Archive for the ‘Bookshelves’ Category

Check out this wonderful collaboration between Spike Jonze and Olympia Le-Tan:  Mourir Auprès de Toi (To Die By Your Side), a short stop motion film set inside the famous Parisian bookstore, Shakespeare and Company.  Eros and Thanatos and Felt.


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What kind of fool buys a book like this?  A romantic fool.  A fool in love with books.  Me.

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.

Coralie Bickford-Smith, a book designer for Penguin, wrote one of my favourite entries.  She describes the design for Bram Stoker’s Dracula:

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)


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"Unpacking My Library" by Leah PriceUnpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books

Edited by Leah Price

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.

This book was all over the pages of literary periodicals before the holidays.  The book is a great idea for a gift book for a bibliophile, and there are some lovely passages from the interviews with the writers whose bookshelves are profiled in this book.  Sadly, though, this book was a disappointment.  A good third of the photographs were out of focus.  Not artfully out of focus.  Just out of focus.  Not acceptable for a coffee table book.  The interviews were also largely identical.  The same questions were asked of all of the writers, by email I’m guessing, and while there were one or two personalized questions, the interviews began to feel far too similar.  It’s interesting to compare answers to the same questions, yes, but there also has to be individuality, some loving attention to detailed probing. 

I’m glad I spent an hour or two with the book, but it’s not one I’d recommend you rush out to get your hands on.

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My eldest came to kiss me goodnight last night and looked at the tottering pile of books on the bedside table.  Then he looked at the shelf of Books To Be Read.

“That’s a lot of books, Mum.  How many books are you reading, anyway?”

“Don’t go there, son,”  said his father. 

Wise man.

Actually, I am reading two books.  This one and the one in my handbag.”

“And the one you’re reading to us.”

Yes, so just three.

And there are a mere 124 in the pile.  Not including the (overdue) library book.  Also not including the one that was on the shelf twice.  But I’ve read more than that many books so far this year, so I’ll be through that lot by September.

Always thinking ahead. 

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  • Junot Diaz: “Eventually everything I have gets read. But naturally I buy more than I can read, so there is always at least a hundred-book margin between what I own and what I’ve read. What’s cool is that I’ve caught up a couple of times, and this year I intend to catch up again. But then I’ll buy too much and the race starts again.”

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2011/11/unpacking-my-library-jessica-holahan.html#ixzz1eUT511Yn


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A description of the narrator’s girlfriend’s bookshelf:

Her own shelves held a lot of poetry, in volume and pamphlet form.  Eliot, Auden, MacNeice, Stevie Smith, Thom Gunn, Ted Hughes.  There were Left Book Club editions of Orwell and Koestler, some calf-bound nineteenth-century novels, a couple of childhood Arthur Rackhams, and her comfort book, I Capture the Castle.  I didn’t for a moment doubt that she had read them all, or that they were the right books to own.  Further, they seemed to be an organic continuation of her mind and personality, whereas mine struck me as functionally separate, straining to describe a character I hoped to grow into.

Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending

I think it might be the most honest passage in the book.  Certainly the most reliable characterization of Veronica.  Anyone with the good sense to choose I Capture the Castle as her comfort read can’t be as mad as her boyfriend makes her out to be.

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Read and Unread



An added incentive to reduce the TBR pile before adding to it: a balancing act of a bookshelf.  On one side, books read; on the other side, books to be read.

Made by Niko Economidis, via shelf awareness.


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I like to think that I’m no bookworm, egghead, four-eyed paleface library rat. I often engage in activities that have no reference to the printed words. I realize that books are not the entire world, even if they sometimes seem to contain it. But I need the stupid things.

from Luc Sante’s delightful essay “The Book Collection that Devoured Me” in the WSJ

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Books and bookcases cropping up in stuff that I’ve written means that they have to be reproduced on stage or on film. This isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. A designer will either present you with shelves lined with gilt-tooled library sets, the sort of clubland books one can rent by the yard as decor, or he or she will send out for some junk books from the nearest second-hand bookshop and think that those will do. Another short cut is to order in a cargo of remaindered books so that you end up with a shelf so garish and lacking in character it bears about as much of a relationship to literature as a caravan site does to architecture.

From Alan Bennett’s essay “Baffled at the Bookcase” in the LRB.

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My Next House

..will be nothing but bookshelves. 

Thanks to Stefanie at So Many Books for the link to this house designed by Japanese architect Kazuya Morita.

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