We recently challenged author Veronica Chambers (QUEEN BEY and THE MEANING OF MICHELLE among many others) to a shelfie. Would she dare to show us (and thousands of our librarian pals) her favorite shelf in her personal library? What truths might it reveal about her as a reader and as a person? Well, we’re pleased to say that Ms. Chambers was undaunted and offered a fantastic snapshot of both the shelf and the “why” behind it.
I moved to the United States (from Panama, by way of England) when I was five-years-old. My parents were new Americans, both big readers, but money was always tight. I remember my library card and the Brooklyn Public Library at 1000 Utica Avenue, the way some kids remember softball mitts and playing fields. The library card was an extension of my hand. The library was my playing field.
All these years later, owning books–lots and lots of books–still feels like a luxury. Taking just one shelfie felt like a round of truth or dare. Dare I confess to how many self-help books I have read and loved? Is it true that on a rare day off, I am as likely to curl up with a cookbook as I am any other kind of book so I am always buying cookbooks, even though they are big and expensive and the New York Times cooking app is very, very good.
So this is where I landed. One shelf that tells you where my brain is at this very moment. My husband gave me this Juniper Books collection several years ago for Christmas and I love it more than I can say. I spent a lot of my childhood imagining that the heroines in the books and movies I saw had brown skin. I love that when I look at this collection, I don’t have to pretend to see brown skin, it’s there. The books inside are all as extraordinary as the covers. The collection includes:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Gather Together in My Name
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas
The Heart of a Woman
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes
A Song Flung Up to Heaven
We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live by Joan Didion
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Ripley Under Ground
Maxine Hong Kingston
The Woman Warrior
Ursula K. Le Guin
Stories and Songs
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Reflections in a Golden Eye
The Ballad of the Sad Café
The Member of the Wedding
Clock Without Hands
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Robber Bridegroom
The Ponder Heart
The Optimist’s Daughter
With such an extraordinarily beautiful collection of books, I shouldn’t junk it up by piling other books on. But that is what I do: pile books on. So here you have the Well-Read Black Girl anthology, edited by Glory Edim, which I would love even if I wasn’t in it. Glory Edim is my everything and I feel so lucky to know her, both on and offline. Her social media, with it’s combination of quotes and portraits of writers, reminds me constantly to keep reaching and writing and trying to be better. I’m obsessed with Neil Gaiman, and the podcast he did with Elizabeth Gilbert is my go-to for when I want to feel like I’m sitting at a bar in London, talking to two very smart writers about craft. It’s like a VR experience for me. I can practically see the pub materialize around me every time I play it. So currently I’m reading this book by Gaiman. I write Y/A in addition to editing these anthologies, so there’s a Tahereh Mafi book here because I think of all the many Y/A authors, she writes most for the girl I was at fifteen. Lorraine Hansberry has been my imaginary writer friend since I was in college. Imani Perry’s book is at the top of my spring reading list. Last, I had to have a cookbook in the mix. This book by Nigella Lawson came out the year I got married. Whenever I open it, I’m transported back to that place where making a meal and making a life with someone were happening in tandem and every recipe I cooked seemed like an opportunity to shape the smorgasbord of marriage. Something to eat. Somewhere to grab a drink. Imaginary writer friends and plenty to read and re-read. That’s my shelfie.