Know Thy Shelf

By Bonnie Wertheim '14, John Rufo '16


Member of College Hill Singers, Duelly Noted and Choir; Co-Founder of the Hamilton College Post-Structuralists’ Club

Let me just take a look around, see what we’ve got here. Some pictures.

The same pictures I’ve had since freshman year I’ve not changed. So whatever I brought with me on day one is still here.

How did you decide which to bring with you?

I guess these are three pictures that have been important to me. So, there’s this one of me performing in the 10th grade. I was Conrad Birdie, so I’m wearing this gold suit, and those are three of my really good friends. And this was a program I volunteered at, so these kids are developmentally delayed, so we’re having a pizza party. And there’s my sister’s graduation. So maybe I brought this sophomore year after she graduated high school.

Where is she now?

She goes to SUNY Purchase. She’s way artsier than I am. Yeah. So I also have DVDs from my high school marching band montages that I’ll pop in everyone once in a while when I’m feeling nostalgic.

I was in a sitting band.

Were you? What’d you play?

I played flute.

Oh yeah, figures. What’d you think I played?


It’ll be more obvious once I say it, ’cause I’m just such a trumpet kid.

I was gonna say something brassy. Let’s see, we’ve got The Great Gatsby, What is Art? I always find myself bringing that one back.

I always bring it back, too. Same with Plato’s Republic. This is the first book I ever read for college. A book my high school history teacher gave me that he signed. I’ve never read it, but in here is one of the most important things anyone has ever written to me. It says, “Gabe, The numbers were not always the best, but your love and passion for history always was. It was a pleasure to have you in class. All the best, Kevin O’Hagen.”

Will you ever read it?

Probably not, but that’s kind of my motto: The numbers weren’t there, but you really enjoyed what you were doing.



Professor of Theatre

How long have you had this office?

I’ve been here for fifteen years. The office has had the same arrangement since I arrived on the first day. The shelves used to be a lot neater.

How would you describe your office shelves?

Ha. Organized chaos. My students always come in and tell me how disorganized they look...they’re always on me about it.

Do you have any arrangement?

I use what I call “the pile system.” As you can see, I have piles of books and papers all over my desk and my shelves. But I know where everything is. If any student asks me for a play, I can easily get it from one of my shelves. I mean, I wouldn’t even know what to do if everything was just so. I like a jagged edge with everything because that’s how life is.

Have you ever gotten rid of any of your books?

Never. My bookshelf is in many ways me. I never get rid of my books; I tell my students to never get rid of their books either. I’m a hoarder of books – I think I still have one of my psych books from undergrad here. But the books I remember usually have nothing to do with theatre, like books about Collin Powell or Michael Jordan. I like books like Jordan Rules because I spend so much of my time doing theatre that it’s interesting to read about something else for a while, too.

Is that what’s there on the top shelf?

Yeah. The top shelf is all personal reading, the second is books on acting and some plays...the bottom is all plays. The top shelf also features some of the final projects from my African-American theatre class. Our final project isn’t a paper or a written assignment—it has to be creative. One of the projects up there is a diorama you can plug in, and it has voiceovers.

Do you think your office and arrangement will be different in the new theatre space?

Well I’ll probably have more shelves. Ideally it’ll be more organized. But I start every semester with everything all neat and clean and then as the semester goes on more and more work and books start piling up. But that’s because I’m using so much stuff! When I move during the summer, the organization will probably depend on my golf game. That determines whatever mood I’m in during the summer.



Jan Admit, writer for Green Apple, COOP Service Intern

So tell me a little bit about your shelves.

They’re very organized, because I’m a very organized person. My friends always tell me how organized I am.

Is there any type of system you have for organizing your shelves?

Not really.

What about the books?

Oh, the books are arranged by height. It’s more aesthetically pleasing that way.

And the boxes of tea on the top shelf?

Also arranged by height, though in reverse order.

How did you choose which books to put on your shelf?

Most of these books are for school (gestures toward Kafka) but three of them were given to me by some of my friends when my mom passed away. I haven’t read them yet. My friends know me really well, though, so I know that I’ll like these books. I also have this one book...it’s just lists for the future. You know, one of those books you get from Urban Outfitters. It’s all lists I can fill in for what I might do in the future.

