There’s that Georgia O’Keefe idea about how the frame of a painting is just as important as the painting within it. Same could be said for books and bookcases. When the case stands as it’s own elaborate work of built-in art, what does it say about the contents of those shelves. What does it say that the sole bookshelf in our house is a particle-board, flat-packed piece of junk that is lucky to have been around this long. Or that a majority of our books live beyond this shelf, stacked horizontally three and a half feet high in various corners of our home? As though we are both professors of some esoteric canon of work so obsessed with our thesis that we couldn’t be bothered with straightening up our workspaces in time for office hours.
It’s a way, I suppose, of looking and feeling more literary to all those who visit our home. We don’t entertain guests very often. Also, we have a copy of Megyn Kelly’s book in our stacks for some reason.
For the most part we share the books (with some spats arising out of who gets to read which ones first) except for a small collection that I keep on a shelf in the bedroom. This selection are books that I’ve read, although I can’t say I’m necessarily finished with them. Selections that never feel finished no matter how many times I’ve read through them. Books that I’ll grab, flip open to a random chapter and read through before I start up my day. Writings that leave me with far more questions than answers. These are the kind of books I can never give back, donate, sell, or volunteer out because what if I have another question about them?
The books that are currently lining that small shelf:
The Way of The Superior Man by David Deida
At first glance it is a fairly convoluted titled – it is either an ego puff piece or a book that requires itself to bring a lot to the table. And it does, on both counts. I first came across this book while doing research for a book I was ghostwriting for a person who, by any account, considered himself to be a Superior Man. Talking with him on the phone, reviewing his body of work, knowing just about anything about this client one thing became clear – he had a cock between his legs and that pretty much summed up everything you needed to know about men and manliness.
Deida takes a gentler, more holistic approach to the topic. Instead of breaking things down to the anatomy of men/women, he chooses to look at persona’s through a lens of energy. Masculine versus Feminine and the conflicts and complements of each working together. I sent the client this book in the middle of all of our work to review and get his thoughts on it. I never heard from him again. Today it serves as the book I recommend to anyone who complains about how their significant other is driving them nuts in one fashion or another. Or to anyone who is dissatisfied with their job or address or place in life.
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Bird By Bird: A guide to writing and life by Anne Lamott
This one came to me during a creative writing seminar in college. The professor was in love with the book and insisted we all keep a copy at hand forever and ever until the end of time. Probably the weirdest self-identified personality trait I have is to be immediately and mercilessly skeptical to anyone who presents anything as “this is a thing I love, it is the end-all, be-all.”
It’s still not my favorite book, even though it is on the “never finish reading” shelf. Lamott drives home a lot of good points about writing that I still revisit from time to time. Mostly about bringing everything down to a one-inch window – diving into the details, and telling the big picture story from the tiniest of places.
“How to be Alone” by Jonathan Franzen
I almost had to leave this book in the parking lot of the bookstore where I found it. I was traveling a lot that summer – driving from the backcountry camp I staffed during the week to the nearby town on the weekends where I handled laundry and phone calls and updates to Myspace. The tentpole essay of the book, an expanded writing of Franzen’s “Why Bother” that had published in the Atlantic years before, was entirely about the role and function of the novel in our modern times. With a title like “Why Bother” you can imagine he was rather optimistic about the outcome (sarcasm). He still went on to write three more novels, maybe more. Franzen is a dick like that.
When I came across it I was still a student who spent time outside of the classroom either drinking or holed up in my room whittling away at stories and manuscripts. I was racing up on graduation then with no idea of where the next handful of years worth of paychecks would come from. The choices were slim – find ways to sell myself to publishers, or find ways to sell retail items to customers I’d never meet again. In a way “Why Bother” and “How to be Alone” was the very exact thing I needed to read, while being the one thing I didn’t need in my bloodstream. You know, like opiates.
Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
I stole this book from someone. Rather, it was lent to me and I never gave it back and by the time they got around to making me feel guilty about it the book was in such a state that it was just easier to buy and ship them a newish copy through Amazon.
I’m still trying to figure out what it is I find so riveting about this book. It is, quite literally, an exploration of the concept of “lost” in every way our language has managed to make it so. From the physical to the emotional to the metaphysical – what is it that separates loss with home?
“Moments when I say to myself as feet or car clear a crest or round a bend, I have never seen this place before. Times when some architectural detail or vista that has escaped me these many years says to me that I never did know where I was, even when I was home. Stories that make the familiar strange again, like those that revealed the lost landscapes, lost cemeteries, lost species around my home. Conversations that make everything around them disappear. Dreams that I forget until I realize they have colored everything I felt and did that day. Getting lost like that seems like the beginning of finding your way or finding another way, thought there are other ways of being lost.”
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
I’m like 16 when a backpacking guide I’m hiking along with – Clint, I think his name was – takes out half of this book from his bag. It’s wrapped in plastic to keep it from the rain, the edition had been read through a dozen times – the pages eaten with dirt, dog-eared, scribbled in.
It had rained that day as we hiked. The kind of rain that started in the morning as we packed up the previous night’s camp and continued to drizzle through the day. Our bags taking on an additional 5 pounds of water weight as we sloughed through mud and were saturated by passing by low-branches that caught all of the rain fall. We arrived at the next camp sometime around 3, set up tents and started cooking fires and did whatever we could to chase of the damp and cold before it was dark. Sometime around 5 the rain stopped and the clouds cleared, the late afternoon sun warmed us up and dries out tent walls. We open up our sleeping bags and hang them facing the setting sun, grabbing every last ray of heat. Later, around the fire, Clint reads aloud from Zen by the light of his headlamp. As he finishes pages he tears them out – each leaf falling into his hand from the worn spine, glues softened by the rain, and drops the page into the small flames of the fire. He reads on, taking in each paragraph and element of the story for one last time and then burning it off so it would no longer be a burden.