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My Ideal Bookshelf

Thessaly La Force's collection of essays on cultural figures' favorite books will fascinate any bibliophile.

By Margaret Eby / December 4, 2012

My Ideal Bookshelf By Thessaly La Force Little, Brown 240 pp.


Aside from its myriad effects on the publishing industry, the rise of the e-book has led to a minor crisis for any bibliophile’s home decoration efforts. Which volumes do you display? Which do you tuck away, away from the eyes of prying guests, onto your iPad or Kindle? And which books are precious enough to keep, tattered spines or coffee stains and all, the one that you lug from apartment to apartment? It’s this question that editor Thessaly La Force put to a hundred cultural figures, from essayists to chefs to architects. “Select a small shelf of books that represent you – the books that have changed your life… your favorite favorites,” she requested. The result is My Ideal Bookshelf, a peek into the living rooms of dozens of interesting cultural figures.
"My Ideal Bookshelf" is a jewel of a book, one that any bibliophile will be instinctively drawn to. Each entry, arranged encyclopedically, has a short essay that La Force winnowed down from an interview alongside a sumptuously drawn version of the bookshelf they described. It’s these illustrations, painted by Jane Mount, are the key to the book’s appeal: Her work renders each selection into a cityscape, the slim spines of poetry volumes hidden in the shadows of books of photography. Flipping through the book and perusing these works has the same effect as wandering through the aisles of a well-curated library. You linger on favorites, wonder about authors you haven’t read, feel a tiny thrill of excitement happening upon a paged-through novel on the shelf.
The essays, too, are delightful bite-size looks at the literary taste of semi-celebrities. Who knew that Michael Chabon’s shelf would include both Barry Hannah’s "Airships" and Arthur Conan Doyle’s "Sherlock Holmes"? Or that Twilight author Stephanie Mayer would be a fan of poet Louise Gluck? Malcolm Gladwell even explains, reassuringly, that his crime-loaded shelf is a reflection of an addiction to book buying. “I haven’t read all of them, and I won’t. Some of them I’ll just look at,” he explains, “But these books are markers for ideas I’m interested in…When I see my bookshelf expanding, it gives me the illusion that my brain is expanding too.”

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