These days, nothing says amateur hour quite like an alphabetical bookshelf. From lifestyle magazines to design blogs (admittedly a short distance), there are limitless suggestions for how you should treat your books. You can arrange them by genre, by time period, by size or by color (all well and good until you realize how strangely few books have purple spines). You can stack them in height order. You can angle them across the wall in gentle waves of Swedish manufacture. My own system of classification is one of emotional practicality. That is to say, I want to be able to reach what I love. But I am presented with a problem.
In time for spring cleaning, I happen to be moving apartments. Though most of my books will be coming with me, these are the ones I will leave out of the cardboard boxes — three titles that straddle the line between nostalgia and a fresh start. When I can't find sheets or shampoo, at least I'll have access to these.
You've Got to Read This
Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories That Held Them in Awe
Quite simply, this book contains some of the best short stories on the planet: Tillie Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing," Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," Eudora Welty's "No Place For You, My Love." This also happens to be the book that taught me how to talk about books — and what better specimen to enliven the prospect of unpacking the rest of them? Each story features an introduction by another writer. In the one I think of most, Amy Tan describes hearing Molly Giles read "Pie Dance." She writes, "I knew without a doubt that I didn't have all it takes to be a fiction writer. But hearing that story, I also knew ... that it would be worth a lifetime to try."
The first essay in Fraud, called "In New England Everyone Calls You Dave," also happens to be the first essay I ever read by the late, great Canadian essayist David Rakoff. I came to it because I knew most of the people and places. The essay details a trip the author took up Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. This is a mountain I have climbed many times, both because I spent my childhood summers at the base of it ... and because it's really more of a hill. But I stayed with Rakoff out of love, not coincidence. Every time I reread the essays here, I feel like I'm getting to know a friend for the first time. "Just think," writes the reluctant mountaineer, "the shoes I wouldn't be caught dead in might actually turn out to be the shoes I am caught dead in."
This Is Running for Your Life
Books are like brides to new apartments — you have to be invested in what you're carrying across the threshold. So I knew my final choice would need to be something I'm halfway through. (This, incidentally, is the trick to reading on planes — start the book before you board, or you might never crack/click it). What a marvelous — really, a marvel — journalist and thinker Michelle Orange is. I am so engrossed in these culturally astute essays about everything from Canadian retirement homes to Manic Pixie Dream Girls. "Have a Beautiful Corpse" is my current front-runner for favorite.
When I can't find my toothpaste, at least I know I'll always be able to reach these books.
Sloane Crosley's latest book is How Did You Get This Number.
Three Books... is produced and edited by the team at NPR Books.