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Libri: The bookshelf project, David Benedetto and Jerika Marchan

Photos by: Courtney Brandabur

Photos by: Courtney Brandabur

“Are You Going to Eat That (And Other Promising Anecdotes)” with David Benedetto

“A Compendium of Flightless Birds and Every Type of Smear” with Jerika Marchan

*indicates footnote

These spines fall. Lines in a journal laying naked before me. Titles bleed over the edges and onto the floor. I step in the puddle, a tiny universe so beautiful that my eyes sting.

I remember reading about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and feel a need to fund an army with unethical financial sources to protect this one. Don’t tell my president.

When I sit down with my two subjects, I can hear pages rustling underneath their skin. When their fingers move, I can hear the deft tap of a typewriter key. Have you ever seen a living book? It’s intimidating. Two can be catastrophic. I’m covered in papercuts, sweet burning lines of sensory information.

The best part about being a human being is that you can talk to other human beings, creatures so wonderful that you’d think being a primate was a marvelous stroke of luck. I’m the luckiest woman of all because I get to talk to two human beings with DNA strands crafted from poetry.

“If you wrote an autobiography, what would it be called?” I asked them.

“Are You Going to Eat That (And Other Promising Anecdotes).”

A Compendium of Flightless Birds and Every Type of Smear.

Listen closely. Blessings rarely come in pairs, but the universe is feeling generous.

Photos by: Courtney Brandabur

Q: Where did you get your physical bookshelf from? I know you guys have a few different ones.
Jerika Marchan: Target! Which is why when we first moved here, we tried to prop them up. They're leaning. They're super precarious and a mixture of too poor, too reluctant, can't be bothered to replace them with bookshelves that stand up straight. They're being held together by duct tape. Or at least mine are.
David Benedetto: Yeah, hers are a little bit precarious. That's a good word for it. It took a lot, being on the second story, to get those up here. Wanting to get them down and get another set up here that's nicer is just...outside of the energy spectrum at this point.
DB: Where did I get mine from? I got mine in Mid-City across from not Circuit City, but the other place.
JM: Home Depot!
DB: Home-! Not Home Depot. Cuz Home Depot had closed.
JM: It was still open at that time.
DB: I didn't get it from there though, I got from the other electronics place that sells computer-based things. Not Circuit City cuz Circuit City isn't there.
JM: Staples?
DB: Sure, Staples!
Courtney Brandabur: Radio Shack?
JM: Office Max?
CB: Office Depot?
DB: Office Depot! Office Depot is where I got my shelf from.
CB: Yeah, I think they're all merged together now.
JM: Max Depot. (in a cool voice)
CB: (laughs) Max Depot.
Q: If someone saw your bookshelves, how would you feel?
DB: Ohhh. That's a good question. (hums)
JM: I guess I'll go first.
DB: Yeah, yeah, go.
JM: I wouldn't mind. I think I'd be more nervous if they plucked something and didn't put it back where they had it. Most of mine are alphabetized and they're also in a certain order that's conducive to me and how I work. So, I'd be nervous if they picked something out and didn't put it back where they found it.
Besides that, I'm of the mindset that if it's not a particular type of person, like if a stranger or someone who's not sharing my interest saw my shelf, I think they wouldn't be that interested. Most of my books are niche contemporary poetry books that a lot of people generally wouldn't be interested in, from my experience. Not so much self-consciousness there, but just assuming people's lack of interest in my interests.
DB: I kind of feel you with—we both have our books where they're for us more than for the decoration. They're there for the decoration as well because books are really lovely and we love them. Mine are a little bit more diverse in their subject matter and type. There's a lot of histories, as well as fiction and more fiction and some poetry spread throughout there. I'd hope that there's enough topics there that somebody who walked in could see something that they'd be interested in or have read or knew about. And it would lead to a conversation. That's what my hope would be.

Photos by: Courtney Brandabur

Q: How would you describe your reading collection: in one word and then as many words as you want?
JM: One word first?
CB: You can do the long-form answer first or some people might've come back to this one to. Or as they gave their long-form answer, they pluck a keyword and they're like, "That's it!"
JM: I'd say that my one word would be direction. At this point, these books, they've taught me a lot about myself and teach me a lot about where I want to go, what I would like to accomplish with my own work, how I want to see the world. How I want to enact...my views on the world? That doesn't make any sense. (laughs) I think it gives me direction. Like, it orients me to where I need to be and where I need to go and what's important to me. So, that word.  Whassup, Muse?
DB: It's happening. It's going.
CB: She's with us. (laughs)
DB: I think reflection was what I was thinking of for my own word. The longer would be, the books I've chosen, I have maybe read, if I'm trying to be impressive, possibly `60% of them? But, if we're being realistic, probably 45% of them. I think even if I haven't read them, there are things on my list, they're reflecting what my interests are, what I'm thinking about.
Part of the reason I like having books is to—memory is not good. Unreliable at best. "So, I have a way of keeping these in my vision, keeping them in my periphery to make sure those things are on my mind. I get to take them out whenever I need them or make sure they're always somewhere back there kind of churning." That's what I appreciate.

