Thursday, October 3, 2013

My Ideal Bookshelf

There's this book called My Ideal Bookshelf that is full of illustrations and lists by writers and otherwise famous people of their favorite books, or the books that have most impacted them. I love that idea, because you really can tell a lot about someone from browsing their bookshelf. I even heard of a man who decided, upon his first time meeting a woman and seeing her book collection, that he was going to marry her - and he did! 

Here is a picture of one of the bookcases in our house. // Ever since my time in Torrey Academy, I have been scribbling notes in the margins of all my books, dog-earring the pages, starring important ideas, numbering the author's points in their arguments. It helps me engage in the writing, and because of how involved I like to be in that process, I'm very much attached to my hard-copies. I'm sometimes hesitant to lend out my books, because my heart comes out in those margins, but when I find a second-hand book with someone else's notes, I consider it a treasure and enjoy thinking of the many lives that very book may have lived before it came to me.

I don't have a single favorite book, but I can share some that have had a lasting impression on me. I'm going to exclude my favorite children's literature and coffee table books, because I'm going coo-coo looking through all my books right now trying to narrow down my lists of favorites to share. I also have some amazing ancient books, like early (2nd) editions of The Scarlet Letter and a collection of T.S. Eliot poems (that is lost! If you have it, please return it to me). I just wanted to brag about that. 

Ghostplane of Blackwater by William Hallstead is not actually that great of a book, but I sure thought it was in Junior High. At the time, the writing really impressed me, so much so that I conveniently never got a chance to return it to the tiny library in Kashgar, China, when we moved away (sorry, Mrs. Houser!). I can still see so clearly in my mind the scenes I've created to go with the descriptions of the stormy southern swampland in the story. I'm glad to have it for all the memories that it carries for me, and I think Ishmael will enjoy it when he's older. 

I often recommend Dorothy Sayers' Mind of the Maker to people, although I do not remember it clearly. What I most remember and cherish about this book is that it gave me the clearest picture I have ever had of what God could be like. Sayers likened God to an artist or author and us to his artwork, and although that's not an entirely novel concept, she presented it in such a way that I was able to glimpse a portion of his character through the understanding of my own unique relationship to my artwork. I'm curious to revisit this book now, 7 years since I first read it, and see if any of my notes from the time still make sense. 

I am an enormous fan of Bram Stoker's Dracula. It had an extra large impact on me because I loved it so much in the midst of my extreme distaste for Twilight and the zombie-vampire-etc. craze in general. Get behind me, Edward Cullen. Anyway, I was totally taken by this story and Stoker's frightening take on vampires. At the time he wrote it, it was common to dig up human remains that were suspected of being real vampires and flip them in their graves to prevent them from clawing out and sucking the life out of the living. Sometimes their coffins were even painted red. Another thing I love about the story is that it starts out in such a way that I wondered for a long time whether I was listening to the right book! I'm hesitantly hoping that NBC's upcoming TV series "Dracula" will be really close to the book. I originally listened to the book read aloud online, but found this gorgeous Barnes & Noble copy recently, which makes me just want to stare at the cover. I told Jonas we should buy it, along with a beautiful copy of the Arabian Nights "for Ishmael's collection", and he saw straight through it, but agreed anyway. Yay!

Another book I loved was the Tao of Pooh, though again, what I remember most about it is just that I really liked it. I happened to find a copy at a thrift store recently, and I'm really excited to read it again one of these days. I recall that feeling of almost being burdened by each line containing a world of wisdom. 

I love Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions (along with the everyone else, ever) because my best friend gave me her signed copy for us to share as we raise our kids. I read it when Ishmael was a few months old and if you're a parent, you know there are few things better than a fellow parent who is honest about what it's like to have a child. I was underlining every other sentence, and I became an immediate super-fan of Lamott. Michelle and I even got to see her speak live in Malibu and she gave Ishmael her pen (which is now enshrined in the book she signed, see if you can find it in the photo of the bookcase!). I even stalked her now-adult son on Facebook after building a picture of him from reading about his infancy.

A book I see in used bookstores and thrift stores all the time is Sweet Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. I admire character development far above plot in most cases, and Nemirovsky's pen is like a dart that goes straight to the core of a person's identity every single time. I despair of ever being that great of a writer. Beyond the story (which is nothing to frown out, either), what I find incredible is the tale of how the book came to be. It is most likely the earliest novel written about WW2, and was in fact written during the war. It remained a handwritten manuscript in a suitcase for years until the author's daughter donated some of her things to a French archive. Sweet Francaise is actually 2+ parts of what was meant to be a larger work, modeled after a 5 part symphony, if I remember correctly. I totally love that vision. The book is being made into a movie, which I'm very apprehensive about. The book doesn't hold together very well as a cohesive story, and I wish they had at least chosen some unknown names in keeping with the tone of the book instead of Michelle Williams. Despite allegedly being an anti-semitic Jew (she converted to Catholicism years prior), Nemirovsky died interned at Auschwitz.

A Grain of Rice by Helena Clare Pittman has inspired me so much, for so long. I first read it as a child, but as an adult, I can't think of a story that could incorporate more of my loves; romance, food, Asian culture, illustration, cats... I would love to someday see this book turned into a film. I even tried to get in touch with one of Yimou Zhang's (director of the movie Hero and the Beijing Olympic opening ceremonies, among other things) agents to pitch the story to him, once (no luck). For now, I throw all my inspiration images for a potential film based on this story onto this pinboard

I found this tiny treasure of a book, Belle Petite Monde, by Renefer, in a long-gone second hand bookstore in Simi Valley. It's a sketchbook full of the artist's day-to-day life during WW2 that he made for his young daughter. And get this, when I just looked it up on Amazon, the two copies available are going for almost $5000! I can hardly believe it! I can't find anything about the book, in English, so I don't understand why it seems to be so rare (2006 copyright), other than that it's out of print, but now I'm all the more excited to have this one in my collection. Apart from its apparent value as a book, the artist's ability to relate his life as a soldier to his daughter is incredibly tender, light, and poignant, considering his situation. // Below is a picture of one of the illustrations from the book. All the letters are in French, but they are translated in the back of the book. 

My growing interest in graphic novels is new, but I can safely say it was kicked off in earnest by Craig Thompson's Habibi. I was blown away by his artwork and utterly engrossed by his story. I have since read, and somewhat agreed with, some criticisms of the story, but the book as a whole will forever inspire me to awe at Thompson's abilities, as well as remain an ember in all that is my relationship to Middle Eastern culture. 

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. is a big book and it took me a long time to get through it, but I remember being so impressed and almost seduced by her writing. Regardless of your thoughts on her philosophy, she is undeniably a masterful writer. I was in love with her harsh and austere characters and the way she was able to express a man's love for his craft. As I'm writing out these mini-reviews, I'm seeing so many themes that connect these otherwise diverse picks. I also really like the name "Ayn" and her main character's name, "Roark." 

Last but not least, what I consider the best writing I have ever read is something that I have yet to finish reading. Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita was so disturbing to me when I picked it up several years ago, that I actually asked Jonas to ask me not to read it so that I could give myself an excuse to stop. The story was barely getting underway, but I was dumbstruck by the mastery of his work. I just ordered a copy, so I'll have to report back on how it goes.

I love to give books, I love to get books, I like to make lists of books I want. I think books are very personal things. There are so many more books I love that I'm tempted to mention, but I think you should just come over and browse my collection for yourself. Each one has a story. 

What books in your collection mean the most to you?

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