Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Books Make the Best Friends

A few days ago, I completed the arduous task of packing up my apartment and saying goodbye to the sweet spot I called home for the duration of my three year MFA program. Luckily for me, I've got a kind mother with some storage space so I had a safe place to bring my belongings. It took several trips (and there might still be some of my furniture sitting in front of my house waiting for pick-up), but I got the job done (with lots of help!).

Sadly, the first thing to go were my books. For some reason, I thought this would be the easiest place to start. 

Three years ago, I came to Tampa with a handful of books: Isabelle Allende’s House of Spirits, my favorite collection of James Joyce short stories, the essential Writing Down the Bones, and a few other favorites -- perhaps one shelf worth of books. But about halfway through my time in grad school, I had to run to the store and buy an enormous bookshelf to house my growing collection. Now, many books later, as I pulled dozens of books off the shelves, I relived the memory of acquiring and reading each one. 

Photo Credit

Some of these books were assigned reading for class, and their pages are decorated with multi-colored post-it notes and scribbles in the margins. I loved the discussions we had in class, even when I didn't love the book. With the help of my brilliant professors and classmates, we discussed the writers' choices and their storytelling strategies. In doing so, we were able to learn from their prowess and hopefully soak up some of their genius: Marion Winik’s Glen Rock Book of the Dead, Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, the life-changing Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams - to name just a few.

Other books were collected from conferences and various readings I've attended over the last few years - books of poetry, literary journalism, lyric essays, you name it. These books are in better condition than my school books, and many of them are inscribed with the author's personalized message and signature on the inside cover! I'm grateful to have shared a few words with the force of nature that is Amy Nezhukumatathil, Pulitzer prize winning Gilbert King, Joy freaking Harjo, and the sweet and fiercely tenacious poet, Naomi Shihab Nye. These are the books I can connect to the thrilling feeling of listening to a brilliant writer read and talk about their work in the flesh, and the nervous butterflies that flittered about as I waited in line to have my book signed. 

Lastly, a smattering of books were gifts from classmates and professors, hand-me-downs that were deemed right up my alley or brand spanking new books that they thought I had to have. These, too, I will keep close, because they come from fellow writers who I trust and love!

I had no idea how alone I would feel with empty bookshelves, because I underestimated the companionship that I find in my literary loves. I try my best to travel light, and I doubt that I will be able to bring them all with me on my next journey (a teaching gig in Cartagena, Colombia!) but it has been a glorious privilege to live in a house surrounded by these inspiring, curious, and courageous friends! For now, we must part, but I know that they are safe and that we will meet again someday! The lessons I learned from these stories will stay with me even when the books are far, far away.

My beloved Rumi was an avid book lover, too!