Holly Lyn Walrath talks blackpowder revolvers, vintage books, and the pleasure of discovery.
This morning I turned to my spouse and said, for what seems like the hundredth time, “I think we need another bookshelf.” We just bought our first house, a little place around the corner from Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and I’m already eying the IKEA catalog. In our current two-bedroom apartment, having four book cases seems a little ridiculous — there are three in the living room and there is one big one in my office. Books are crammed into every little piece of space, stacked willy-nilly on top of each other, mixed in with DVDs, wedding albums, school notes, and photographs.
I guess if I could point out one feature of my bookshelves, it’d be the sheer variety of genres and authors. I tend to read pretty wildly across genres and like the hodge-podge of my life, the books I keep in print tend to range from classics, to nonfiction, to poetry, to novels. I used to keep my books organized by subject, but over the years they kind of, well, merged. The objects on my shelves have been acquired and placed just as randomly. Yes, I am a Texas girl, and that is a gun on my shelf. No, it’s not loaded (Google how to load a blackpowder revolver). I’ve got at least four film cameras, gifts from friends, and an artist’s mannequin from when I used to draw.
The books that have truly influenced me don’t really have definable characteristics. There are a lot of women writers on my shelves and many illustrated versions of books, too. There are a great deal of children’s books, a good number of poetry books, and a solid stock of classics. Books are like friends, you keep the old and mix them with the new. I’m trying to expand my reading these days and read outside the box that my English-major background made for me. There are a lot more international voices, translations, and spoken word poets on my shelf these days.
There are some books that are so special to me that I could never let them go. That copy of The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King? The insides are literally falling out. I recently had to purchase a new copy of Tamora Pierce’s Lioness series because my old copy was so tattered and sad. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a book collector. If I see vintage versions of books like Pierce’s, I can’t stop myself from buying them. My copy of Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet was purchased in a little bookshop in Portugal. The set of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights is fully illustrated with wood block prints. And I keep a copy of every book I’ve ever edited or had a piece published in, like those copies of Analecta — the student journal at the University of Texas at Austin where I had my first poem published and worked in my first-ever editorial job.
The making of a good bookshelf is a subtle art. In the end, books are an expression of what makes us human. I’m trying to embrace my messy bookshelves and focus on what makes me happy — discovery. When you mix everything up, including books, what gets juxtaposed will often surprise you.
Now I get to add my own slim volume of poetry to the mix. Glimmerglass Girl is about 10 years coming, but all the work has been worth it just to see it sitting next to all the other books I’ve loved.