My apartment is not an apartment. My apartment is a poorly designed and badly displayed used bookstore. I have several beautiful wooden ladder book shelves in my living room and bedroom that at one point held books horizontally. Now, i can add vertically to the list. My closet has become the wasteland for books I disliked or will never read again, but refuse to give away, of course. My storage spaces that would be ideal for suitcases or cleaning products or extra comforters or board games are all filled with books–poetry, young adult, non-fiction, religious, literary fiction, genre fiction and craft books.
I sleep next to a stack of books that are To Be Read Eventually.
I eat next to a pile of a dozen that are To Be Read Intermittently.
Oddly enough, the bathroom is the only room void of books. That is where all of the magazines reside–Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker, and every girly magazine my wife can fit, which I fully admit to reading and enjoying on a regular basis.
But then the question remains, which books do I keep out on the book shelf? What to keep at the ready?
My answer is this–I display all of my favorite authors and all of the books they have written, good or bad.
This morning I was standing in front of my book shelf and looking through some of my collection.
Don Delillo has a fair amount of real estate as does Leonard Michaels, Amy Hempel (although her space is smaller than most), Cormac McCarthy, Lydia Davis, A.M. Homes (God, I love her!), Dostoevsky, Bret Easton Ellis, Gordon Lish, Russell Banks, Vladamir Nabokov, Elmore Leonard, and Chuck Palahniuk.
Ah, yes, Chuck Palahniuk.
When i first started writing seriously I wrote to Mr. Palahniuk, explaining my frustration with the writing process, with reading bad fiction, with the demons of my past influencing or inhibiting my work, such as PTSD. I am not sure why I wrote to him when I did. I had no real reason to believe I would ever hear back.
To my surprise, a month later, he wrote back.
He wrote back a lovely one page letter with a whole box full of odd gifts–sea shell soap, rubber chickens, glitter, a signed t-shirt, a diary with the note “Did you write today, Ross?” inscribed on the inside, and a Santa hat.
In his letter, he connected with my demons, understood them better than most, and gave me tips and advice on how to continue. He encouraged my passion and appreciated my communication.
Shortly thereafter, I began writing again, but writing with a purpose and an eye for style, an eye for intent, with a purpose to say something, and shout loudly about my opinions and fears.
This morning I passed my shelf with his books, and realized that I pass it every morning, at eye level, every morning the same way, and look at their spines staring out at me, reminding me of the mission.
I pick them up one at a time and flip through their pages.
I read the ending of Survivor and put it back.
I read the short story “Guts” and put it back.
I read my favorite passages from Fight Club, and Choke, and Invisible Monsters and put it back.
I keep them chronologically lined up in the order that I read them, not their publication dates.
These books are my roots and my future. They feed me. They remind me. They encourage me. They take me back to my old apartment, to that over-priced place upstate, to that brown carpeted dining room where my wife and I sat for hours, writing our first novels face-to-face with bowls of chocolate covered espresso beans and camel lights between us. The endless cups of hazelnut coffee. The rotating 5 disc changer of music pumping through my Crown Royale speakers. And my Palahniuk box next to me on the floor, open, ready to be thumbed through at a moments notice, the letter on top, the diary underneath.
“Did you write today, Ross?”
That was my time, the start of something for me. Two words: Chuck Palahniuk. The one thing: fiction.
This one thing is my deepest root.