What about the letters pinned up above the books?

Those are also personal – from different friends at different times in my life. I like memories. Most of them are fairly recent. For example, my Outreach Adventure Award is also here. It’s “for our favorite little chef”...of course, this is full of inside jokes.

Are most of the memories here recent memories?

Yeah I think so. I have a lot of stuff from London, which is where I was last semester. Some of my mugs on the top shelf are from London. I drink a lot of tea so those mugs get a lot of use. I have pictures from London. Oh! Here’s a ticket stub from a performance of Macbeth I saw at the Globe Theatre. But there’s also some things here from my hometown.

Who are in these framed pictures by the books?

So that’s my best friend from home and me. This is my sister and me from when we were babies. But some of the stuff from home isn’t photographs. This ladybug and heart are both from my boyfriend.

So everything on your desk is associated with a personal memory?

Yeah I would say so. I mean I have Advil, Purell, and Nyquil also because I care about my well-being, but they also serve as bookends.



Assistant Professor of Mathematics

So, this is your first year here.


Were you moving from a different office?

I was in Nebraska finishing my PhD, so I was in a shared graduate student office. I had one shelf, and now it’s like this explosion of space, which is really exciting. I can put everything everywhere!

Did you see yourself translating any of those organizing principles from Nebraska when you moved here?

Definitely. In Nebraska, I also had my graduate textbooks arranged by color because I’m more likely to remember what the book looks like than the specific author or any other identifying information about it. I’m a very visual-tactile person. I’m like, okay, big yellow book—look in the yellow section. And that’s how I organized my stuff back there, too. It’s funny to see this as a new design principle because, I guess, it became about being pretty, but it’s also just about practicality.

Were the shelves this pretty green when you moved in?

Yeah, I was delighted because this is one of my favorite colors.

It works really nicely with the other things going on in here.

Yeah, there’s a lot of green.

So, besides books, you have a lot of pictures, sock monkeys.

The pictures on the middle shelf are of Courtney the Gibbon, who is a gibbon at the International Primate Protection League. As you go out into the job market, you get a little paranoid, so you do these Google searches for yourself and one day she came up. I found out more about her, and began to feel a little bit of an affinity for this little gibbon. I even talked about her in my job talk, actually, because some of the math that I do has applications to evolutionary biology and figuring out when species diverged from a common ancestor. So, she was my example. It was Courtney Gibbons and Courtney the Gibbon, which was fun.

You’re enjoying teaching here?

I am, I really like it here. It feels like a really good fit.

The math department’s great.

Yeah, it’s amazing. They’ve been so helpful. Anytime I have any questions, I can get lots of different perspectives, and no one’s really hurt if I don’t follow their advice. They kind of understand that I learn by making mistakes and so they’re not too smug when they’re like, “See, I told you?” and I’m like, “I know,” and they’re like, “Well, you figured it out now.”

What’s that?

That’s my academic lineage. I’m at the bottom, and my advisors are above me, and their advisors are above them. It goes back, sort of in this increasingly folklorish way of, “I think so and so was advised by so and so” and at some point one of the Bernoulli brothers was in seminary and all of his religious ancestors get in the mix. But I had students come in and they were putting green sticky notes next to mathematicians they’ve heard of. It’s a little bit humbling looking at these people thinking, wow I’m really standing on the shoulders of giants, I better accomplish something interesting or I’ll feel like it was wasted on me.

A lot the books you have here are pretty academic. Are there any of them that represent something more personal or sentimental?

The green crocheted thing is actually a dissertation baby blanket. [My friend and I] were sort of joking, who knows whether we’ll have kids or not, and the only thing we’ve produced so far is this dissertation. I was saying, I’ve made so many baby blankets for my friends, and I’m starting to feel a little left out. So she crocheted right over a binder, and my dissertation is sitting inside of it. It’s pretty cute.



Interested in being featured on the Know Thy Shelf blog? Email bwerthei@hamilton.edu for more information.


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