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My Ideal Bookshelf Hardcover – Nov 13 2012
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"A perfect gift for avid and reluctant readers alike--a celebration of the depth and breadth of the written word's shaping of our lives that will guide readers to new favorites while simultaneously causing them to think about their own ideal bookshelves."―Shelf Awareness
"The books we cherish speak volumes about us, and the delightful new hardcover My Ideal Bookshelf offers a peek at those that have shaped the lives of dozens of celebrities, including rocker Patti Smith, writer Malcolm Gladwell, and skateboarder Tony Hawk, who says his choices 'are about pushing the boundaries of the mainstream.' Charmingly illustrated by Jane Mount, this is a book to savor and share."―Parade
"A bibliophilic feast for the eye, mind, heart and soul."―Kirkus
"a perfect coffee table book. . ."―Publisher's Weekly
"the 100 writers, designers, chefs, artists, musicians, and others collected here turned in titles that, taken together, conspire to form the ultimate creative person's reading list."―Vogue
". . . so addicting and thoughtful it makes a solid mainstream case for bookshelf porn."―-Chicago Tribune
". . . the colorful, wonderful new offering edited by Thessaly La Force and illustrated in bookish splendor by Jane Mount."―- New York Daily News
About the Author
Jane Mount is an artist and illustrator. Her paintings of bookshelves have caught the eye of media outlets like The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Daily Candy, and InStyle, among others. She lives in northern California with her husband and two cats.
Thessaly La Force is a writer and editor who has worked at The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and the New York Public Library. She is currently attending the Iowa Writer's Workshop and is working on a collection of short stories about objects and aesthetics. Thessaly divides her time between Iowa City and New York City; she also has two cats and shares a birthday with Jane.
Top Customer Reviews
So, how did the concept actually play out? I have mixed feelings. The execution was not as strong as the concept.
On the positive side, as a book lover, I truly enjoyed much of the book. It gave me chills down my spine at times. Many of the essays were delightful and the illustrations very well done. Even though I hadn't heard of many of these people nor the books they liked, they sucked me in. I loved perusing the shelves and then reading the essays. I liked the random books that were turned the wrong way, or upside down. I was surprised to see how many shelves included Flannery O'Connor. She obviously deserves a spot among the great writers of the U.S., but I never would have guessed she'd appear so often!
On the negative side, the essays are of uneven quality. There are a few truly genius ones, many good ones, and a number are very poorly written and uninspired. James Patterson's essay was irrelevant, off-topic, and annoyingly self-congratulatory. You get the sense that they had to include him because he's so important. And that he agrees wholeheartedly.
The representation from certain vocations is also sort of funky. I understand why there are so many writers, editors, and book cover designers, but I don't understand why there is such a high proportion of chefs, fashion designers, or interior designers. I have nothing about them (bless their heart), but the imbalance gives the book a weird bulge in certain areas.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
My Ideal Bookshelf is an interesting thought experiment. A great deal of the pleasure in reading it comes from spotting a familiar title on one of these imaginary bookshelves, then scanning your own real world library and seeing a physical copy of it nestled between bookends. It's also great fun trying to create your own list of essentials. What books changed you as a person, formed you into the embittered attorney or giddy anesthesiologist or cheeky carpenter you are today? Which novels or essays do you carry around inside your skull?
The range of people who answered these questions is interesting, but narrow. Most are familiar names from the worlds of writing, film, and art. The book goes through them alphabetically and assumes you know who each person is, although you will find single paragraph micro-biographies at the very back of the book if you find yourself asking, "Who?" There's no explanation as to why this particular set of folks was chosen, which suggests convenience and cooperation as the motivating factors, but you should be able to find at least two or three who grab your attention, no matter what your interests.
The real strength of this book is the illustrations. Each book spine is beautifully detailed and painstakingly accurate. You will be surprised by how a font or particular shade of orange will instantly call up a memory of the novel before you even look at the title. Book covers are designed to seize hold of your eyes as you scan a crowded shelf, and the drawings here display the many different ways publishers have tried to make their products stand out. Simplicity, explosions of color, delicate linework, or blocky leaden letters. Mount's art style captures all of these techniques, while adding her own distinct fingerprint to them. Something about the slightly wobbly outlines of the novels lends them a childlike charm, no matter how adult the words inside the covers.
The written portion of the book is less successful. Each participant discusses their selections, but they're given very little space to do so. Almost every person picked ten or more books to line their imaginary bookshelves but were only given four to six brief paragraphs to explain their choices. This means they either ignore most of their selections and talk about only one title or spit out one sentence summaries that don't add all that much. I understand the desire to match a page of text with a page of illustration, but if you're only going to allow a person twenty seconds to describe a lifetime of passion for reading, what comes out is inevitably going to be shallow and rather pointless.
There are two potential ways to fix this. First, let your sources talk. If you assume that readers care enough to ask what various authors, artists, and chefs love to read, then those same readers are probably patient enough to find out why. Give your participants enough time and enough pages to say something meaningful about their choices, to tell an anecdote, to gush over how dreamy Hemmingway is. Anything, really, as long as it actually adds a dimension to the discussion.
Alternatively, just publish the illustrations. Leave the book as a pure, abstract thought experiment with noteworthy figures and celebrities picking out whatever books they like and readers extrapolating the meaning behind each choice.
As it is now, the little pseudo-interview blurbs just detract from the beautiful illustrations done by Mount. They serve only to frustrate those who are looking for real insight into the people creating these imaginary bookshelves or to distract those who just want to admire artfully recreated book spines.
In short, the concept behind My Ideal Bookshelf is clever and will appeal to any bibliophile. The illustrations are slightly whimsical and lovingly rendered. Unfortunately the book is let down by its structure with the text portions squeezed into tiny spaces and ultimately into irrelevance.
However, I'm still giving this 4-stars, because of the whole package. My teen daughter is an artist, and so I've become much more aware of art, and this is a BEAUTIFUL book, so it would be perfect as a coffee table book or library feature. The entry from each person appears on one side of the page, and the other side has a full-page drawing of the books (similar to the one featured on the cover).
There are quite a few authors featured, but there are also several artists -- from all sorts of fields -- chefs and professionals from other careers, so the books that are featured are not for bookworms only.
There is an account, in the back of the book, of each contributor in alphabetical order with their professional category and the list of their books.
The problem occurs when you read their narrative; 10 books might be pictured, but they only describe a few of them. It's almost like a tease; I really was expecting a full portrayal of their perfect bookshelf, not just a sampling of a few.
If you take pleasure in browsing bookstores and libraries, you will love this book. If you are looking for book recommendations from a diverse group of people (including writers, artists, designers, musicians, movie stars and athletes), you will love this book. If you want to learn more about (or simply pass judgment on) that diverse group of people, you will love this book. If you appreciate aesthetically pleasing book covers (or spines, as is the case here), you will love this book.
If you're against the idea of reading a book about books, you are not going to like this book. If the names Stephenie Meyer and James Patterson are enough to make you write off a book that also includes entries from Jennifer Egan, George Saunders, Michael Chabon and Junot Diaz...well, get over yourself.
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