“Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books” (2011) by Leah Price is about the private libraries of 13 living writers:
- Alison Bechdel
- Stephen Carter
- Junot Diaz
- Rebecca Goldstein
- Steven Pinker
- Lev Grossmann
- Sophie Gee
- Jonathan Lethem
- Claire Messud
- James Wood
- Philip Pullman
- Gary Shteyngart
- Edmund Wilson
For each it has:
- their picture
- a picture of their library
- a short interview about their library
- a list of their top ten books and a picture of their copy of each
- page after page of pictures of the books on their shelves
She asks questions like:
- When did you start buying books?
- How do you arrange them?
- How many of them have you read?
- Do you throw any out?
- Do you mark them up?
- Do you have an e-book reader?
and so on.
It is like you went to visit them. I always look at people’s books when I visit. As Lev Grossmann said, it gives you an insight into them that you can get in almost no other way. On the other hand, when people see my books they almost always draw the wrong conclusions!
The best part of all are the pictures of the books on their shelves. You can see their range of interests. You can see how worn a book is, how old it is, which edition they bought and so on. It is one thing for someone to say that they like “The Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James and quite another to see their falling-apart copy. But coolest of all is to see which books you have in common with them. It is a kind of a shock and a joy to see a copy of a book you have sitting on their shelves.
I liked Junot Diaz the best. Now I know I am not the only one who has both “Poison River” by the Hernandez brothers and a multi-volume Oxford dictionary. Or the only one who will buy a book instead of eating.
Or who has a wall of books - most have at least that and then some. Of course, to be a writer (or a professor, as some of them are) you pretty much need to be a shameless book lover. In fact the book most reminds me of the few times I have seen libraries of my professors - except that the libraries in this book are much more orderly looking (for the cameras no doubt).
Most seem to throw out books to keep down the size of their libraries. Not just because keeping a book costs shelf space but also because when you move, transporting them is a big pain, especially if you have a thousand or two like they do.
Most are not threatened by e-book readers: they think printed books are here to stay. How can having all your books laid out in front of you on shelves begin to compare with a grey piece of plastic?
Common authors: Chekhov, Nabokov, Elizabeth Bishop, Henry Green, Henry James, Herge (Tintin), C.S. Lewis, Plato.