A Mentor on My Bookshelf


Student Voice: Lehman student Ebba Zajmi Gjergi shares her love for literature.

By Ebba Zajmi Gjergji.

I’m the type of person who is constantly spring-cleaning; I consider it a cathartic exercise. Every couple of months, there are donation and trash bags outside of my door. The things I can never throw out or give away, however, are my books. I’ve been collecting books since I can remember.

Whenever I meet a potential romantic (or even platonic) interest, the first question I ask them is: “What is your favorite book?” And when I’m at their place for the first time, I browse their collection to gauge our levels of compatibility. It may sound superficial or unnecessary, but in my experience, it is a foolproof method.

My bed is situated so that it’s right next to my desk area and therefore underneath wall-to-wall shelves of books. My father jokes, quite often and maybe in hopes of getting me to change my arrangement, that one day the weight of my books may collapse the shelves and crush my head. These weighty objects range from Albanian cooking books with recipes for baklava to Tolkien’s famous trilogy. In a sense, this is a timeline of my life as told through obsessive literary purchases – most of which I make impulsively, leaving unread books on the shelf that is their purgatory.

Over the years, my favorite books have come together on a single shelf – the shelf above my desk area. The tenants are, of course, always changing as I change. Currently, the community is primarily Latino, Indian, and Albanian.

I have two copies of every Junot Diaz book, some signed and some unsigned. Likewise, I have two copies of Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia. These are the books that taught me I could write honestly about my own experiences. Following them are Albanian writers like Kadare, Vorpsi, and Dones – inspiring me to look further into my own culture, to take what is valuable and true from it and turn it into something for the world to read.

Arundhati Roy rents three spaces with the first filled by The God of Small Things, to tell me to always keep politics in mind. The late Marquez butts in to ensure that I write these politics beautifully. And Sylvia Plath is there as a souvenir of my own mental battles, urging me to survive instead of putting my own head into an oven. The surrounding shelves fan out from this center to include books of philosophy and theory, books that have shaped my understanding of humanity. Together, these are the worlds that float above my head, held up quite miraculously by old wood, while I work and sleep.