Fayette Fox is the author of the The Deception Artist. A child’s take on the adult world, this quirky novel is about childhood and make-believe, truth and lies. The book was shortlisted for the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award and Amazon’s Rising Stars Award, and was published in the US this month. Read an excerpt here. A former commissioning editor for Lonely Planet Publications, Fayette is the co-founder of My Love Ninja, a personalized OkCupid profile makeover service. She holds an MA in publishing from the London College of Communication and a BA in creative writing from Hampshire College. She lives in Oakland, California. You can learn more at her website.
I spent most of my twenties living in London. I worked in travel publishing for Lonely Planet and ran a book group for several years. Between the two and my giddy forays into the city’s wonderful independent bookstores, I acquired many many books.
I lived in a flat with bookcases built into the wall above the stairs. Selecting some of the harder to reach volumes involved precariously balancing on the railing. I got great pleasure organizing everything with sections for travel literature, guidebooks, general nonfiction, and books about writing. But my true love was the sprawling fiction section, which I organized by author last name. So much of my identity was wrapped up in those books. They were my teachers. They’d helped me grow and understand the world. They’d helped me become a better writer.
When I was twenty-eight, my British partner and I packed everything into boxes and spent a year traveling all over Asia. Towards the end of the trip, our relationship ended, and life took me back to the States. I shipped over my Moroccan rugs, the painting from Zanzibar, and most of my clothes. But I donated nearly all my books.
In many ways it was a hard transition living back in my own country again for the first time as an adult. I landed in DC, which has its own unique culture to get used to. But it was also weird having almost no books around me. Sure, I had whatever I was reading at the time, but my personal library was gone. When new friends came to my house, they couldn’t look through my shelves and understand who I was. I’d become a blank slate.
Over time, as I always do, I acquired new books. These came from yard sales, free boxes on the street and secondhand bookstores. But with each move, I’ve pared back my collection again. After all, books are heavy! Besides, what am I hanging on to them all for anyway? If I love a book, I’ll keep it so I can lend it to a friend. But if I don’t love it, I’ll let it go.
Back during my London book group days, I’d felt obligated to finish everything, like a kid told to eat everything on her plate. Now, in my mid-thirties, I’m not shy about bailing on books that don’t grab me. If the writing isn’t strong, I’ll put it down after a few pages. But sometimes I’ll get a good fifty or even a hundred pages in before I decide I just don’t care anymore. Maybe I see where the plot’s going and I don’t want to go down that tired road. Or maybe I feel annoyed by the characters. Sometimes I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far, but it just hasn’t grabbed me enough. Overcome by ambivalence, I might carry the book around with me for a week without cracking it open again. These are all signs that I’m about to bail.
And I’m okay with that. The way I see it, there are so many amazing, brilliant novels out there that I’ll never have time to read. When I’m reading something I’m really excited about, that’s all I want to do. Those are the books I’ll dip into standing in line at the post office, and read during lunch. When I’ve got a book that I love, I’m hungry to keep exploring that world with those characters. I want more of my reading experiences to be like that, like stealing time away with a new lover.
I just finished reading Island of a Thousand Mirrors by my friend Nayomi Munaweera. I’m in awe of her descriptive language and skilled storytelling in this brilliant, powerful family saga about the Sri Lankan civil war. Highly recommended, even though it made me cry on the train. Before that, I read Road Song a harrowing memoir by Natalie Kusz about growing up in Alaska. I’ve just started Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks which is fantastically quirky and playful. I can’t put it down. At my author event the other day, I met Anker Frankoni who gave me a copy of his novel, Mexican Eskimo. I love connecting with other authors and am curious to check out his book.
These days, I’m not in a book group so I read whatever I like. My books are unordered on the shelves and intermingled with my new partner’s. It gives me pleasure to see them there in our home in Oakland. Still, I am probably more my books that I’ve read than the books I currently own. And I’m okay with that too.
Are you your books? Do you like to hang on to books after you read them or do you let them go? What does your collection of books say about you?