Photos by: Courtney Brandabur

Q: What's your favorite book on the shelf?
JM: My favorite book. Hm, let me think. My favorite book? Like, ok, my favorite book...Ah! I know. Easy, easy.
DB: Oh, yeah.
JM: It's a cop-out. (laughs) Well...Yeah, so my favorite book is the book that's meant a lot to me for the past ten years. It's this collection of Rilke, the German language master poet. Translated by Stephen Mitchell.
I started reading poetry seriously in sophomore year of high school. Actually, this book means even more to me now, because my teacher who gave me another paperback version of this book, she died a few weeks ago. Brain cancer. She was the one who gave me this book and said, "You need this in your life."
I started reading it and I was like, holy shit! Words can do this. Words can feel this way. That's why I started writing poems and reading poems. This, Rilke, this collection...It's called Ahead of All Parting. It's multilingual. It's German and French on one side and English on the other. I slept with this book. Yeah, I try not to write in it too much because I love it so much...Yeah, I probably have more of him than anybody else.
DB: I've got three. I was thinking one non-fiction, one straight fiction, and one New Orleans hybrid work, which I'm really in love with.
JM: Cop-outs!
DB: Cop-outs? Uh-huh.
JM: You pick one! Your favorite.
DB: UH-HUH.
JM: There's only one!
DB: Well, these are the ones I'm thinking about constantly each day, because I'm kind of working in these different things or thinking about these types of things. Especially being in New Orleans and being from Louisiana, a lot of these books are Louisiana-centric books. So, the book that I chose for that one is called Unfathomable City. It's edited by Rebecca Solnit, who's written a lot of really wonderful things, including Men Explain Things to Me.
CB: She's great!
DB: She did one for San Francisco initially and then she came here and worked with a woman named Rebecca Snedeker. It's a collection of twenty-two essays and maps.
The writing is beautiful for each essay and the introduction by both Snedeker and Solnit is amazing. It's changed a lot of how I feel about New Orleans and the city. I think I'd recommend it to anybody trying to find a good in way to 2015-era New Orleans. It's really wonderful.
OK, two more! My Non-Fiction pick is a history book called The Impending Crisis: America Before The Civil War 1848 - 1860 by David M. Potter. I was interested this year in doing a deep reading through all of American History and I wanted to start with Reconstruction, because I wanted to understand how we got to Jim Crow era and a lot of our modern problems with inequality and race in this country. So, before reading that I thought I better refresh myself on what led to Reconstruction--The Civil War. And then I thought I better read what led to the Civil War!  

So I stumbled on this book. It took me a while to get through, like four months because it's one of the densest books I've ever read. It has a steep curve in learning how to read the book, but how it moves through decision making and political maneuvers is really skillful and beautiful. The way it deals with major figures and events during this time period on a second-to-second, decision-to-decision basis really helps to give a clearer picture of how such a horrible event like The Civil War could happen. It wasn't zero to one hundred. It took time and multiple misunderstandings and manipulations and stupid ego driven mistakes to get us there. It takes these decisions step-by-step and puts a microscope to them. It's incredible.

And it helped me to clarify my understanding of the origins of anti-immigrant nativism and white supremacy and racism and how they've evolved to current day. It also helped me to better understand the process of how major issues are debated and how elections are performed in this country. All these things are not new and this book helped put that into better context.
The cop-out as you would say. Fiction, One Hundreds Year of Solitude by Marquez. It was a game-changer for me. Between reading that and Faulkner, just mind blown, never look at books the same again.

Photos by: Courtney Brandabur

Q: Have you received a book as a gift?

JM:Yes!
DB: Yes!
JM: I don't publish often, but when I do in journals, I get contributor copies. I think it's always fun to get them in the mail and to see my work in a bound book with other people that I admire. Those are always the best presents.
DB: I'd say the one that I think about the most is...before I left for Europe, the book that she chose as her favorite book was the Rilke book. Before I left for Europe, she gave me a copy of that. Nice, wonderful hardback. I carried that with me everywhere I went. She wrote this really wonderful note in the very beginning. I can't remember what it is.
JM: Oh yeah! So romantic! (laughs)
DB: I carried that book everywhere. Even when I had to leave certain things behind, I made sure that was with me when I was traveling. I picked it up and would read it. So, that's one of the best gifts I got.

Photos by: Courtney Brandabur

Q: Have you read every book on your shelf?
JM: Noooo.
DB: No.
CB: That has been every answer!
DB: I'd like to meet the person that's read every book on their shelf.
Q: If your bookshelf could talk, what would it say to you?
DB: I think mine would...at this point in my life, it might say different things at other points, but at this point, it would say, “Do the work.” I've been thinking about a lot, simply because I have taken quite a bit a break from writing. Looking at these shelves and looking at what people have accomplished, not so much for themselves but in the actual work, I think it would tell me to keep on putting in the million words, the two million words. You have something to look up to. You have some sort of plan for you. Do the work.
JM: Right. I totally agree. Mine was really similar to along those lines. I think my shelf is telling me, maybe because of where I am in my life right now because I haven't been working on the "new" stuff. The shelf is saying, "Work hard! Finish, bitch!"
CB: Yeah!
JM: Do the shit! Finish the shit!
DB: Finish the shit. #finishtheshit.
JM: (in Mortal Kombat voice) Finish her. Yeah, that's what my shelf is saying. Do the work. BE BRAVE.
DB: That's in all caps too, when you transcribe that. (laughs) BRRRAVE with three Rs.
JM: That's what the shelf says.

David Benedetto and Jerika Marchan (Photos by: Courtney Brandabur)

*Other alternative autobiography titles for David:
With All Three Cheeses: A Life
Yes, I Know The Guac is Extra

The Reason by Hoobastank