A few weeks ago, my friend Sam posted a beautiful picture of her bookshelves on Instagram with the caption “A house that has a library in it has a soul.” I commented on her picture three times, writing about how out of sorts I feel being so far away from my books. I’ve been out of my apartment for about ten months now, and couch surfing has its ups, it has its downs. A definite no-no, poopie bummer is not being able to have access to my books. I wish I could be someone who has little to no attachment to material things, but I’m so sentimental about some of my stuff. I can look at an item of clothing and be reminded of where and when I bought it, how drunk I got while wearing it the first time, what vacations I’ve taken it on. My books are like little time machines– they remind me of my past, call to mind old obsessions and concerns, make me remember how captured I felt while reading them. I miss poking through my stacks of books, I miss remembering a passage and finding the book and re-reading an entire chapter, I miss going through pages and seeing paragraphs I’d underlined and pages I’d dogeared. Eventually I will get an apartment again. I’ll settle down and buy sheets and dishes and bookshelves. I’ll be reunited with my boxes of books, my old buddies, and I won’t leave my house for three weeks.
- Finishing the structural outline of my screenplay! Wahoo! Took over a month. Now I just have to write the damn thing.
- Calling my mom on Sunday night only to have her rush me off the phone to watch “Game of Thorns.” Mom, it’s “Thrones.”
- Listening to my first book on tape– Tough Shit by Kevin Smith. My lovely friend Tracy sent it to inspire me and keep a fire under my butt. It’s working!
- My Beverly Hills Public Library library card. I’m trying to save money and books are my biggest splurge. First items checked out: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver, and Collected Stories by Anton Chekhov.
- Early evening walks through Larchmont Village.
- Waking up without a hangover. Hey, it’s the little things.
- My 11m Saturday night trip to the 24 hour Von’s Grocery Store. Items purchased: one honeydew, one plum, one bag of Terra Sweet Potato Chips.
When I was coming up with my Ideal Bookshelf, I didn’t include Alice Munro. It could be because it is simply too hard to choose one favorite from her many story collections. Or it could have something to do with an untouchable quality she has– I find her work so affecting that I hesitate to qualify or quantify its importance. Suffice it to say that each time I encounter one of her stories, I am mesmerized and transfixed and I fall in love. I found this link to one of my favorites– “An Ounce of Cure” (a teenage girl gets dumped and gets drunk)– but there are so many good ones, and any collection offers writing that is necessary and wild and tame and elliptical and growing and full of so much recognizable life.
When was the last time you listened to Anita Baker? I sometimes forget about her and how much I love her throated alto and seminal 1980’s haircut. She has a beautiful voice and her music makes me think of my mom’s tape collection of lite jazz and smooth R&B. Currently obsessed with “Giving You the Best That I Got.”
Polaroid might be on a break and nothing can really replace it. But for those of us who love instant non-digital pictures, Fuji’s Instax camera might be a close second. The photos are a bit wider than standard Polaroids, but other than that, it’s the same instant picture fun! I’m now on my third Instax and I can’t recommend it enough. Kids love them and they make wonderful wedding gifts, too.
I’ve known my friend Michael since sophomore year of high school. We got to talking about Stephen King after he saw me lugging around a copy of “The Stand,” and then we realized we also shared a love for “The Little Shop of Horrors” musical. He is one my favorite people in the world and has a wonderful blog devoted to his musing on life, books, and movies. Go say hello!
Eugene O’Neill is an American playwright. He wrote Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Iceman Cometh, and Desire Under the Elms to name a few. His work is ineffably beautiful and poignant and painful. Ric Burns made a documentary for PBS on O’Neill’s life and work and you can get it on Netflix. I think it’s a must-see for anyone who’s curious about O’Neill, but also for folks who wonder about the cost of creative expression and the redemptive power of art. My favorite moment is a dramatization of Edmund’s monologue from Long Day’s Journey when he describes his first encounter with the divine.
