More than a hundred contributors chose books to fill their ideal bookshelves to make up this volume (edited by Thessaly La Force, artwork by Jane Mount).
I spent weeks browsing through the pages, amused to find that sometimes the shelves of the writers I’d eagerly anticipated when I saw their names in the table of contents left me rather ho-hum, and sometimes the unexpected (a chef or a designer) contributor would find me scribbling multiple titles in my TBR list.
The shelf that I photocopied to use as a guide to request titles via interlibrary loan? Nancy Pearl’s.
The shelf that made me wish they’d limited appearances by a single author on the shelf? Francine Prose’s.
(Not that I don’t understand the importance of Chekov’s stories to her, but because I greedily wanted more recommendations for myself.)
The shelf that had me flipping to the Contributors’ section? Hilton Als (See, it didn’t take long: an ‘A’.)
My copy was dotted with flags by the time I finished reading, so here are some of the quotes that I noted. Maybe you will find a new favourite here too.
Rosanne Cash, Musician and Writer
“I think books find their way to you when you need them. Whenever I feel like I’m not going to live to read all the books I want to read, I remind myself that the important ones find their way to me.”
Michael Chabon, Writer
“Your style is still going to be constructed out of the material that you have inherited, but it’s going to be put together in some way that has, hopefully, never quite been heard before.”
Jennifer Egan, Writer
“My goal as a writer is to do as much as possible at one time. Life itself is so cacophonous and complex. It’s not that I want to create a cacophony, but I want to do justice to the complexity around us. I don’t want to oversimplify it.”
Dave Eggers, Writer
I really am the kind of dork who goes back to the same books for inspiration again and again.
Malcolm Gladwell, Writer
“When I see my bookshelf expanding, it gives me the illusion that my brain is expanding, too.”
Kim Gordon, Artist and Musician
(This is not a quote, but she recommends the eeriest sounding children’s book: The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright. Do you know it?)
Philip Gourevitch, Writer
“This shelf is mostly fiction, because novels taught me how the world works – or at least how to think about how the world works. Fiction and nonfiction both have to be true, but nonfiction has to be fact-checkable as well.”
Pico Iyer, Writer
“Like any friend, it changes as I change, growing as I slowly come to know myself and the world a little better; and like any friend, it’s always the same, really.” [about a book one re-reads]
Maira Kalman, Illustrator and Writer
“Inside it’s polished, it’s quiet; during the day, the sun is usually streaming through one room or another. And all the people are sitting there together, but they’re all going to completely different places through the books they’re reading.”
Aria Beth Sloss, Writer
I had an idea in my head of what a novel was, and that book cracked my idea wide open.
John Jeremiah Sullivan, Writer
“Of course when I start thinking about all I’m leaving out, I get a drowning feeling, but I believe this would be a decent shelf from which to regrow civilization.”
Vendela Vida, Writer
Why do I write? In some ways, for the same reasons that I read: to know I’m not alone. But that’s not the full explanation. Books have had more influence on me than anything else in my life, and I turn to them for everything: escape, humor, philosophy, story, and craft. I write because I can’t not write. Literature holds so much power over me, it has whispered in my ear so often, that I have to respond.
The Ideal Bookshelf is a perfectly bookish book. And, in the back, is an outline which other bookish folks can use to create their own bookshelf. I’m mentally assembling my own even now!