My Ideal Bookshelf collects brief essays and interviews from dozens of readers and pairs them with painted portraits of the books the subjects chose for their ideal bookshelf. Jane Mount’s paintings of the books are beautiful to behold. I know that there is this great current of fear out there that we are fetishizing the book and that we do books and publishing no great service by over-emphasizing the book-as-object. But we do, and we collect and we covet and it’s a delicious indulgence. You know that thrill of scanning a person’s bookshelves to see what’s on there? With this book, you get to do that with the slight twist of looking at those books through the veil of art. The spines are all hand-lettered, the Penguin Classics get the added beauty of the uneven line, the imperfect reproduction. You recognize immediately the red and cream of the spine of The Catcher in the Rye, but it’s slightly off; mine, but not mine.
As interesting as the mix of subjects who share their ideal books (lawyers, chefs, designers, writers, dancers) is the mixed approach they took to the task: some made a desert island selection, some chose books that captured their childhood, some chose books that would make a good introduction to their field. Haruki Murakami’s Wind Up Bird Chronicle appeared on a startlingly high number of shelves.
This is not the best book about books you will ever read, this is not the most moving selection of praises sung to the book. The selection of people who contributed their ideal bookshelves was an odd collection (vampire lit’s Stephenie Meyer and cookbook author Mark Bittman; novelist Dave Eggers and fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy; picture-book writer Oliver Jeffers and essayist Malcolm Gladwell), and the essays are often annoyingly brief, cut short. But the book had some great moments. Did you know that there is a book out there that is a collection of photographs of junkyard dogs paired with quotations from William Shakespeare? It’s called Junkyard Dogs and William Shakespeare. It will, apparently, make you cry.
The pattern I created for Dracula is composed of garlic flowers. In the book, the heroine wears garlic flowers around her neck to stop Dracula from biting her in her sleep. So the idea is that they’re wreathed around the book, too, to keep in the evil.
I love the fact that I get to repackage amazing literature that has stood the test of time. I really couldn’t be designing anything more important. (22)