My husband sent me this link to Shelf-Conscious and my head exploded. Did you know that people used to shelve their books spine-in and then draw a picture to represent the book on the exposed pages opposite the spine? Click on the link to see what I mean.
The article goes through some favorite writers who can’t stand to have books around them purging as they go, and those whose books are a vision in all of their spine-y glory.
Oh, yeah, book geeks rejoice.
After forwarding this link to Sarah, my favorite librarian, we decided to pick a random shelf and see what it says about us.
The alphabetizing shows that I am married. Prior to meeting my husband, my shelves were by category. He is an unrepentant alphabetizer. I knew that he would be lost without it, so our compromise was that they would be alphabetized but there would also be large categories. There are two Hunter Thompson books here, but the majority are in non-fiction, separate section.
The stacking shows that we ran out of room, and wait. What is Michael Chabon doing in there? That’s a book of essays. Wrong letter, wrong category. That is an example of my chaos on my husband’s at-one-time organized life.
On the far left stacked above is The Sonora Review, David Foster Wallace Tribute Issue. That should be in the literary journal section. Above that, a book of essays writers writing about other writers. Say that three times fast. I don’t know whose that is. I never thought I’d be able to say that, and yet after all this time our lives and our tastes have merged in some places.
I see Tristram Shandy, one of my husband’s all time favorites and a book that I have begun a handful of times and never been able to get into, or understand. He wanted to name our first son Tristram because of that book. Like the book, I have trouble saying it. The “str” sound in the middle of a name is too much for my mouth.
There’s Amy Tan, and Donna Tartt, two books I adore. Hunter Thompson, a man whose voice is like none I have ever read. On to Thoreau, now you know the poets are not mine, and then we have Tolkien. I had just finished reading Harry Potter when I began Tolkien and read them one after the other, loving every minute. I recall wondering why no one mentioned Harry Potter was a retelling of The Lord of the Rings. Why is that rarely said?
Tolstoy and Turgenev, some of the best short story writers on the planet. And in a bit of synchronicity A Confederacy of Dunces is on the same shelf as my husband’s favorite, although he does love Confederacy. Our second son, came within a hair’s breadth of being named Ignatius after that main character. In my opinion, there has never been a greater comic character in literary fiction.
Oh boy, but now we get my heart, Colm Toibin. The Master…this book may very well have changed my life if I can pull off what I’m trying to pull off with my novel. Brooklyn and his latest which I have yet to read, The Empty Family. I see these and my heart beats faster. The promise of an unread book by a favorite author, oh yes.
I have a horrible recollection about specifics in books. But I do have a sensory overload of the way a book made me feel. I’m that way with friends too, come to think of it. I may need to be reminded of a story that you told me, but I will never forget the look on your face, the sound of your voice, whether I am outraged for you, or in love with the person who loves you for you.
Tolkien- A complete fantastical world.
Updike-A small world, bitterness.
Tolstoy and Turgenev- Looking through a keyhole into a study where two people are having a conversation. Nothing is ever as it appears.
Toibin- Small decisions effecting the lives of families. A writer with astute care.
Thompson- Raw and crisp.
Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist- Sadness
And The Confederacy of Dunces-Sadness turned into humor in the best way possible. Over-the-top situations and the human condition as just that, human.
There’s a few that are mine that I haven’t read. Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, one I’ve tried numerous times to no avail, and oddly, Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, a book for a college class in which I argued so much with the professor he ended up having me teach a section. Still haven’t read that book.
There’s an old book in the far right stack, The History of King Arthur and Arthurian Romances by Chretien De Troyes in its proper place. I recall nothing other than those were for a class.
And lucky for me, there are three at the end I never noticed before, the advantage of being married to a fellow book lover. Letting Loose the Hounds- Udall, Before You Sleep- Ullmann, and The Palm-Wine Drunkard- Tutuola. As for those I think what I usually do, I must read those.
Oh, yes, and the big fat one in the center, War and Peace. Never read it and doubt I’ll ever have that much to prove again.
After all, in the time I read that, I could have read all of the books on these shelves I have yet to read.