Monday, November 26, 2012

Small Shelf

I always love getting The Times around the holidays, when it is brimming with suggestions of great books to give as gifts. One book sounds interesting, less for its contents than as an idea. Thessaly La Force has collected a list of 100 famous people's favorite books, asking them to imagine what books (the amount that would populate a small shelf) would best describe them. The book, titled, My Ideal Bookshelf is also sunnily illustrated by Jane Mount. I would be interested in seeing what appears most commonly on the lists (apparently it's not George Eliot), and perhaps there would be some little gem that I would not otherwise have known. I am certain I will thumb through this and have a look.

I was trying to think which books I would choose, and was realizing that rather oddly, I would begin with a stack of things that I read in high school, and that I read quite concentratedly in junior year. My English teacher, Mr. Bayer, and I have similar taste, I suppose. He knew how to choose good books!

Thomas Mann's Death in Venice; Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis; Euripides' Medea; Anton Chekhov's The Steppe. Good old Macbeth.

And then things I discovered on my own: Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and all her short stories; Elizabeth Bowen's short stories; Katherine Mansfield's short stories; Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (forget Charlotte and her insufferable Jane Eyre); Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey: Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina; Henry James's Portrait of a Lady; Harold Bloom's Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages; John Guy, ed., Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100-1900; K. Lange and M. Hirmer, Egypt; C. Baldick, ed. The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales. The Tempest (if not the RSC's William Shakespeare Complete Works); Homer's Odyssey.

My small shelf is full, I believe. I am sure if you asked me tomorrow, there would be a few small differences. but probably nothing major. Wow, am I Eurocentric. And pretty predictable. I really love my classics, morose Germans/Austrians and Russians, and early 20th-century women. But I am a European-American woman obsessed with the past, so perhaps it's not all that surprising that these are the books that describe me.

What would be on your shelf?

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