Kerfe's Reviews > Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books

Unpacking My Library by Leah Price
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Mar 04, 12

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in March, 2012

Fun! Photos and interviews with a range of writers about their libraries and personal history and relationship with books. And each gives a "top 10" from their collection.

All of the writers profiled are thoughtful and engaging except for Jonathan Lethem, who still seems to have the adolescent urge to prove how unique, unusual, clever, and "different" he is. Time to grow up, Jonathan.

But the others are worth several looks. Some things I learned: they write in their books. Mostly, they have trouble parting with books. They remember the books their parents owned.

Their top 10's include, of course, a lot of fiction (mostly classics: Chekhov, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Proust, Jane Austin, Nabokov, etc). But also letters, essays, biography, psychology, graphic novels (2 mentions for TinTin), philosophy and religion, drama, science and math, dictionaries/thesauruses, history, sci fi, The Sopranos, and poetry. The one glaring omission, to me: art books, which are, of course, a very large part of my own library. Perhaps the photographers just chose to ignore those shelves? The only writer with any significant collection of art books that I could see was Edmund White.

And then comes the question: what would be in MY top 10? Hard to say, but my first instinct is to include some children's books, starting with Winnie the Pooh. In fact, I could easily find 10 children's books, but then there are the art books, and fiction (how to decide?) and all those other catergories listed above. (Yes I must have a thesaurus).

It's a tough assignment.

Which makes it even more amazing and wonderful that these writers took the time to consider what was in their extensive libraries and make their own lists for this book. (Except Mr. Lethem, of course, who said his list is random and based on maybe titles or covers and he hadn't even read them all but he wasn't going to say which ones..."too mainstream" to really think and answer the question seriously, I suppose, and isn't he clever and different?) So really you can just skip Jonathan.

But thank you! Alison Bechdel, Stephen Carter, Junot Diaz, Rebecca Goldstein, Steven Pinker, Lev Grossman, Sophie Gee, Claire Messud, James Wood, Philip Pullman, Gary Shteyngart, and Edmund White.
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