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Unpacking My Library

Unpacking My Library

Edited by Leah Price
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Unpacking My Library
    Book Description:

    As words and stories are increasingly disseminated through digital means, the significance of the book as object-whether pristine collectible or battered relic-is growing as well.Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Booksspotlights the personal libraries of thirteen favorite novelists who share their collections with readers. Stunning photographs provide full views of the libraries and close-ups of individual volumes: first editions, worn textbooks, pristine hardcovers, and childhood companions.

    In her introduction, Leah Price muses on the history and future of the bookshelf, asking what books can tell us about their owners and what readers can tell us about their collections. Supplementing the photographs are Price's interviews with each author, which probe the relation of writing to reading, collecting, and arranging books. Each writer provides a list of top ten favorite titles, offering unique personal histories along with suggestions for every bibliophile.

    Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Booksfeatures the personal libraries of Alison Bechdel, Stephen Carter, Junot Díaz, Rebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker, Lev Grossman and Sophie Gee, Jonathan Lethem, Claire Messud and James Wood, Philip Pullman, Gary Shteyngart, and Edmund White.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18058-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[v])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    As a teenaged babysitter, I went straight for the books. No sooner did the door close behind the spruced-up parents than I was on the prowl: the bedside table for erotica, the kitchen counter for cookbooks, the toilet top for magazines, and finally the official living room shelves. Only then did I scan the refrigerator. The French gastronome Brillat-Savarin would have approved: he began hisPhysiology of Taste(1826) by declaring, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”

    You are also what you read—or, perhaps, what you own. In my college dorm, a...

  4. Alison Bechdel
    (pp. 8-25)
    Alison Bechdel and LEAH PRICE

    Leah price: Of all the bookshelves I’ve seen for this project, yours are the most obsessively organized. Their arrangement juxtaposes the high and the low, the ephemeral and the scholarly, but there’s nothing haphazard about the efficiency with which you have categorized, for example, “tits and clits” in one box and “misc. boy” in another. Does this extend to the way you organize your other possessions? Do you color-code your spices, alphabetize your socks?

    Alison bechdel: It’s ironic that I categorize my library so rigidly because I’ve often griped about the way my own work gets pigeonholed in bookstores. My...

  5. Stephen Carter
    (pp. 26-41)
    Stephen Carter and LEAH PRICE

    Leah price: How far back does your collection stretch? When were the first books that you still own acquired? At what age did you start buying books? Which ones have you kept, and shed, as you moved?

    Stephen carter: In the beginning, I bought comic books. The first books that I made any effort to collect were theTom Swiftbooks. This would have been in the early and mid-sixties, when I was still in grade school. Although they are now mostly boxed away, I still own nearly every book I ever bought for a high school, college, or law...

  6. Junot Díaz
    (pp. 42-59)
    Junot Díaz and LEAH PRICE

    Leah price:The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waocan be seen (among many other things) as a reflection on what it means to be a “reader/fanboy.” One character says, “I should have known not to trust anybody whose favorite books as a child wereEncyclopedia Brown.” How far back does your collection stretch?

    Junot díaz: I have in my collection some of the first books I ever owned, 1975, though my true first books, a set ofCollier’s Encyclopediafrom 1965, given to me by a neighbor with volumes 6 and 12 missing, were lost during one of my...

  7. Rebecca Goldstein & Steven Pinker
    (pp. 60-83)
    Rebecca Goldstein, LEAH PRICE and Steven Pinker

    Leah price: How far back do your collections stretch? When were the first books that you still own acquired? At what age did you start buying books? Which ones have you kept, and shed, as you moved? At what phases of your existence has reading books—and owning books—been most important to you? Have there been periods of your life when you stopped reading?

    Rebecca goldstein: I grew up in a family that considered book buying a luxury for rich people. We used the public library. So I remember vividly when I started buying books, which was at age...

  8. Lev Grossman & Sophie Gee
    (pp. 84-109)
    Lev Grossman, LEAH PRICE and Sophie Gee

    Leah price: In interviews, you’ve referred to libraries as maps of the brain; what exactly do you mean by this?

    Lev grossman: I didn’t mean anything especially profound. Just that when you look around somebody’s personal library, you can actually see, physically, instantiated as objects, a map of that person’s interests and preoccupations and memories. When you stand inside somebody’s library, you get a powerful sense of who they are, and not just who they are now but who they’ve been. My library contains old books, books from college courses, books from now-abandoned careers and relationships, books from my father’s...

  9. Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 110-125)
    Jonathan Lethem and LEAH PRICE

    Leah price: How far back does your collection stretch?

    Jonathan lethem: I guess I remember books in my room as early as I remember my room. At least two of those are still with me: my mother’sAlice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass,a beaten-up wartime edition in yellow boards, but with a lavish interior—the Tenniel illustrations each given their own page and framed with a red border, which still seems the only right way to view them, for me. And, a translation of a morose French children’s classic,Sans Famille(translated asNobody’s Boy), about an...

  10. Claire Messud & James Wood
    (pp. 126-147)
    Claire Messud, LEAH PRICE and James Wood

    Leah price: How far back does your collection stretch? When were the first books that you still own acquired? At what age did you start buying books? Which ones have you kept, and shed, as you moved?

    Claire messud: Most of my earlier books are from high school or college—I’ve got lots of worthy tomes from university (Auerbach! Lacan! Jameson! Fish!), though I’ve passed on more than a few, by now, to more diligent academic readers than I. (I come from a family of book hoarders: at one point, when clearing my things rather belatedly out of my parents’...

  11. Philip Pullman
    (pp. 148-165)
    Philip Pullman

    My collection stretches back to my childhood. I can date it more or less precisely: I still have the book I took out of our family bookshelf when, at the age of eight, we set off to sail from London to Australia (and of course I don’t mean sail, I mean go by sea, that being the usual mode of long-distance transport in the 1950s). The book was a selection of the poems of Longfellow, including a lot ofHiawatha,which I read with avidity. I don’t know why I chose that book: I suppose I wanted to impress people....

  12. Gary Shteyngart
    (pp. 166-181)
    Gary Shteyngart and LEAH PRICE

    Leah price: When I asked other authors whether they read e-books, they often justified a negative answer by invoking nonvisual senses: in particular, smell, the pleasure they take in the whiff of paper and glue. Your latest novel turns this logic on its head, picturing a future (or present) in which people glued to machines that bear a suspicious resemblance to iPhones hold their noses when confronted with a book, let alone a bookshelf. One character compares the smell of books to the smell of wet socks. So: how do the senses play into your experience of reading? Does the...

  13. Edmund White
    (pp. 182-197)
    Edmund White and LEAH PRICE

    Leah price: You’ve said, “As a young teenager I looked desperately for things to read that might excuse me or assure me I wasn’t the only one, that might confirm an identity I was unhappily piecing together.” What role did books play for you before and after that?

    Edmund white: I stopped reading right after college—I had had it! But then soon enough, maybe two years later, I was reading again, this time strictly for pleasure. In those days we were so poor we only bought paperbacks, though once in a while we’d borrow hardcovers from the library. I...

  14. List of Contributors
    (pp. 198-201)