Please read Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. The 2008 film adaptation was fine, but the book is exquisite. Unfortunately it might squeeze most of the happiness out of your life, and you may forever cast a suspicious eye towards the suburbs. But if you can deal with that, you will see that it is a careful look at how we live. Yates picks picks picks at the scab crusted over our lives and the underneath is there and we have so much vitality and it’s raw and fragile, but it’s beautiful and ours alone, and Yates dares us to dream about what life could contain if fear isn’t a guiding principle.
“He let the fingers of one hand splay out across the pocket of his shirt to show what a simple, physical thing the heart was; then he made the same hand into a fist which he shook slowly and wordlessly…”
So I know that it’s wrong to lie and make stuff up and attempt to pass off fiction as fact and only bad people do these things and if good people do these things, they should expect to be openly humiliated, publicly punished, we’ll call for hara-kiri. I know that culturally, “truth” is paramount, that’s how things work, we appeal to it in order to keep people in line, it’s how we can have at the very least the semblance of accountability. I know these things should be true, but I can’t help wrinkling my nose whenever there is another Jayson Blair/Stephen Glass/James Frey occurrence.
Jonah Lehrer published Imagine: How Creativity Works in 2012. It was a work of nonfiction dealing with the science of creativity. It shot to the top of bestseller lists, Malcolm Gladwell was an enthusiastic fan and revered Lehrer’s mastery of language and scientific principles, Lehrer was destined to be a star. Forever. And then a few journalists pointed out discrepancies in his work and it turned out that he had doctored some Bob Dylan quotes, plagiarized some of his earlier work, misrepresented data, used false information, the list goes on. Lehrer resigned from his staff position at The New Yorker, publishers recalled all unsold copies of Imagine, and Lehrer will probably never write again. People now discuss him in hushed tones as though his crime were pedophilia.
Oh, I love this book. It’s totally caught me by surprise (I tried to tackle it when I was 18, and tossed it aside after the first few pages), but the language, the scope, the ideas– I’m a huge fan. And I’ll be sad to leave St. Petersburg and Moscow when I’m finished. I rarely do books that are this long (my translation is 736 pages). I’ve read “It” and “The Stand,” both by Stephen King (and each of those suckers are over 1000 pages), but those were about blood and creepy crawlies and clowns with teeth and severed limbs and bloated corpses, so you know, the pages kinda fly. But those books are also about love and the pain of being alive and trying to find yourself and your purpose, and so is “Anna Karenina,” and I just can’t put it down.
It’s full of all the throbbing questions that I am constantly rolling over– who am I? What’s my purpose? What is the real power of love? Is there any point to living? Should I just drink more vodka? Does the pain go away? And the language. I know I’m reading a translation, but there are some passages that are too beautiful. I’m just over halfway through and I want it last and last.
“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
This is just. The best thing. The Ideal Bookshelf project features portraits of book spines. Painter Jane Mount and writer Thessaly La Force have published a book with interviews and bookshelf paintings from 100 writers, actors, chefs, musicians, designers, artists, and directors. My favorite thing to do when I first meet someone is browse through their books– I love peeking at new bookshelves packed with books I recognize, love, can’t wait to read, have never heard of– and the Ideal Bookshelf is like a really great Suggested Reading list. Above is David Sedaris’s ideal shelf.
It’s funny. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing myself or understanding how others see me. I’ve always used books as a way to help me recognize myself a little more. I read and my identity feels less shifting, I feel tethered to my own experience in a new way. Which seems paradoxical– I need something outside of myself to keep me attached to what’s inside of me– but there is something about the bond between writer and reader, something about the recognition of the same thing across time and space that makes me feel less lonely, more at home. Some books, some stories, some words just stick, become a part of me, make me find myself in a whole new way. Yay. I love that books have the power to do that. Here is what my ideal bookshelf might look like (for now– it’s always kind of changing, huh?). These are some of the books I keep coming back to, that I think of long after I’ve put them down, that I can see echos of in my own life.
My Ideal Bookshelf
- The Known World, Edward P. Jones
- It, Stephen King
- The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm
- The Color Purple, Alice Walker
- Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace
- Demonology, Rick Moody
- After Henry, Joan Didion
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
- What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt
- The Secret History, Donna Tartt
- The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton