A Case for Books

Last week, Nora Krug’s article in The Washington Post described how nine best-selling authors organize (some of) their book shelves. A few years ago, I was advised, in a friendly way, to exile to some other place the towering TBR stacks that made walking through our bedroom a risk to toes and shins. How do people solve this problem?

Novelist Elin Hilderbrand has organized her shelves semi-chronologically, based on the era in which she read the books they hold, except for her “favorite books” shelf, pictured in the article. Aha! On it are some of my favorites, too—& Sons (David Gilbert). Also Richard Russo, Jane Smiley, and Margaret Atwood!

Diana Gabaldon has a rather arcane shelf of medical and healing-related reference books in her 3500-volume collection (The Curious Lore of Precious Stones sounds irresistible). Another author heavily into research is Garrett Graff, who writes about politics. His shelf is stuffed with nonfiction books about 9/11.

Vanessa Riley’s shelves display her own colorful books, along with an array of Barbie dolls of prominent black women. I spotted two of my recent faves: The Mirror and the Light (Hilary Mantel) and The Rose Code (Kate Quinn)—books that, as Riley says, “make the past come alive in new, rich ways.

Emma Straub’s collection caught my eye with a shelf from the bookstore she owns containing numerous titles by Michael Chabon (yay!), and Dan Chaon (also yay!). Then Julia Child’s My Life in France. At this point, I realized the shelf is alphabetical. Author Hernan Diaz (just long-listed for the Booker Prize) is another alphabetizer, with solid collections of George Elliot. Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In the photo of Jennifer Weiner’s shelves, she’s organized the two shown by color. Yellow above, blue below, like an upside-down Ukrainian flag. This may seem an odd way to arrange books, except to someone like me, who is more likely to remember the color of a book’s jacket than its title. A refitted “gigantic closet” serves as the library for her overspill. To demonstrate that no closet is too small to be repurposed in this way, the picture at the head of this piece is my “TBR Closet.”

Chris Bohjalian’s shelves are a study in wild contrasts: Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Louise Erdrich and William Faulkner. Two whole shelves of Fitzgerald’s works, including several editions of The Great Gatsby, including one in Armenian, FSF’s letters, and biographies. As in my house, he organizes his history collection chronologically.

On Christopher Buckley’s alphabetized shelves are Ben Macintyre’s nonfiction Operation Mincemeat, recently adapted for film, and several familiar history books, as well as books emblematic of their moment. I vividly remember reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Catch-22, and Deliverance. As an aside, perusing these shelves is a lesson in how unreadable a lot of spine copy is!

On your own, I’m sure you can divine the theme of this bookshelf of mine:

One thought on “A Case for Books

  1. Your shelf is much more organized than mine. The mention of Catch 22 and Deliverance brought back memories. Heller’s original title was Catch 18, but the numerals were expanded to make what they felt was a “catchier title.” James dickey’s Deliverance ranks among the best books I’ve ever read. Dickey was a nationally recognize poet when he wrote the novel. His son, Christopher Dickey, wrote a fascinating memoir about his relationship with his father called A Summer of Deliverance. It’s well worth reading and gives a lot of insight into their relationship.

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