Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Personal Bookshelf

I just rediscovered a book on my shelves called My Ideal Bookshelf. Over one hundred creative types from a variety of disciplines (including authors) were asked to produce a small representative bookshelf of their favorite titles, books that have changed their lives, or made them who they are today. I thought this was a captivating idea and started thinking about my own shelf. And here's what I came up with: One Hundred Years of Solitude, All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers by Larry McMurtry (the only time I've ever seen anyone else signal this title is in the book by writer Chuck Klosterman), Poems of Elizabeth Bishop, Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy, A Visit to Don Otavio by Sybille Bedford, Consider the Oyster by M F K Fisher, Out of This Century by Peggy Guggenheim, Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison, Catcher in the Rye, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Essays of E. B. White, Early Autumn by Robert B. Parker, Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz, the NYT Cookbook. Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson.

Send me your own shelf. What titles influenced your life?

I want to add more and more this is just my first off-the-top effort. I am trying to combine the bookselling years when I read and sold mysteries with the Latin American Studies years when I discovered Garcia-Marquez but I ought to drop some of the Latins for the odd European writer, certainly a Brit. I've read a lot of Brits in my time. Forster's Howard's End and A Passage to India, Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Mansfield's stories, that big Bloomsbury bio of what's-his-name, Ralph Partridge? which was mostly about Spain. Then with a nod at Curtis, Flannery O'Connor's stories, Garcia-Lorca's poetry and that of Denise Levertov. More poets such as Sexton, Forche, Williams, Dylan Thomas, Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Larkin, Neruda. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. All of Joan Didion and, at the same time, I was gobbling up Robert Stone (Flag for Sunrise), and At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen. Thank God for google in my dotage when I remember Robert but can't get Stone without a search. And there it is, instantly. And that lovely little book on Venice by Link? And the other Brodsky book on Venice. And Hemingway? His letters? His short stories. Post Office by Charles Bukowski?And that big fat reference by someone, Martin Seymour-Smith's New Guide to Modern World Literature which listed every 20th C. author around the world and gave an authoritative and opinionated appraisal in a sentence or two. There was Vonnegut and Muriel Spark and even earlier Aldous Huxley and Anais Nin. 1984. Geoff Dyer. Nick Hornby. What about Nabokov? Julia Child? Edith Wharton? Stephen Spender's Diaries. Steinbeck.Faulkner? The Russians? Pat's reading Simone de Beauvoir whom I've never read. In fact, other than Flaubert, I haven't read a lot of French writers. Francoise Sagan of course in my very young days and the expats in early 19C Paris. I see a lot of Lydia Davis here among others' notable books and Lorrie Moore, too. Not so much Shakespeare. Murakami, yes. Evelyn Waugh. The most obscure titles show up under a photographer, Alec Soth, from Minnesota. I only recognize his Wallace Stevens and WCW as well as Nicholson Baker and a book on Alice Neel. Henry Green's Loving shows up. No one has read him. He's supposedly a writer's writer so there you are. There's more of Harold McGee than I'd expect - he writes on the science of cooking.

But as I go through these shelves, I am thinking I should toss all this new stuff I spend so much time with. Get rid of it and go back to the classics, the tried and true. There is only so much time left. Read some quality. Tonight I am reading the new George Saunders and it's good, Lincoln in the Bardo. I now see Hardwick's Sleepless Nights, next month's book club choice, leap forward from Vendela Vida's page (she is a modern writer I've read). And Dani's favorite Ayelet Waldman has a few newer writers Ondaatje, Eggers, McEwan, Naipaul, St. Aubyn, and Jane Gardam's Old Filth and of course her husband, Michael Chabon, plus Shirley Jackson and Jane Austen. Some Harvard professor lists Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne which would hearten Helen but someone else lists her nemesis, Clarice Lispector. An artist mentions Niki de Saint Phalle's Remembering 1930-1949 which I must look up. Jane Eyre should be in my own shelf. Alice Waters includes Marcel Pagnol (there he is in my bookcase), Wendell Berry, Richard Olney along with expected food writers about the hearth and the wine.

I am walking through the house, examining my shelves, looking at LibraryThing where most of my titles are catalogued, and becoming verklempt over the satisfaction I've gotten from my books over the years, not just reading them but lending, fondling and perusing. How can I even begin to weed?

No comments :