This is a neat little book, particularly for people who love books. Hell, if you saw that cover and thought, “Neat,” chances are it’s a book you’ll enjoy reading.
Editor Leah Price visits with 13 writers of some renown (including three couples in which both halves are each writers) and interviews them about books. How do they organize their libraries, what was their first book, how do they feel about books and so on. Each subject provides a top ten list of books. And then there are pages and pages of photographs of the writers’ own libraries.
These are all very nice photos, each a little work of art of its own, although the photos are doubly exciting in that not only do they show us a beautiful picture, but they also allow us to vicariously browse the shelves of the writers featured, reading the spines and seeing what they have, and in what editions, and so on.
The first person featured is one of “ours”: Alison Bechdel, the cartoonist best known for her long-running Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip and the 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home.
Price asks her about her meticulous, almost obsessive organization by subject, when she first started building her library, how “lived-in” her books are, whether she’s a packrat or not, and what she thinks the future holds for her library.
Bechdel’s answers were of great interest, at least in part because of how damn smart she comes across, and how well-read she seems. She talks about books I can remember reading, once, 15 years ago, but can’t remember anything much about them, as if she’s intimately familiar with them, as if they are books she’s read over and over.
Here’s a long-shot of part of her library:Check out that conastoga wagon thing with the electric cord and plug coming from it. What the hell is that? A crazy lamp? A plug-in Wagon Train playset? Price doesn’t ask her.
Here’s Bechdel’s top ten, which she drew the images of (the other writers’ top tens are photographed):The only comic book in there is a Tintin volume, although Edward Gorey tends to haunt an area just across the border of comics.
Of the other writers featured—Junot Diaz, Philip Pullman, Lev Grossman & Sophie Gee, et cetera—the only other one to have written comics is Jonathan Lethem, who of course wrote Omega: The Unkown for Marvel Comics in 2007-2008 (against the express wishes of Omega: The Unknown co-creator Steve Gerber), and is enough of a comics fan that you’ll see him providing the occasional blurb or introduction to a graphic novel or collection.
He doesn’t have any comics in his top ten, but scanning the photos of his shelves, I see he owns collections of Nancy and Barnaby, Joe Matt’s The Poor Bastard, Will Eisner’s A Contract With God, some James Sturm, Julia Wertz, Peter Kuper, Paul Hornschmeier and...a shrink-wrapped copy of his own Omega: The Unkown…? Are writers allowed to have copies of their own work on their shelves like that, or is it considered gauche?
Another shelf contains a half-dozen volumes of DC’s Plastic Man archives and a couple of The Spirit (which tells us Lethem is both wealthy and a man of good taste), along with a ton of Kirby and a bunch of Fantagraphics’ Complete Peanuts volumes.
A few other comics made it into a few other writers’ top ten lists.
Philp Pullman has another Tintin book, The Castafiore Emerald, on his. Junot Diaz has Love and Rockets #12: Poison River on his and Lev Grossman has Watchmen on his.
These were some of the comics titles that I noticed while scanning the books on the contributors’ shelves: Bride of the Water God, Wilson, Kirby Five-Oh!, Akira, The Complete Far Side, The World of Charles Addams, Peanuts: A Golden Celebration, The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker, Death Note, more Tintin, Y: The Last Man, Dark Horse’s Achewood collections and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing.
I think everyone had some Vladimir Nabokov and C.S. Lewis on their shelves.