Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Eclectic Shelf: Eric Rickstad’s Library

Reader:  Eric Rickstad
Location:  Vermont
Collection size:  No idea, a lot. Books everywhere.
The one book I’d back into a burning building to rescue:  My 1992 Best American Short Stories
Favorite book from childhood:  Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
My guilty pleasure:  Best American Short Stories Collection

OK, I don’t really have a library. Not in the sense that I think of a library, that vast room with shelves from floor to ceiling, a place worthy of Colonel Mustard and his pipe wrench. But I do have a lot of bookshelves and cabinets.

This is what’s left of what was my Best American Short Stories and O’Henry Awards collection from 1974-2005. I lost so many editions to severe water damage, it kills me. I first read BASS in the early ’90s when in college. These stories opened up my mind to what was possible with words, precise language, and love of craft. Each was a gem that excited me to read more ravenously than ever, and a challenge to write my best. Joyce Carol Oates. Alice Munro. John Edgar Wideman. Harlan Ellison. Alice Adams. Rick Bass. Denis Johnson. And on and on and on. Who were these word conjurers of tales so strange and wondrous and singular? I devoured the stories, and I bought each subsequent edition in the years to come, along with the O’Henry collections. After reading the first copy I ever bought in 1992, I searched for past editions and bought them whenever I was in a used bookshop. Searching for and finding them was a feverish, earnest pursuit. Of course, they led me to the literary magazine world, and I gobbled up every copy of Cimarron Review, Tri-Quarterly, Boulevard, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, and dozens of others in the periodicals section of the University of Vermont’s Bailey Howe Library. There was no going back. The door was flung wide open.

When several boxes of my editions got ruined by water damage during a move, I felt gut punched. I could recall each story in my mind and where I was when I read it the first of many, many times, what it made me feel and think, and how it made me want to write. I remember I started Kate Braverman’s “Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta” on the front porch of my college apartment and had to finish it inside when a downpour struck out of the blue. I read Denis Johnson’s “Emergency” while waiting for my clothes to wash at the Laundromat. And I re-read it and re-read it and re-read it. What. Was. This? Magic.

When I lost all those editions in the mid 2000s, I could have easily searched for and bought online all the used editions I wanted, with a few clicks. I could have owned them all again, and more. I still could. But, no. It wouldn’t be the same, it wouldn’t be them: found in the back labyrinth of stacks in ancient used bookstores, dog-eared and tattered and stained, sentences and words and entire pages underlined during those moments of revelation upon my first read of them. So, I salvaged those books I could from the water damage. Luckily, among the books that were salvageable included the first one I bought in 1992. They occupy the top shelf where they belong, and once in a while I’ll take them down and be transported, not just back into the world of the stories, but to the time I first read that story. I don’t keep them in any order—as you can see, one is upside down. I read them, and I still take notes in them. They are there to be read.

I try to arrange books by author’s last name, alphabetically. It’s hopeless. As I buy more books, it would mean having to get rid of older books to accommodate new books, and I buy new books by the dozens. I gave up on shelves for a spell, and the new books just pile up. This shelf demonstrates an attempt at order, and the eclectic array on any given shelf. New books. Used books. Hardcovers and paperbacks. Fiction and nonfiction. Genre novels by John Sandford, Don Winslow and Nic Pizzolatto live among Carson Stroud, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and Mia Siegert. Strewn among them are the nonfiction work On Fire by the late Larry Brown, Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin, Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass, and Under the Stars by Dan White, a history of camping in the U.S. Near one of Stephen King’s newer annual tomes and Donna Tartt’s latest addition in a decade, sit The Stories of Breece Pancake, a Wild Game Cookbook from the ’80s, and a favorite book of essays and photographs, with a foreword by the late Howard Frank Mosher, Deer Camp: Last Light in the Northeast Kingdom. Each shelf is its own mini collection of writers.

Sometimes, even in alphabetical order, a shelf will represent just a few authors in a specific genre, like this one, which is Hakan Nesser-centric, and mostly mystery/crime genre.

Other times, certain kings of the book world get their own shelf, or shelves.

There are shelves with just cookbooks, and just children’s books, rock n’ roll biographies, essays, philosophy, Judaism, hunting and fishing, and art. I keep building or buying shelves and giving away books I love to others, so they can enjoy them. I stack them at the bedside table, and the floor, and on the stairs, and I box them up and put boxes in the closet. I think I may well need a library.

Eric Rickstad is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of The Canaan Crime Series: Lie in Wait, The Silent Girls, and his newest novel, The Names of Dead Girls. Dark, disturbing and compulsively readable psychological thrillers set in northern Vermont, the series is heralded as intelligent, profound, heartbreaking and mind shattering. His first novel Reap was a New York Times noteworthy novel. His fifth novel, What Remains of Her, is poised to be the most addictive and creepy read of the summer of 2018. Rickstad lives in his home state of Vermont.

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 for more information.

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