My Ideal Bookshelf

My last post was about the book, My Ideal Bookshelf. This post is actually my person ideal bookshelf. Let me start by saying my ideal bookshelf is about five shelves high and stuffed with books, but when forced to condense it down to about ten books, this is what I’m left with.


I’m not sure all of the titles can be read in the picture, so I’ll talk about each one.

First, that red gingham cookbook. The Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook was ubiquitous in my mother’s kitchen – it was stained with canola oil, the pages were gritty with flour, and it had been well-loved for years. When I moved out, my mother bought me my own copy. It is my go-to for basic home cooking. (The Supreme Biscuits in there – I will never look at any other biscuits. Ever.) The other cookbook there is The Joy of Cooking. Even though I don’t use it much, the pure encyclopedic knowledge it holds earns it a place on my shelf.

A Girl of the Limberlost has achieved almost fabled status in my memory – I think it was the first really big book I tackled on my own, sometime back in elementary or middle school. It was this large, ancient-looking dark green book with gold lettering on my grandmother’s shelves. I opened it and sat in one of her uncomfortable chairs for hours, lost in a swamp with a girl hunting for butterflies. I’d like to find it again and re-read it, but at the same time I don’t want to spoil the sense of wonder I associate with it.

My parents traded off reading to us when we were little – they read Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, even The Lord of the Rings. But it was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe that stuck with me. The idea that a fantastic land lies -just- out of reach, just past the ordinary – that idea stuck with me. The Forbidden Door works on the same principle; two children found a door in the back of a cave, with a little dragon crying just outside of it. Beyond the door they find the dragon’s home and learn life lessons. (And in writing about it here, I’ve just learned it was the first in a trilogy. Must find the other two books! Unfortunately, they’re LONG out of print, it appears that may be difficult.)

The other books on the shelf are more recent additions to my life; Brave New World I read in high school, and remember being the only one in my class who actually liked it. The allegory of the oppressive government is becoming all too real these days. (And I’m realizing now I should have actually added Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale to this shelf!)

Shakespeare I was introduced to in middle school and fell in love with instantly. I have a giant Oxford collection of all of his plays and sonnets – the pages are paper thin, like a Bible, but filled with Shakespeare. It was the very first book I thought of when putting together this shelf.

The Harrad Experiment and Time Enough For Love both deal with issues of love and relationships – what in the 70s they called “free love” and what they now call “polyamory.” They’ve helped me to understand and overcome jealousy and my insecurity – they both stress loving a person for who they are, not what they can do for you.

Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life is an excellent primer on feminist lit. This book added several books to my to-read list and brought the great feminist authors within my reach.

All of these books have impacted my life in some significant way; some continue to affect my life every day. It was an interesting exercise, to sit down and figure out exactly which books I felt deserved to be highlighted. It was hard, too! I own so many books – and have read so many others – that picking so few was really tough, but I’m glad I did.

What’s on your Ideal Bookshelf?

Book Review: My Ideal Bookshelf

bookshelfMy Ideal Bookshelf
Edited by Thessaly La Force
Art by Jane Mount
225 pages
Published 2012

So this is a bit of an odd, but fascinating, little book. In My Ideal Bookshelf, just over a hundred people were asked what was on their ideal bookshelf. I didn’t recognize a lot of the people interviewed, but I did see a few. James Patterson, David Sedaris, Alice Waters, Tony Hawk, James Franco, these were all people that I knew. Even the people that I didn’t know had interesting books and interesting things to say about them, though. Each person has a two page spread – one page is an illustration of their ideal bookshelf, and one page is an excerpt from their interview talking about why those books. There’s almost a voyeuristic pleasure in reading this book. (I can’t be the only one that always peruses my friends’ bookshelves when I go their houses, right?)

I find myself getting both inspired and depressed by books like this – books about good books. Depressed in that there’s so many things I haven’t read! I haven’t read Nobokov, or Lolita, or Austen’s Emma. The only Steinbeck I’ve read was The Grapes of Wrath in high school. I’ve never read Hemingway or Frankenstein (though the latter will be getting rectified shortly). I haven’t read Dickens, or Tolstoy, or Pride and Prejudice (I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, does that count?) or To Kill a Mockingbird (another one that I’ll be reading soon). But inspired, at the same time, for the same reason. There are books that appear again and again in this book, like A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, or Lolita, or Nobokov. Books that make me think I should find them at the library to see what everyone is so excited about. I consider myself fairly well read – I love Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, Dracula, The Comte de Monte Cristo. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Anne of Green Gables; Heinlein, Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin. There’s still so much to read, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The very last page of the book is bookshelf with ten blank books on it. The book asks you to create your own ideal bookshelf and submit it to them via their website or Twitter with the hashtag #myidealbookshelf. They have an online template which I think I’ll be filling out, talking about here, and then submitting. So stay tuned for my Ideal Bookshelf!

From the inner cover of My Ideal Bookshelf:

The books that we choose to keep and display – let alone read – can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. In My Ideal Bookshelf, more than one hundred leading cultural figures, including writers Chuck Klosterman, Mary Karr, Junot Dias, and Jonathan Lethem, musicians Patti Smith and Thurston Moore, chefs and food writers Alice Waters and Mark Bittman, Hollywood figures Judd Apatow and James Franco, and fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, share the books that matter to them most – books that define their dreams and ambitions and in many cases helped them find their way in the world. 

Jane Mount’s original paintings of the colorful and delightful book spines and occasional objets d’art from the contributors’ personal bookshelves showcase the selections. Each painting is accompanied by a short first-person essay drawn from interviews with Thessaly La Force that touch on everything from the choice of books to becoming a writer to surprising sources of inspiration.