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 Stacey May Fowles, the author of the novels Be Good, Fear of Fighting, and, forthcoming from ECW in Fall 2013, Infidelity. She is also a widely anthologized feminist, essayist, and literary critic, primarily for The National Post and The Walrus. Fowles’s shelf is in her home office in Toronto’s West End. As she describes the books she’s loved, her dog anxiously wanders in and out of the room, perhaps being driven to distraction by the bacon based soup being prepared int the kitchen by Fowles’s husband, Spencer Saunders.
This particular shelf is really disorganized, because if I review a book I just throw it on the shelf somewhere. There’s a lot of ARCs. Mostly just ‘cause that’s where they fit. Honestly, most of my books were so disorganized for most of my life. It was literally just piles and piles of books everywhere. And getting these built-ins done was my first concerted effort to be organized. It was sort of the first time I could put everything in sections and catalog things—it was my attempt to put things in some sort of order. There’s like, different phases too. I was really into comics for a while, I was really into YA books for a while. I went through a phase where I got really interested in religious—like, faith-based suffering. I don’t know. I go through a lot of phases. I get really, really, really obsessed with a certain theme, and then I buy every possible book on that theme. And then they just sort of pile up.
Obviously I have a lot of books on feminism. When I was a freelance reviewer, I used to just get books mailed to me all the time. They would come almost daily. And they were all—because I had made a name for myself writing about women’s issues—they were all related to women’s issues. So a huge number of my books are about ladies. And sex. There’s a huge number of books on sex. I did a women’s studies degree, so it’s always been a primary interest of mine. I collected this stable of women’s studies tomes when I was in school, and as time went on I sort of—it’s just obviously an interest of mine. I went through a phase where I was really interested in the feminist implications of pornography, so I have about 30 years worth of literature just on pornography.
Fuck, there’s like a whole shelf here about writing. That’s so mortifying. Look at this gross shelf. It’s like, Marketing Your Book: An Author’s Guide, Writer’s Gym... For some reason I have two copies of If You Want to Write! Like, I had to convince myself I wanted to or something! God, that’s funny. I read this book, First Writes, when I was living in a shitty studio apartment. It was my first apartment in Toronto, when I moved back here from Vancouver. It was a particularly dark time in my life. And it’s about—it explores the “triumphs and trepidations of becoming a published author.” That’s it. And I read it before I was published, and it’s a great book. I went to Banff this summer, and I realized that this book was from the Banff Centre Press, and it was on all the tables, and I was thinking about the place I was at when I first read this book. The idea of being published seemed so incredibly far away from me then, like it was a complete and total dream that would never actualize. And then this summer, I’m in Banff, and they were selling the book.
I’d love to go back in time and tell my unpublished self that everything works out. I feel like the only reason people write is because they’re never satisfied, You don’t stop, you keep going. But it’s certainly worked out in the way I needed it to work out when I lived in that shitty apartment. But it hasn’t worked out in a way where I’m gonna stop.