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The Bookshelf - creative nonfiction by Hannah Dutta

A baby picture of my uncle sits atop a slightly faded, old and overlooked bookshelf. Next to him are art projects hidden from sight, but not hard to find. Some days I see my mother take down the items to dust the top; it can't help but collect up there. Cobwebs form behind the picture frame; my mother doesn’t bother to clean there.

The top shelf is filled with top tier stories. Organized as a hierarchy: Steinbeck, Rushdie, Roth, Morrison are placed next to each other, telling different stories. My great-grandfather’s siddur stands upright in front of the books, asserting his dominance. The same siddur that was placed next to me on my bat-mitzvah as my grandfather said, “my father is probably rolling around in his grave.” My grandmother’s perfume bottle is nicely statued next to the siddur. Two people that never met are now seated together, remembered together. My great-grandfather is probably rolling around in his grave. A barrier separates another shelf of books and memories. Two mugs with faces and ears for handles sit just like my family's objects. Made by a Columbian potter who looked after my baby brother and was forced to leave America, we can see her culture in every detail. Three different worlds-- my great-grandfather’s siddur from eastern Europe, my grandmother's perfume from northern England, and Columbian pottery-- share a shelf, telling stories.

The next shelf holds Atwood, Ferrante, and Allende. Placed between four wide paperbacks is one of my step-grandfather’s famous collages. Framed in a large wooden box, five men fall into a pool covered in feathers and dots. We don’t know what he was thinking when it was made, but trying to figure it out reminds us of his creative mind. As Atwood, Ferrante, and Allende tell stories through words and pages, he tells stories through pictures and glue.

The next shelf houses authors I’ve never heard of: Ellroy, Boyle, Ilosa, Renault. Books my mother said she read, but I bet she doesn’t remember. Placed next to them is a Japanese tea set. A sushi plate under a soy sauce holder under a sake cup. Never have they been used or moved from that shelf.

The bottom is supported by a cabinet. Sliding doors covers a drawer filled with the pieces that came with the vacuum. We only open it on spring-cleaning day, when for some reason we vacuum all the floors and surfaces that collect dog hair in seconds. On those days, when we open those drawers, we are again reminded of the ones we have lost in our lives. My great-grandfather's prayer tefillin are placed in the corner behind the Shark Pet Hair Power Brush. Next to them is the tallit that I wore on my bat-mitzvah. My great-grandfather is probably rolling around in his grave. In the next drawer are all of my dad's childhood memories that he collected from my grandmother's house after her funeral. His old handwritten report cards, framed pictures that are placed face down. Items that are meant to start stories.


Hannah Dutta is a Jewish writer from the Bay Area, California. She is a senior excited to graduate and attend California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo in the fall. She spends her time watching and reviewing movies, playing piano, and listening to music. Hannah is a part of the Jewish youth movement Habonim Dror where she teaches kids about social justice and activism. She likes to write about her family history, diversity, and social justice issues that are important to her.

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