Shelfie: Adrienne Celt Shares Her Bookshelf

Adrienne Celt discusses choice optics, books that smell good, and Intellectually Intimidating Women.


I went back and forth on whether I should allow myself the luxury of staging a bookshelf for this piece, or whether I should simply let it go au naturel — the more vulnerable (or honest) option. My bookshelves are a bit disorganized at present, and showing that off felt like being caught in the nude by a stranger; sure it’s real, but is it really necessary?

In the end, I decided to compromise. I’ll tell you now that I added and removed a few books from each shelf, but I will not tell you exactly which books those might be.

The shelf in my writing studio (left) is generally the best representation of my mind at any given moment, and also is the shelf most given to change. On the top of the shelf, you can see my favorite children’s novel by Michael Ende, Momo, which is appropriate for the skeptical capitalist I turned out to be as an adult, and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which I frequently reread as a form of thrilling comfort food. There are some treasured Advanced Reading Copies (like Julie Buntin’s Marlena), and my stash of zines from a recent trip to the Los Angeles Zine Fest.

On the lower shelf, I freely admit to adding a couple copies of my own books for choice optics. There’s also a first edition of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, which I bought at an antique store in Wyoming while I was there for a residency. It smells good. Tucked around them are a Muriel Spark novel (Loitering with Intent—the best one, in my opinion, because the charm of Spark’s social observations doesn’t overwhelm the plot), the French edition of the graphic novel Snowpiercer (a little bit of wishful thinking there, based on my actual French reading comprehension), and some reading relevant to my latest novel, Invitation to a Bonfire, including Vladimir Nabokov’s heartbreaking Pnin and Sarah Weinman’s excellent forthcoming true-crime / literary investigation, The Real Lolita.

And, because I’m me, there are also some creepy little tchotchkes on the shelf.

These next shelves are inside my house—the studio is a separate building; it used to be a garage—and boast both my usual organizational strategy and how messy my living space is. (Obviously, if I really cared about making myself look good, I would have peeled off the USED stickers from the books I bought for graduate school.)

I frequently shelve books by topic or emotional theme: I have a cookbook shelf, a French philosophy shelf, a poetry shelf, and then I have these shelves— which can be best described as “Intellectually Intimidating Women” shelves. Up top, there’s Flannery O’Connor, Djuna Barnes, Susan Sontag, Virginia Woolf, Sophie Calle — all of whom have had a hand in shaping my literary thinking. On the shelf below, the choices are a little more emotional, including Anne Carson’s Nox, Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy of books set in Gilead, Iowa—Gilead, Home, and Lila—and a touch of Angela Carter and Kathryn Davis. (Pay no attention to the Haruki Murakami in the corner; I’m not sure how he got on this shelf, though I do really enjoy 1Q84.) Arguably, Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism is not a purely emotional title, but then again, these days the concept of totalitarianism feels more personal every hour.

I took one more picture, and I’m embarrassed now to realize that it also has copies of both my books in it, but I will explain this away by saying that these are the copies I read from on my book tours. They’re special. The rest of the books show off the residual effects of my philosophy BA and my MFA in fiction, though the shelf on the bottom is more like a rundown of some favorites from previous years. Highlights include Alyson Hagy’s Boleto, Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang and My Life as a Fake, David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress (which is also something I acquired at a residency: Ragdale, in this case), an original paperback of Samantha Hunt’s first novel The Seas (which was recently reissued), and a few others that I will leave you to peer over until you go a little bit crosseyed, just like I am now, sitting at my computer.

ADRIENNE CELT is the author of Invitation to a Bonfire, a June 2018 Indie Next Pick; The Daughters, winner of the 2015 PEN Southwest Book Award; and a collection of comics, Apocalypse How? An Existential Bestiary. Her writing has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, Esquire, Zyzzyva, and many other places.