Show Me Your Shelves: Shannon Kirk

I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again: the best thing about Twitter is that it constantly helps you discover great books and amazing people. Shannon Kirk recently joined the list of amazing people with a great book. Luckily, she is also a book lover. If you know me, you know I wanted a peek at her shelves the second I finished the first chapter of In The Vines. She said yes. What she did next changed the Show Me Your Shelves game forever; she made a video. Dear readers, I give you the awesomeness that is Shannon Kirk and her color-coded shelves.

Gabino Iglesias: It looks like you spent some time figuring out where and then building a space for your books. Can you tell us a bit about that process? 

Shannon Kirk: Well I was thinking one day, asking myself, when am I the happiest? I’m the happiest when I’m in a bookstore. Crazy happiness when I’m in The Strand in New York City. Then I looked at my stuffy, unused, fancy-schmancy formal living room and thought, why the hell do I have this room at all? Just because that’s the historical and expected use? Nobody used that damn room, ever. Even when we had guests, we never went and did the whole “cocktails in the den” thing. So that whole entire room was just a black hole all the time.
Then I considered the fact that I am obsessed with colors and want to live in a literal rainbow.
So I combined both ideas, being in a bookstore and being wrapped in a rainbow, and turned that useless living room into what you see in these pictures. The other front-facing bookshelf is in my office. Those are the books that have graduated out of several TBR piles into the active-active TBR pile.
My book organization system is likely a horror to librarians: first, organized by color; next, three to four different TBR piles of increasing immediacy; next, the front-facing bookshelf for active-active reading.
So basically my process is, in a word: insanity.
GI: We’ve never hung out, but I get the sense that you have a hard time parting with books. Why do you think we grow so attached to those magical bundles of dead trees? 
SK: Last night I fell asleep cuddling a book that I am LOVING right now (The Bone People, by Keri Hulme). I woke up with the book jamming under my hip. It wasn’t that I fell asleep reading it; no, I mean, I grabbed it and held it to me as a comfort. So yeah, I can’t part with books I love. I won’t. I think the reason why has to do with, for me, escape and the promise of a flood of endorphins when I finally find an amazing book in which to disappear. They’re capsules of drugs, these rectangles of paper. Whole worlds we can inhabit just by daring to crack the cover.
GI: How long do you spend obsessing about which books to bring with you when you travel? How do you make your final decisions? 
SK: Let me break it down because I studied myself on this exact question for my last beach vacation:
20% spent shoving a fistful of bathing suits and shovable top-drawer necessities in a suitcase.
10% dragging sundresses on hangers and pre-packed toiletries (which I have on standby anyway because of work travel)
70% on books and writing implements, such as the computer and charger, the right journals, and my noise-canceling headphones.
I underpack clothes and I way overpack books. I pack a spectrum to cover whatever mood I might be in (just as a normal person would pack to cover various temperature changes). So on any vacation I’ve got 5-10 books, from non-fiction financial exposes, to magical realism, to some classic, to some scandalous tell-all (Stormy Daniels’ book is coming to my Thanksgiving vacation), to a couple of thrillers, and some tearjerking literary fiction. Plus I usually have at least one ARC to review for a blurb.
Part of my soul is wired only to shoes, so I don’t count the time it takes for that part of me to pack heels and flip-flops, etc.
GI: These are ugly times, but we have to push through, and reading is one of my coping mechanisms. What have you read recently that helped you inhabit a different space for a while? 
SK: My most recent read that wound up being both a beautiful escape and also total medicine to the horrendous times we’re living is Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone. This book perfectly captures the hypocrisy of certain fervent religious folks and the toxic invasive patriarchy we are all subjected to on a day-to-day basis. Stone doesn’t water anything down or play Molly-nice–nice with on how “the other side” might believe what they believe. No, she guts it all, and it feels so good. Highly recommend.
GI: “Shannon, run in the house and grab whatever you need! The house will be blasted into oblivion by aliens in three minutes!” Sure, clothes and money and maybe a piece of jewelry, but what books do you save and why?
