BACK STORY: I had to write this for my English class this semester and I am genuinely proud of it, so here it is!
I have been living my life incompletely ever since I moved away from home; no, it is not because I am out on my own. It is because there is a lack of bookshelves where I live, which is a first in my life. Growing up around skyscraper shelves lined with books that I did not even know existed was a great appreciation I learned to have; my family was a line of avid readers and happily, I followed suit. Barnes and Noble became my second home while my own personal bookshelf began to fill up with YA novels, journals, and textbooks I knew I would never really need. Books and literature for me were the equivalent to having an obnoxious amount of stuffed animals you kissed every day before you departed for school. I was very attached to every book I had in my possession; truthfully I was even attached to those I lusted after in the bookstore and even the ones I knew the love between that book and my bookshelf would cease to exist. I showed off my bookshelf and my love for literature for as long as I could remember, and then suddenly I did not. I woke up one morning this semester and realized the closest thing to a bookshelf I had in my room was the small stack of textbooks stuffed in my backpack. After crying and noticing the space in my heart, I began to think about what the first books I would showcase on my next bookshelf would be: Edgar Allen Poe’s complete collection book, all of those YA novels with worn spines, or a classic like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I realized there must be a reason why I have neglected creating a bookshelf and that is because my love for literature has changed, the way I interpret texts as well as what texts to interpret willingly. Researching not the books, but myself, I have discovered a few things emotionally and psychologically about my reading habits and thoughts; which has now altered my dream bookshelf, and it looks a lot more colorful than what I ever could have imagined.
When I hit my adolescence stage, I automatically rushed to the Teens and Young Adult section of any bookstore because I was too good for the Kids’ section now. I wanted thick books with small text, and no pictures at all; I had already begun to limit myself so much, and with that carried a lack of creative acceptance of certain literature. I hated the idea of comic books, I always questioned why they were sometimes in bookstores because I thought they were not books at all. My ignorance followed me well into this semester, and it was attached to me until I read Kathy MacLeod’s Jerry’s Artarama. I loved every corner of that piece, and it made me realize that I loved it so much because it had pictures that correlated with the story; it looked like doodles, and it was very informal, and I loved it. This visual support is vital in some texts because it offers a specific idea to go along with the words. For example, the black raven from Poe’s The Raven may have no need to be in the text because it is obvious that it is a raven, however if you put the art store from Jerry’s Artarama as a visual with the text, that is important because it helps the reader get a better idea of what it is supposed to look like. I had so much respect for MacLeod because it was an imperfect piece, but that made it enjoyable and I felt a little bit like a kid again, perusing through the pictures like I was at an art gallery. When reading this line, “it was like we were stepping away from our regular lives, (55)” I felt like I too was stepping away from my literacy rut and stepping into a new wonderland that had been on the other side of the bookstore for years, I just always neglected it. Now, I realize that growing up does not mean moving on to boring books and pieces of literature that are older than time itself, but to develop a mature sense of connection with literature, even if it is with picture books. Picture books add a different type of love to and for literature, and will definitely hold many spots on my bookshelf.
I discovered my (at the time) undying love for classic poetry in middle school while reading Shakespeare. After that, I defended these classic poets and refused for them to be unlikable by my friends as well as myself; it was a forced relationship, which ended up not being healthy. Any time a teacher named a classic poet, my heart melted and I swooned over the thought of the old English language and the complexity of figuring out what they actually meant, because none of it was ever curt. I bought poem books and placed them on my bookshelf, but never opened them. I now realize I was just a poet poser, I could not carry on a conversation about Dickinson’s “A Narrow Fellow” and still be swooning. I forced a love that was fake, and it eventually surfaced after reading “A Narrow Fellow” and not being about to be positive about it; I hate it.
Dickinson would still be an amazing poet even if she never wrote about a snake. If a poet truly writes about an object and out of left field make you assume it is something completely different, they may or may not be pretentious; I understand the creativity of that poem, but I was very uninterested in it while reading it, and refused to comprehend it any further than her seeing a snake while she was outside. I love her other poems like “because I could not stop for Death” and “I heard a Fly buzz”. From paying attention to myself while reading Dickinson’s “A Narrow Fellow” I realized that I hate her riddles. For example, “A spotted shaft is seen — / And then it closes at your feet / And opens further on — (2)”, this makes me boil with annoyance purely because she is dancing around the fact that it may be a snake, but there is no specific answer. I realize, after analyzing myself, that I truly cannot love every classic poet as well as all of their poems, and I also have a firing hatred for poems about snakes. From now on, hearing a classic poet’s name will likely precede a reflex of rolled eyes and I will feel no guilt. Nobody should have to force love, or fake loving a poet’s books on your bookshelf.
While reading “See the Other Side” by Tatyana Tolstaya, I noticed a small lump in my throat that usually appears before I cry. Not realizing it, I had grown overly attached to the characters and the bond between father and daughter. I am not usually one to share a love for short stories, but this one seeped into my heart the more I read. I realized that while reading this, I was hanging on every one of the father’s quotes as well as everything that stood out to the daughter while fulfilling her father’s dying wish. “‘I have never seen anything so sublime (see the other side) in my life!’ my father wrote. See the other side. An ordinary paradise. What did he see that I don’t see? (689),” this line truly upset me and all I had hoped for in this short story vanished. To read that a father had seen and experienced such a beautiful place while the daughter did not understand the beauty in that place really spoke to me in the sense of seeing things eye to eye with my father. Digging into this, I realized that I am drawn to plots that deal with things I have gone through in my life. My father and I have never really agreed on anything, so it was nice to relate to the narrator and read something that not everybody has the desire (and sometimes courage) to write about. Although in the story the place had changed over forty years, the thought of an unchanging and undying bond Tolstaya slide in as a small theme spoke volumes to me personally. When I finished reading this, I sat back and was quite surprised in both the text and myself. Surprising that for a short story, it had so much going on and for it to feel like a full story was amazing, but for me to actually enjoy the short story, I was taken aback. I then discovered that I have been judging stories based on their categories (short story, poem, novella, etc.) and if was qualified as a short story, I would just skip over it like bad food in a cafeteria line. After taking time to stop and read these short stories, I realize how much I have cut out of my literary diet. From now on, I vow to stop judging texts based on their labels and hopefully this will lead to showcasing a large amount of short stories on my growing bookshelf.
I thought my bookshelf was perfect. It was the ideal bookshelf for someone like me, but I realized that it was not the bookshelf I wanted for myself. I forced many genres and types of stories into my library, and turned my nose up to any of those that did not fit the qualification. After analyzing my reading habits, I realized I was just trying to fit into a boring standard as a reader. Yes, the classics are great, but that does not mean they make me feel whole while they sit on my bookshelf. I have come to accept all types of genres into my library, I welcome both old and new literature with open arms, and proudly place a diverse set of books the top shelf. Now that I know I have a love for such a wide variety of literature, I am excited to see what my actual bookshelf turns into, and how colorful it will gradually become. I now openly second guess my judgments on books, and my dream bookshelf is definitely one I will showcase proudly. I vow to myself to not feel restricted to just the YA novels, but to confidently walk towards the comics and the contemporary poems, and when stumbling upon short stories, to give them a chance.
Dickinson, Emily. “A Narrow Fellow.” Ed. Michael Meyer. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 2-3 Print.
MacLeod, Kathy. “Jerry’s Artarama.” Ed. Michael Meyer. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 47-56. Print.
Tolstaya, Tatyana. “See the Other Side.” Ed. Michael Meyer. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 687-691. Print.