So today I discovered a new book titled My Ideal Bookshelf, a coffee-table book featuring 100 notable folks discussing exactly what the title suggests. Here’s a little blurb about it:
The books that we choose to keep and display—let alone read—can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. In My Ideal Bookshelf, one hundred leading cultural figures, including writers Chuck Klosterman, Jennifer Egan, and Michael Chabon, musicians Patti Smith and Thurston Moore, chefs and food writers Alice Waters and Mark Bittman, and fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, reveal the books that matter to them most—books that reflect their obsessions and ambitions and in many cases helped them find their way in the world.
It got me thinking, what would be on my ideal bookshelf? What are the books I’ve held onto…the ones I can come back to again and again and still learn something new from? So, with no further ado, I present an abbreviated version (because a blog post should only be so long) of my own personal ideal bookshelf.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee. I’ve read this book more than any other on the list and would pick it up right now and read it again. In fact, hang on. I’ll be right back… Honorable Mention: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Lee’s pal, Truman Capote, another favorite author of mine.
2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum. I have been an absolute Oz freak since I was old enough to watch Judy Garland and the gang skip down the Yellow Brick Road. Baum’s books are a different breed than the musical, but captivating nonetheless. Honorable Mention: Wicked by Gregory Maguire. A slowly paced and sometimes tedious reimagining, but vivid and creative nonetheless.
3. The Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling. I admit it: I enjoy a good fantasy. I passed on the Potter books during their original run, because I was a Lord of the Rings snob at that point, and they were pitted against each other on the big screen. So I didn’t fall victim to their beauty until the entire series was available. I flew through all seven volumes in just over a month and have been hooked ever since. Honorable Mention: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, for reasons I just stated.
4. Collected Stories – Raymond Carver. Okay, okay. I’m copping out here by choosing an anthology of Carver’s collections, but it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want. Carver was a master of brevity, creating in a few short pages characters that were rich and realized. His work inspired much of my own attempts at short fiction. Honorable Mentions: Try Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July, Bodies of Water by Rosanne Cash or Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer if you’re a short story fan…and apparently I am.
5. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen. I thought I’d throw a little current fiction in here, even if it is set in a Depression-era traveling circus. While I’ve rarely been to a circus in my life, something about the style of traveling show depicted in this book mesmerizes me. Beautifully written. The movie? Eh. Honorable Mention: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. After all, we need more books about vampires and witches, right? But seriously, this one is done right. I’m still struggling through its sequel though.
6. Lamb – Christopher Moore. We’ll probably all go straight to Hell for reading it, but it’s the freakin’ funny tale of the life of Jesus Christ…told from the point of view of his best friend and travelin’ buddy, Biff.
7. Composed – Rosanne Cash. I adore Rosanne Cash’s music, fiction, essays…hell, anytime she puts pen to paper, I want to read it. Honorable Mentions: I confess – I love a good celebrity bio. Some favorites: Cyndi Lauper by Cyndi Lauper, Cloris by Cloris Leachman (Who has an autographed copy? Me!), Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson or any book about the life of Vincent Van Gogh.
8. Columbine – Dave Cullen. This book is physically difficult to get through, it’s so brutal in its honesty. You’ll really have to shake it off when you put it down every night, at least I did.
9. God is Not One – Stephen Prothero. I am fascinated by world religions, and this book offers a brief glimpse into the eight main religions of the world and why their differences matter. I think it’s difficult for people to acknowledge the validity of anything beyond their own chosen faith, but truly understanding one another as human beings requires a basic understanding of what else is out there, wouldn’t you say?
10. The Essential Rumi – Jalal al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. The poetry of a 13th Century Persian mystic? Sign me up! Seriously, though, I got my start with poetry writing and adore the beauty of Rumi’s work.
Okay, this blog is getting entirely too long. I covered fiction, literary classics, non-fiction, biographies and poetry…and I didn’t even scratch the surface, either. There’s plenty more of the classics. Stuff by Dickens, Fitzgerald, or other Capote books for instance. And I didn’t even touch my own genre – writers like Brent Hartinger, J.H. Trumble, Nick Burd or Stephen Chbosky. Perhaps another day. You’ll just have to come back.
Now it’s your turn. Anyone care to share your own essential bookshelf titles?