How a Decor-Loving English Professor Displays Her Book Collection

As author of the (hilarious) decor satire book Decorating a Room of One’s Own, this literature professor can’t resist a good book — or its cover. Get a glimpse inside her curiosity-shop home and see how every room, wall and nook becomes a little library.

Photo By: Sarah Torretta Klock

Photo By: Sarah Torretta Klock

Photo By: Sarah Torretta Klock

Photo By: Sarah Torretta Klock

Photo By: Sarah Torretta Klock

Photo By: Sarah Torretta Klock

Photo By: Sarah Torretta Klock

Photo By: Sarah Torretta Klock

Photo By: Sarah Torretta Klock

Photo By: Sarah Torretta Klock

Shakespeare Shelf

I moved into my 1920s shingled house in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 2013. Since then, the house (which I call "Maud") has become a home for my collections, including paper weights, fridge magnets, skulls (not real ones), souvenirs, dishes, and - of course - books. I’ve been acquiring books for 20 years and can’t imagine my house without them. This is one of my favorite bookshelves. It’s an old shelf I found at an antiques store, and it’s very shallow, which is nice. I thought it would be perfect for my old editions of Shakespeare. I put these books in my guest room, in case a visitor is seized with an uncontrollable desire to read King Lear. I teach Shakespeare, but I don’t teach with these editions; I just think they’re pretty. A lot of them were gifts, but I bought the little blue set when I lived in New York City a decade ago, from a bookseller on Broadway in Morningside Heights, near Columbia. Those booksellers always had good things.

Tattered Spines

I like it that some of these editions are really tattered. I know that some people would worry about book spines peeling or bindings breaking, but I just think it show the books’ age, which reminds me that they had a long history before I acquired them. The little ceramic Titanic box is a souvenir from the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I wrote an essay about the museum years ago, and I bought this in the gift shop. I have always loved souvenirs. The polka dot pig is a Jonathan Adler butter dish. I found him at a TJ Maxx in Pasadena, California, so he’s also a souvenir of sorts.

Vintage Editions

This is also in the guest room. I’m a big fan of this tiny French dictionary because I have always loved France, and I’m absolutely convinced I’m going to move to Paris one day. The four books here are Coralie Bickford-Smith’s Penguin editions. I have collected a lot of these editions over the years. They’re beautifully designed, and they have red ribbon bookmarks. I wish that all books had ribbon bookmarks.

By the Bookend

This bookshelf is in my sitting room. It was made locally, and it holds a lot, even if it is overflowing a little at this point. I love bookends, and you need bookends for a shelf like this. This shelf is mostly nonfiction. I put a lot of my travel books here: both books that I have read for pleasure and books I read when I was doing research for my book Luggage. I found the big fabric wall hanging at a vintage store, and the wooden roses are from a gas station in the mountains in Virginia.

Memento Mori

This little stack of books is also in my sitting room. Most of these books are about the craft of nonfiction, so they’re for my Creative Nonfiction workshop. And H Is for Hawk is really incredible - I teach it, too. This plastic skull is one of my many skulls. I have lots of skulls, and I always find new ones to add to my collection around Halloween. I even have a complete (poseable) plastic skeleton in my cabinet of curiosities. His name is John Donne.

Poetic License

I have lots of stacks of books all over my house. These are in the foyer, so they’re the first things I see when I come home. There is an antique radio behind them, and I used to have stacks of books in front of the radio, too, but I shelved those last summer. These stacks are pretty much all poetry. I have another few poetry stacks in my living room, too. The little plastic chair is a model of the chairs at the New York Public Library. I wrote in the Rose Reading Room for years, and it’s one of my favorite places in the world.

Literary Critics

These shelves are in the sunroom upstairs, which is one of my favorite rooms in my house. It’s so nice to sit in here when it snows. And it’s where I write. These shelves are mostly fiction. I arranged the books by color, with a lot of framed photographs, vases, postcards, and figurines. Some people think it’s silly to arrange books by color - that there is something unsavory about thinking more about a book’s appearance than its content - but I think it’s really practical. I know what a book’s spine looks like, so it’s the easiest way for me to find something.

All the Jane Austen

I love Jane Austen, and I thought it would be nice to gather all my Austen together. This book tower is also in my sunroom. I like my editions of Pride and Prejudice that have sort of funny, pulp-y covers. The pink paperback edition here has a huge diamond engagement ring on the cover. I also have a lot of fake plants in this room because I tend to kill plants.

Novel Ideas

This is also in the sunroom. I put my Oxford editions together. I found the gnome in the gift shop of the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. I collect gnomes, and he is quite a character. And the antler is from a little store in the Smoky Mountains. I like to go on road trips with my dog Millie, and we stop at antiques places. I have found a few antlers over the years.

Write Your Own Story

This is the same corner of the sunroom. I grouped books by color here, too. My academic book, Memories of War in Early Modern England, is hiding in there. I found the painting of the house - on the floor, to the left - in a vintage suitcase I bought. (I collect vintage luggage.) This corner feels kind of packed with things, but I like it that way. It’s nice to sit on the couch and look around the room and see a lot of books.

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