SK: I would grab two books. First, my duct-taped copy of The Mummy Market by Nancy Brelis, because the entire publishing world is committing a colossal, horrendous crime by keeping it out of print and this copy is the only one I got or can get. To get other copies, (and yes I monitor), we’re talking in the hundreds and even some in the thousands. I petition about twice a year for The Mummy Market to be re-released. It is pure-grade, raw genius–like the works of Emily Dickinson. Brelis wrote it in three weeks (I believe this is what her grown daughter has said). This wholly unique middle-grade book (which I first read when I was 10 or 11) is filled with complex ideas, philosophy, strange psychology, poems, two lead female characters, one of whom is totally kick-ass awesome, and an ending so beautifully jagged and suggestive of something dark and yet gorgeous and magical, I always sit and ponder it for days after a reading. Gem. Dear Whoever Owns The Rights Right Now, happy to write the introduction and help to promote if you’ll just please, for the LOVE OF EVERYTHING, re-release this classic.
Second, my copy of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez because other than The Mummy Market, it is the only other book I’ve re-read multiple times.  I love the cracked spine, the number of times I’ve touched lines, the folds of all the pages on which a passage stopped me cold.
GI: Do you have any bizarre writing rituals? Is it more of an organized approach? 
SK: I wish I even had a ritual. It’s just whenever, wherever, however I get the time and also the brain juice. No pattern whatsoever.
GI: You have a good handle on social media. Any tips for new writers on how to develop and maintain a social media platform? 
SK: Lordy, no clue. I’ll just say, it’s exhausting and also draining, to be true. Especially where my presence on social media is actually so not my inclination. I’d rather be private, truth be truth. And having to be on social media subjects me to this assaulting news cycle, so that is really interfering with my creative time and thoughts.
But…I say all that just to alert new writers to the reality. I guess my advice would be to know that going it, know it’s going to be a drain and likely you’ll be assaulted by distractions. Awful, rage-inducing distractions that chip away at your nature to be an empath–which likely drives a lot of your writing. It’s a bad cycle. If you’re able to quarantine the time you are on-line and limit yourself to a good group of writers to follow, great. Also, promote other writers, dead, living, new, old, famous, not-famous. And once in a while promote yourself.
GI: As a lawyer, what books would you throw at Kavanaugh’s head? 
SK: I would throw all the books ever written, preferably hardcover versions, at Kavanaugh’s head. But I don’t think that’s what you mean. Frankly, I don’t think throwing any books at such a man would help because he’s the type of close-minded, low-self-esteem Bro who is convinced he knows all already. And it’s sad, disgusting actually, because he’s a Yale graduate of law. I have a law degree. I went to Catholic high school and college. I know what religious ideas were thrown at me; but I also know the curriculum for such a career, so I know he was exposed to real history–and yet he ignores. Because why? Because real history doesn’t help with the positions of power he wants to maintain and amplify.
So, if I had a shot in hell to get any realities to sink in his thick, beer-soaked skull, I would want him to digest three books:
1. My Notorious Life by Kate Manning, which tells of the realities for women when abortion and contraceptives are prohibited. The realities are death and horrible injuries, okay. We’re not joking around.
2. The Zealot by Reza Aslan, about the life of the person named Jesus and the political and historical context of his times. Critical reading for everyone, especially since our entires lives are constantly influenced by what they’re telling people this man was about. Believe what you want–I respect that. But know the context and origins of that dogma.
3. The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt, historical accounting of pagan literature and the #fakenews imposed upon pagan times and writers and philosophers and philosophies. This #fakenews drives dogmas, whole ways of life, wars. So this too is required reading in my mind.
GI: You write in a various genres, but do you write in them simultaneously? Can you write YA stuff while your head is occupied by a dark thriller? 
SK: I used to write all kinds of things all the time at the same time: poems, YA, thriller, fiction. I even outlined a non-fiction once on a fascinating trademark battle I had with the Pork industry. But, now that I have deadlines and a publishing contract, I’m pretty focused on one book at a time.
GI: Why should folks click away from here right now and go pick up a copy of In the Vines? 
SK: In the Vines is a twisted story that I hope conveys the dark beauty of the New England environment, the seacoast, the vibrant vegetation, the perennial beds stabbing floral scents up your nose. And it is a book that tries to convey the realities of panic and obsession, albeit in a fictional way–perhaps reading will not only entertain, but also help understand someone in your life. Above all else, In the Vines showcases two complex, damaged, and also strong, female leads in a crazy situation with lots of twists and action.

About Gabino Iglesias

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Zero Saints and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias

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