Libri: The bookshelf project
By Courtney Brandabur
“Red” with Meagan Snedigar
What’s in a color?
My veins are blue, green, and jumpy beneath my skin before Meagan’s bookshelf. These books collect a thousand thoughts, an endless hunger for knowledge.
Strain closely. The backs of the shelves are vibrating. Passion shakes them. There’s a woman behind them, waiting to get out. If she does, I both fear and celebrate the oncoming uprising. There is pain here. Beautiful, breathtaking pain. These books are bones, but refuse to be buried.
My favorite color has always been red, but I wonder if I deserve it. The subject of my interview sits like a queen on her couch, a modest throne. She’s healing from battle and has granted me an audience.
Many people wear color well, but not quite so many embody it.
“If you wrote an autobiography, what would it be called?” I asked her.
Call upon your knowledge. You’re going to need it.
Q: Where did you get your bookshelf from?
Meagan Snedigar: Walmart. Quite literally, 11 years ago, which is made pretty evident by the wear and tear of it. That's—I don't know, I would love to replace it, but if anything, right now, I just want to get another. I don't want to replace it. I just want to get an additional bookshelf.
MS: They would immediately notice the amount of non-fiction theology books I own. I think that would be the first thing. I might own less than ten fiction books out of all of my books, so I think that's something that they would notice. I don't know exactly what the interpretation of that might be, but that's definitely a characteristic of my bookshelf that I don't find everywhere.Hopefully, it would communicate to them a search for truth. Whether it'd be voices of people and their trains of thoughts from 19th-century philosophers or whether it'd be a book about a Vodou priestess growing up in Brooklyn.
Courtney: Ooh! Is that Mama Lola?
MS: Yes! It is.
(On Courtney’s admiration for the number of books on atheism)
MS: A lot of those books are textbooks, but you'd be surprised how many of them aren't (traditional) textbooks cuz I did graduate with a philosophy and religious studies degree.
Q: How would you describe your reading collection in one word? Overall and one word?
MS: I would describe my reading collection as inquisitory, I think. In search of knowledge through thought and as far as many words as I want, I don't know. I think that's a good word for it really.
In all of their own ways, the author or the character in even the fiction books that I have, I can see my own stories. Either through characters I agree with or characters I don't agree with. Or narrations that I don't agree with or trains of thought that I agree and disagree with. That's what makes it inquisitory to me because whether I agree with what I'm reading or not, it pushes me to think about it in the way that I did not before I read it.
You'll find that the majority of my fiction is on my favorite shelf. The reason those books are on my favorite shelf...It’s because they are my favorite, which sounds inherently discernible, but it is because those are the books that if I'm having a really bad day, if I'm having a panic attack, if I'm having any sort of issue then I can pick up any one of those books and open it to any page.
And I highlight. I highlight my books. Phrases of sentences that resonate with me, I highlight. I highlight an entire page, so I can just open the book and look. I'm a note maker, which is why I don't buy new books. You'll find most of the books up there are used and I prefer them that way because I'm going to write all in them and question mark here and circle this.
I like highlighting in different colors because then I can go back and see that the first time I read this, I highlighted all of this in pink. So, clearly, this highlight in yellow came after that. First time I read it, this is what stood out to me. The second time, this stood out.
Q: What's your favorite book on the shelf?
MS: I feel like I turn to my books the fastest and the hardest when I'm feeling bad. So, some of my favorite books are what people would call sad books. On the Heights of Despair by E. M. Cioran is one of them. That one, he's nihilist, somewhat in the beginning. He's an existentialist more so (later) and got kind of swept up.
Courtney: Funny how that goes!
MS: Right? Got swept under the nihilism rug and wrote about it. That along with Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre are two of my favorite books to just pick up and read, either from the middle of the book or the beginning of the book. Read a couple of pages or read the entire thing through all the way again, just because I can relate to the thought processes.
One is the the author's train of thought and the other is fiction. Kind of, almost like a playwright, but a fiction novel. For that, I am insanely thankful for those books. Without them, there would've been times where I don't know what else I would've found comfort or solace in. To know that someone who lived so long ago has the same thoughts that you do. Or they have thoughts that you've had before that bring out more thoughts in you, whether they're additionally sad or happier because of something that you read.
I don't think reading a sad book makes you sad. I think it helps me explore a dark part of myself that I feel like is important. That's why I say my books are inquisitory, they prompt me to explore. Either for knowledge or myself or my emotions. I'm incredibly thankful for them.
Q: Have you received a book as a gift?
MS: Yes. Plenty of books on that shelf were gifts. Most of them very well-chosen gifts. Last couple of Christmases, the majority of my list to my mom has been books. I even specify to her that I want them to be used because: a) if she buys them used, they're cheaper and she can give me more of them and b) I can highlight and write in them to my leisure without feeling like I'm defacing something.
A lot of those books have been gifts. Some very precious ones.
Q: Have you read every book on your shelf?
MS: No, I have not.
Courtney: Let me tell you: that has been the resounding response. Myself, included.
MS: Absolutely, there are tons of books that I haven't read. I would say I've definitely started 90% of my books. Ones that I don't really—like textbooks and/or books that are a little more informative, they're not quite like a novel or written with a plotline, You can pick up and read in chapters, however they are cumulative on each other. They stand alone a little more. Those kinds of books I'll find that I can pick up to read certain parts, put it back down, and don't read all the way through.
Then there are books on there that, oh my God, I can't tell you how many times I've read them and finished them in a span of days.
Q: If your bookshelf could talk, what would it say to you?
MS: It would tell me to feel the pain that I feel. It would tell me to actually feel it and to explore it. That's what it does tell me. I know the question is “if”, but it tells me that all the time. Any time I pick up a book to read, it tells me to explore what I'm feeling. Whether that's pain or happiness or furthering my knowledge in a given area. Theology, for instance. Philosophy, for another.
This bookshelf's very important to me. I know that it has that symbolism to a lot of people, but I feel like my books have, in hard times, literally picked me up and carried me. Maybe not really smoothly, because you know it's going to be hard anyway. But, I feel like they've carried me and put me in a more comfortable place. Whether I'm physically recovering from something and I can sit here to read, they help me in that way. Or whether I'm emotionally going through something, having been diagnosed with PTSD and severe depression, those books I feel like coddle me. In a good way. They thrust me into my feelings and force me to see that I can relate to other people when I'm feeling the most alone.
“Chaos is rejecting all you have learned, Chaos is being yourself.” ― Emil Cioran