Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Serah-Marie McMahon, the founder and editor in chief of WORN Fashion Journal. McMahon’s bookshelves are in her attic apartment in west Toronto, which she shares with her husband Ted and their two cats. While snow was falling fast outside, the apartment was a warm dry place that seemed to stop time. There were records and books neatly stored in almost every place my eye went to rest, including a short wall of shelving separating the guest room—a double bed pushed against a sloping eastern wall—from their kitchen.
So, our place is pretty small, but it’s really cheap. It’s kind of how I can afford to do WORN, it keeps our expenses really low. Inside the nook is kind of the best. This is our spare room. Everything has to fit. My little cousin Liam comes to visit a lot and I’m really close with him, so it’s good to have the spare room. All the stuff in the nook is like, shit you read in high school, and kid’s books, and light, amusing things that are fun for guests to look at.
This is our copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, which Ted and I have wanted, like, forever. Forever and ever and ever. But it’s always been really expensive, obviously. This is the compact edition, the one that you need the magnifying glass to read. Last time we went to Detroit, which is where one of my favourite bookstores is, we saw one for a hundred and twenty-five bucks, but were broke, so we didn’t get it. And maybe three of four months ago Ted—there’s a salvation army across the street from the WORN office, and we would go there all time. It’s a kind of a little, crappy Salvation Army, but whatever. Anyway, one day we went in to the office, and he left and came back like two minutes later. I was like, what are you doing here, we’ve got a lot of work to do, and he just plops this giant book that practically makes the table shake. I was like NO FUCKING WAY! How much was it?! And he was like, six dollars.
So this is our pride.
When we first met, Ted had way more books than I did, so when we moved in together I stopped going to the library. I spent two years just reading Ted’s books. And then, I think more recently, Ted’s started to read my books. When we merged our book collection it was a really big deal. We thought score, we’re gonna have boxes of duplicates to trade in at the used bookstore! It was so exciting. And then when we merged it all together we had 40 boxes of books, between the two of us, and just one and a half boxes of overlap. That was it. And it was almost all things like Vonnegut, or Orwell—books that everyone has.
have you ever seen Chick Tracts? They’re super crazy. You used to be able to find them a lot more. They’re these religious comics, essentially, but super fucking insane and racist and awful. This one’s about how terrible Halloween is. “There are people today serving Satan… that’s why kids should be extra careful right before Halloween. They should never go by themselves anywhere with a stranger, because they’re gonna get kidnapped by witches.” But like, it’s for real. They’re just insane.
It was this preacher, Jack Chick—that was his name, making them. He’d get them printed and they’d get distributed for free. I remember, we went to San Francisco one year, and there was a guy who would dress up like Chick and he would sell sets of them. He was pretty cool.
We’ve got those 33 1/3 books, and a bunch of kids books. Not that I have a child. But what are you gonna do, they’re awesome. Kids books make me really happy.
This is the most meta book ever.
[Ted, excited about this one, jumps into the interview] The Monster at the End of this Book. So, Grover’s paranoid. He’s heard a rumour that there’s a monster at the end of the book, so he asks you to stop turning pages.
[Serah-Marie continues] So that you don’t find the monster. Like, do you—the book is a character in the book. The book is part of the book. And then after you finally get to the end, you find out Grover’s the monster. It’s brilliant. It’s a brilliant book. There’s no other way about it, it explains everything.
I used to insist that I read every book all the way, beginning to end, at least once. And then go back if I wanna reference it, or whatever. But recently I did the math. I tried to read 50 books in a year, and I just can’t. Because I read other things too. I can only reasonably read between 30 and 40 books a year. That’s all. Optimistically, if I live for another 50 years, that’s… how many books? Fifteen hundred? At most! Like, that’s it. There’s only fifteen hundred more books I get to read, for the rest of my life. It kind of threw me into a panic. With every book I was like, well is this worth it? Should it be one of the fifteen hundred books? I don’t know if any book is worth it or not! So now if a book is shitty, I’ll just stop reading it. And get rid of it, too.
This is probably the book that has had the biggest impact on me. John Pierson—and I got it signed too. But it’s signed by Kevin Smith. Because Kevin Smith plays a big part. John Pierson is the guy was like, not a producer…but he facilitated all these movies’s distribution.
There were all these people who were basically making their own movies, they weren’t going through studio systems anymore. They were doing everything on their own. And they didn’t have a way to get the films picked up. So Pierson essentially started Spike Lee, Linklater, Kevin Smith, Michael Moore—all those people, he helped start their careers. So anyway, Kevin Smith’s in a whole bunch of this book. When he was here I asked him to sign it, and he was like, “You know I didn’t write this book,” and I was like, “Yeah I know,” but he told me that he loves me. So he’s my back-up plan. Kevin Smith loves me. But he’s gone kinda crazy in the last few years, so I’m not really sure. But in the book John Pierson gets married in a movie theatre—this book is just about his life, or whatever, and I was like, fuck, that’s such a great idea! So we also got married in a movie theatre. We got married at the Bloor Cinema. So that book’s important to me.
There’s just piles. We’re basically media junkies. Period. Records, CDs, movies, books. It’s kind of ridiculous, I know. But whatever, it makes me happy. All I’m saying is if there’s ever an apocalypse, I’m cool to stay home.