Now Read This! by Charlotte Canelli

Read the published version of Library Director Charlotte Canelli’s column in the August 23, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

If you are anything like me, as soon as you enter another person’s home or office, your eyes are drawn to their bookshelves. I mentally take note of the books that we have in common – or those titles that I have admired but that I don’t own.  I nearly always notice how they are arranged.  Are they are haphazardly stacked between framed photographs or trophies or are they neatly organized by author?

That is why I loved thumbing through “My Ideal Bookshelf” edited by Thessaly La Force (2012). One hundred writers are featured in the book. James Patterson, Dave Eggers, Stephenie Meyer and Chuck Klosterman are among them. Each two-page spread includes spine art created by Jane Mount; they could be frame able art in itself.

Editor La Force required each author to submit a list that would serve as “a small shelf of books that represent you – the books that made you who you are today, your favorite favorites.”  A blank shelf awaits the reader on the last page of the book. It is an empty palette for the reader to imagine the books that would be on his or her shelf.

In my mind, I created a shelf and began with classics from my youth: “Heidi” and “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew”, two of my favorites that I read again and again as a child.  Placed next to those are “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and “Gone with the Wind”. Others would follow:  “We The Living” by Ayn Rand and “Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy, “Unravelling” by Elizabeth Graver, “A Stroke of Genius” by Jill Bolte Taylor.

Another book very similar to “My Ideal Bookshelf” that I mentioned above is “Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books” edited by Leah Price (2011).  It’s interesting and includes writers and photographs of their actual bookshelves; too many photographs in my opinion. I was bored with those interviews I read and quit several pages in.

If you haven’t figured it out already, next to reading books, librarians love to read about books. Many authors have written books about books but my favorite is Pat Conroy’s “My Reading Life” (2010). In “My Reading Life” Conroy explains how words affected him from an early age. His love affair with books began very early; he writes lovingly about his experience as a young child when he rescued a beautiful collection of William Thackeray’s books that had been boxed and thrown away in a dumpster. While reading “The Prince of Tides” in 1986 I was struck over and over by exquisite prose; it was so beautiful that I paused my reading in order to digest it.  You may have noticed that one of Conroy’s books made my imaginary bookshelf above.  Conroy’s recollections in “My Reading Life” explain why his addiction to words and books has made him such a skilled writer.

In “The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them” edited by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen (2006), over 70 contemporary authors and public intellectuals have written short essays (2 or 3 pages) about one book that has mattered the most, changed them the most, or inspired them the most. (The exception is Nelson DeMille who lists four.) Children’s author Laura Numeroff lists “Eloise” as the book that changed her life. Suspense author Lisa Scottoline chose one book for its power to influence her: “Angela’s Ashes”.  One of the editors of the book, Roxanne J. Coady, left a job in New York City 23 years ago to open a bookstore in Connecticut.  Her mission was “to be a place where words matter” and where the writer meets the reader.

Coady’s bookshop, R.J. Booksellers, isn’t listed in “Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores” edited by Hans Weyandt.  Weyandt’s list is included; he is the owner of Micawber’s Books in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Also included are the Harvard Book Store close by in Cambridge and the Tattered Cover Book Shop in Denver, Colorado.  In the introduction to this little book that you could tuck away in a purse or briefcase, author Ann Patchett advises us that the book is a ‘catalogue of matchmakers’ with lots of wonderful favorites listed by trusted booksellers who happen to be prolific readers. Ann Patchett herself is a bookseller and owns Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee (a list from Parnassus Books is not included in this book. Instead, Patchett includes her personal favorites in the introduction.)

Two other recent books with plenty of recommendations, or brain candy for those of us who can’t get enough reading about books, are “Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School” by Kevin Smokler (2013) and “Must Read: Rediscovering American Bestsellers From Charlotte Temple to The Da Vinci Code” by Sarah Churchwell and Thomas Ruys Smith (2012).

Kevin Smokler explains why high school reading can be much more enjoyable after one is out of high school English class.  Most of the books assigned are much more meaningful as an adult although Smokler defends their value at whatever age.  The books written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William Shakespeare, Harper Lee and Holden Caulfield should not remain dusty on the bookshelves of your youth.

Churchwell and Smith are both lecturers of American Literature in the United Kingdom. Their book is a scholarly work and they include critiques of American bestsellers, focusing on the merits of their popularity. Discussions include Lew Wallace’s “Ben-Hur” (1880), Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather (1969) and the recent novels of Nicholas Sparks.

If you would like to spend a few hours, days or weeks, with any of these books, please visit the library catalog (keyword: books and reading – United States) or speak with a librarian who will be happy to place any of these books on hold for you.

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