Shelfie: Christina Collins Shares Her Bookshelf

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Poet Christina Collins talks about the 10 books she took with her on her cross-country move.

I moved to Minneapolis from Seattle over two years ago, bringing with me two suitcases and one carry-on containing, among things like clothes and a towel and a toothbrush, the ten most important books I owned. I left my remaining seventeen packing boxes of books scattered in various spare bedrooms and garages across the Pacific Northwest, in the care of people who promised to ship them to me, but who, as of press time, still believe I’ll come back to them and thus have not. I knew this might be the case, so, when I was packing to move, I selected very carefully the volumes I’d bring with me. They’re all here in this picture (along with some of the books I’ve acquired since I arrived), and here’s what they are, and why I chose them:

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1. Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
The first literary genre I truly loved on my own was science fiction, so it may be safe to say that the first literary author I truly loved on my own was Ray Bradbury. I first read The Martian Chronicles when I was ten or eleven, and clearly recall fully understanding for the first time what short story meant to me, which is a standard I’ve kept, consciously or unconsciously, to this day. Also, that one about the astronauts talking to each other on their radios, drifting away from each other into the infinite absence of space after their rocket explodes? That story is four pages long, and I haven’t been able to get all the way through it in twenty years. Just thinking about it makes me cry. That’s how it’s done.

2. Evan S. Connell, Points for a Compass Rose
I wrote my graduate thesis on this book — specifically, the hybridization of literary forms it contains — and for that reason it, and the letter I got from Evan Connell offering his thanks and appreciation for writing the paper, will go with me everywhere, even if it’s the infinite absence of space. The book is incredibly challenging to read, and not without its faults, but as historical nonfiction novels in verse go, you’re not gonna do much better.

3. Lewis Turco, The Book of Forms
Do you have a copy of The Book of Forms? No? You should probably get one.

4. Anne Carson, If Not, Winter
Sappho, oh, Sappho. Oh, how I love Sappho. I don’t know why. It’s impossible to explain. How does a single word resonate so deeply? How can you read “goatherd” and feel so hot and cold all over? I’m not totally sure, but I am totally sure that Carson’s translation is definitive — both as a work of translation and as a work of contemporary, ancient poetry.

5. Willis Barnstone, Sweetbitter Love
Gotta be able to cross-reference. Barnstone’s Sappho translations are a little more overtly academic, but having both Carson’s lyricism and Barnstone’s precision is such a marvelous way to find even more nuanced ways to read “goatherd.” Plus: I saw Mr. Barnstone speak once, and he referred to Sappho as “my favorite Lesbian person,” and for some reason, it was the most endearing thing I’d ever heard.

6. Virginia Woolf, Orlando
This isn’t my favorite Woolf by a long shot (oh, hey, The Waves), but it’s the most aspirational book I’ve ever read, and not even due to the content (though the scenes on the frozen river with the Russian princess are among my favorite places to mentally vacation). I carry Orlando, as opposed to others, because Nigel Nicolson, son of Vita Sackville-West (whom Woolf wrote this book to and for) called it “the longest and most charming love letter in literature,” and look, I want that. I want to write that for someone someday. I want that to be written for me someday. So I carry Orlando, because it’s a lovely book, and because it’s a lovely goal.

7. Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
Likewise, not my favorite Atwood, but this was the last book I bought before leaving Seattle, and I read it on the plane and during my first few lonely days in Minneapolis. So it’s a sentimental pick, and ain’t nothing wrong with that.

8. Gertrude Stein, Three Lives
Stein is one of my stylistic touchstones, and while her writing stymies me as often as it delights me (often at the same time), there’s just something so nice about being in the company of a brain so alien sometimes, especially when just being in the world feels alien enough. This is one of her most accessible works for me, which lends itself to rereading — and The Good Anna is easily in my top five character studies ever.

9. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
This book (this copy!) was given to me by my super-hot Spanish teacher when I was in the tenth grade; fortunately, she also had good taste. It’s on my “read once a year” list, and the last line is one of three or four I’ve committed to memory.

10. Evan S. Connell, Mrs. Bridge
My favorite Connell, hands-down. I’ve read most of his work (I find it deeply frustrating that he’s so relatively unknown), and this is one of the saddest, loveliest, most brutal, and most compassionate books I can name. Formally daring, especially for 1959 (written as a series of 117 short-shorts, like a number of his books), and absolutely heartbreaking.

(Notes on some of the rest of them: I now own at least three copies of Ulysses; I bought Winter’s Tale because I needed to prop up a wobbly table; the George R. R. Martin books are like having major surgery — you go in, and then a few hours later you come out, groggy, slightly confused, certain that something has happened but probably not able to explain any of it with any clarity and, being currently laid up for three months after fracturing my spine, exactly the sort of thing I want to read. Beckett is Beckett is Beckett, and as for the rest: if you can read the titles, you should read the books.)

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CHRISTINA COLLINS is a writer, editor, and visual artist currently living in Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in Vinyl Poetry, burntdistrict, Noble/Gas Quarterly, and Mixtape Methodology, among others. Her book, Conspiracy of Beauty, was published by Gertrude Press in 2015. She is a founding editor of Lockjaw Magazine and tweets at @xtinarc.

Originally published on The Spark on 8/15/15.

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