this story.

Before my husband, Andy, and I were married, we both worked at bookstores, so each of us already had a fair number of books when we combined households. After twenty-four years together, we have almost fully merged our book collections. There’s one shelf in the house that’s just mine, and a few that are just his, but mostly they co-exist.


Our tastes overlap in many places, but our philosophies about which books to hold on to are fairly different. Andy is a true bibliophile, who loves the object both for its connection to his life and for the idea of it as an object. For a select few authors he’s a collector who pays attention to things like signed editions and damaged dust jackets, but most of the books that come into our house through him he just wants on the shelf for reasons of his own.

I tend to only hold onto books that I have an emotional connection with. If a story was important to me as a kid, or it changed my world-view in some way, or a valued friend gave it to me as a gift, I will keep it. But many of the books I read pass through my hands and on to someone else. Once I’ve read them I don’t necessarily need to own them.

That said, there are a few writers whose books I will always want on my shelf: Isabelle Allende, Jess Walter, Pete Fromm, E. M. Forster, Jane Austen, J. D. Salinger, and Kelly Link. With these authors and a few others, I’m more like my husband: I want to carry both the story and the object with me through my life. The bulk of these books, plus quite a few other authors Andy feels similarly about, live on a large bookshelf that holds primarily hardback literary fiction.


Of course after so many years reading together, the books that should probably live on that shelf have outgrown the space available, so there are more places hardback literary fiction lives, but this shelf is the cream of our bookish crop.

Another place Andy and I have both cultivated interest as well as a habit of acquisition is in the area of children’s books. I worked at a children’s bookstore right out of college, so much of my limited disposable income went toward irresistible picture books or gripping middle grade novels. Andy also had an affinity for these books, often collecting particular illustrators or authors that appealed to the ten year-old boy who lives inside him. And we are both drawn to kids’ books that have an edge, things that are creepy, weird, or slightly (and especially unintentionally) scary get extra points.


About three years ago we moved from a 1908 foursquare into a mid-century modern house that we love. However, as much as we loved the clean lines and simplicity of the modern look, there was a certain aesthetic, especially around our books and the furniture that held them, that we weren’t quite ready to give up. So for the first time in our married life, we created an actual library, dedicating an entire room to books. Now to be clear, we still have books and bookshelves throughout the house as we always have, but most of the books we own reside in the library now. This is a room we use for drinking bourbon and reading on a fall evening, or sitting late at night talking with a couple of good friends. It feels completely different from the rest of our house, which makes it a wonderful surprise for people seeing it for the first time.

There is one shelf in the house that is solely mine. It’s in my office where I do most of my writing, and it holds a rotating mélange of books. Some of them are books on writing, some are reference books, and some are books I’m using for research for a current or pending writing project. Because I write Young Adult books, a few volumes on that shelf are YA writers who’ve inspired me, including David Levithan, Chris Crutcher, Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Rainbow Rowell, and Maggie Stiefvater. I keep them there as a visual reminder of what I aspire to, of the kinds of powerful stories I hope to tell and the thoughtful, well-crafted writing I want to use to tell them.

The final shelf I want to mention is a built-in wall of shelves in our bedroom. This shelf has become our “to-read” pile, except in our case it’s an entire wall of books. I know this is crazy, but it’s also a wonderful reminder of all the amazing stories I have to look forward to if only I will put down the computer or phone or remote control. To the left-ish are the books I’ve got on deck, to the right-ish are the ones Andy’s looking forward to. But books move from side to side as we finish or share or say “You’ve got to read this one.” It’s the last thing I see before I go to sleep, and the first thing I see when I wake up. I can’t imagine a more beautiful way to decorate my house or my life.



Kris Dinnison spent nearly two decades as a teacher and librarian, while dreaming of becoming a writer. She lives in Spokane, Washington, with her husband and two cats named Raymond and Moon Pie. Her first novel, You and Me and Him, was released in July 2015 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Click here to visit her website.

My Library is an intimate look at personal book collections.  Readers are encouraged to send high-resolution photos 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 thequiveringpen@gmail.com for more information.


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