Ben McNally's Hidden Treasures

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 book seller and publishing lover Ben McNally. McNally’s books live all over his house: on the stairways, lining closets, in boxes in the basement, even behind the couch. An attic bedroom seems representative of his family’s affection for the beloved things; they spill out of shelves into waist-high stacks on the floor. While McNally gave me the tour of his still-growing collection, his wife Lynn and teenaged son Yeats stood by, occasionally interjecting to show me their own favourites—and there were many. At times, McNally’s voice would fall into a reverent whisper—the closer we stood to the books on his shelves, the quieter he would get.

We have books all over the place, so I don’t know how intensive you really want to get. This is stuff in transit. Stuff comes in… we’re always bringing things in. We have a bookstore, so we’re always getting stacks of galleys. And Lynn does buying (for the store) here at the house, so sometimes people will just drop by and bring a ton of them. Some of them we throw out immediately. The ones at the store, it kind of depends who gets them first. What happens with galleys is sometimes you’ll read three or more pages and think, This is unbelievable shit, and you’ll throw it out. Or you’ll think, Okay, maybe I’ll get to that, and other times you’ll read them and think, Oh! This is really good. We’re going to run with that.