Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Looking For New Books for 2013?

For Christmas, I was gifted with a copy of My Ideal Bookshelf edited by Thessaly La Force with art by Jane Mount. I was drawn to the brightly illustrated cover with spines of books that I could recognize.

Opening the book is just as magical as looking at the cover. Essays were collected from dozens of notable people: authors, chefs, artists, designers, scholars, musicians, etc. Each of them were asked to compile their Ideal Bookshelf. The diversity of professions in the essays makes for a slew of different genres and types of books. The first essay by Hugh Acheson of Top Chef fame is about his love for cooking, and the books that fueled his passion for southern cuisine, and his craft in general, while writer Francine Prose only chose novels and story collections by Anton Chekhov because, "Reading Chekhov shares a quality with looking at certain kinds of great art: both activities feel like a religious experience." 

Each person had their different reasons for choosing the books that they did. Many authors chose books by authors who they idolized and wish their work could be like. Chefs typically chose books that were in their childhood homes and used by their mothers, or books that examine food in a way they agree with. Artists and designers shared their favorite references books or artist biographies. And sometimes, books were simply chosen because they came to them at a pivotal moment in their lives. There are so many other different types of books and their reasons for being there and it was a fun examination into each professions inspirations and desires.

Each 'Ideal Bookshelf' is painted vividly, only showing the spine to show a part of books that are very often seen, but not often appreciated and enjoyed.

One of the fascinating parts of this book was how different each shelf was based simply on appearances. Quite a few people shared the same love of books. Lolita by Nabokov and Nine Stories by Salinger were on several shelves. Many people loved Chekhov, and Carver, and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, but every shelf was arranged very differently. Actor James Franco is notorious for being all over the place: one second he's an actor, the next a director, the next a writer, the next an artist, the next a student napping in the lecture hall, so his shelf is very unorganized with just piles of books thrown haphazardly together. Photographer Alec Soth's shelf was very straight, uniform, with thinner and colorful books.

Something that I really wish was in this book were longer essays. As we all know from my featured reader section, I'm a pretty nosy person when it comes to books and why people like them, and I would've loved to know more about why each person chose each book that they did - especially books that I know and love. Many of the people picked out one or two books to touch upon, and the rest was about their craft. Still interesting to read, but I just would've liked the focus more on the books.

There are over 75 enlightening essays by the folks I already mentioned, as well as Patti Smith, David Sedaris, Roseanne Cash, Miranda July, Judd Apatow, etc. It is definitely worth keeping on your shelf as a reference of books to read. There are hundreds of amazing books in here, and my 'to-read' list grew exponentially. Of course.

What would be on your ideal bookshelf? I still can't figure mine out!

1 comment:

  1. I had been looking forward to reading your review (such a perfectly you Christmas present!). I am happy to say that I finally read Salinger and added his "Nine Stories" under my belt this past year --and that it was even better since it was a shared experience with you :) "Lolita" is a classic I actually collect. I love the different covers!

    I would have a hard time narrowing mine down but my ideal bookshelf would definitely included these: "The Time Traveler's Wife" "Lolita" "A Wrinkle in Time" "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" "Tiger Eyes" "Happens Every Day" "James and the Giant Peach"