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Shelfie: Books as Home

Over the past fifteen years, I have moved a lot. From southern Indiana to upstate New York, to a period of traveling, to Azusa, to France, to Los Angeles, to Poland, to Providence, to Minneapolis. In most of those places, I also have transitioned through multiple living spaces, from homestays and sublets to lofts and apartments to (for one recent sweet stretch) a three-bedroom house. I recently realized that, not counting my beautifully singular childhood home, I’ve never lived in one space for more than 28 months. In fact, as I write, I’m preparing to move again.

It might sound like a commitment problem, and I promise it’s not, but also that’s irrelevant because the real point is that one of the most significant physical constants over time has been books. They have been a kind of home. I’ve done a lot of purging of other possessions at periodic intervals⎯it’s pretty easy for me to part ways with clothing and furniture and sometimes even very useful kitchen appliances⎯but books do not get purged. Some might sit in a borrowed garage or basement for awhile; but more often than not, they all come with me, in badly packed boxes stuffed into cars or threadbare suitcases flown across oceans. They are familiar amidst new landscapes, a grounding (yet also ever-expanding) base. I think I love these qualities in a home: tangible weight yet nimble, comforting yet challenging, a continuous quilting together of old and new.

Like most writers, I’ve accumulated an eclectic collection. Apart from some short-lived experiments in arranging by color (e.g. above), these books are not organized; they are all mixed up, unpacked and repacked and unpacked again, sometimes negotiating with cats for space. E. E. Cummings is next to Susan Sontag who is next to Paul Farmer who is next to Alice Walker, John Cage, Anne Carson, A. A. Milne, Simone Weil, Haruki Murakami, Gertrude Stein, Thalia Field, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Erik Ehn, Deleuze and Guattari. Given I mostly write for theater and contemporary performance, there are many shelves of plays, theory, and research for specific projects. I’m also very influenced by poetry and visual art. My parents are both artists and recently opened a gallery; so right now, some of my favorite art books are the ones they have been creating, showcasing the work of various contemporary artists who exhibit in that space.

I tend to be reading three to five, or more, books interchangeably at any given moment, with an active pile that dances between my desk and bag and nightstand, depending on what is calling when. At this moment, that pile consists of David Graeber’s Debt: The First Five Thousand Years; Mårten Spångberg’s Spangbergianism; Johanna Schoen’s Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare; and P. G. Wodehouse’s Pigs Have Wings. I also recently finished Molly Sutton Kiefer’s Nestuary and Ian Hatcher’s The All-New, both of which I can’t recommend enough.

My partner, Theo, also is a writer and works part-time at Sixth Chamber Used Books, a truly independent mom-and-pop shop in the heart of St. Paul; so just imagine the many irresistible finds that get added to our fold on a regular basis. Today, as we contemplated packing up the books for the next move, I entertained the absurd question of whether we should consider getting rid of duplicate copies of books that we both own (there are many).

“Oh, but I like having multiple copies,” he said.

“Yeah, me too,” I agreed. Sometimes we read things at the same time, or make our own different notes in each copy, or lend one out to a friend while resting assured we still have a copy for our own reference. Quite simply, books do not get purged. I suppose it’s time to clean out my closet instead.

RACHEL JENDRZEJEWSKI is a writer and performance maker. Her work appears in two recently published books: Innovation in Five Acts: Strategies for Theatre and Performance (Theatre Communications Group) and I Might Be the Person You Are Talking To: Short Plays from the Los Angeles Underground (Padua Playwrights Press). She holds an MFA in Playwriting from Brown University and is a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center. Find her at rachelka.com.

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