My Ideal Bookshelf

From Goodreads: The books that we choose to keep –let alone read– can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. In MY IDEAL BOOKSHELF, dozens of leading cultural figures share the books that matter to them most; books that define their dreams and ambitions and in many cases helped them find their way in the world. Contributors include Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Keller, Michael Chabon, Alice Waters, James Patterson, Maira Kalman, Judd Apatow, Chuck Klosterman, Miranda July, Alex Ross, Nancy Pearl, David Chang, Patti Smith, Jennifer Egan, and Dave Eggers, among many others. With colorful and endearingly hand-rendered images of book spines by Jane Mount, and first-person commentary from all the contributors, this is a perfect gift for avid readers, writers, and all who have known the influence of a great book.

Since hearing about this project (it’s everywhere now, but I first heard about it from Kate and Cathy– so thanks!), I have been thinking long and hard about what books I would include on my ideal bookshelf.

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
2. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (1981)
3. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster (1908)
4. Bag of Bones by Stephen King (1998)
5. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (1970)
6. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock (2011)
7. White Oleander by Janet Fitch (1999)
8. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925)
9. Empire Falls by Richard Russo (2001)
10. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (1989)
11.  The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G. B. Edwards (1981)
12. The Cowboy and the Cossack by Clair Huffaker (1973)
13. Blithe Spirit/Private Lives/Hay Fever by Noel Coward (1965)
14. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (2011)
15. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)

In the words of the always appropriate, always eloquent John Waters “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t f*ck ’em!”. In all seriousness, there is something lovely about falling in love with somebody’s bookcase, it’s like falling in love with their mind (which is as it should be in any lasting relationship). I can honestly say that no one I’ve ever known has said “thank you for reading so much” and that is a tragedy. I don’t know what my bookshelf would reveal about me, perhaps I should rethink my claim of not liking westerns…


Some notable overlooked favorites: Persuasion, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Hotel New Hampshire, Washington Square, Lonesome Dove, Deliverance.


Having made my ideal bookshelf (with much thought and deliberation), I can assure you it is a daunting task. In reward for such hard work, I think a cupcake is in order. One of my favorites: Red Velvet Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

15 thoughts on “My Ideal Bookshelf

  1. Fun idea! I think I saw a sample of that project in a magazine. I can’t imagine narrowing down my books that much, even metaphorically – my physical bookshelves are difficult enough!


    1. I would definitely recommend it, I really debated between that and The Hotel New Hampshire (my other John Irving favorite). A Prayer for Owen Meany seems to be the most universally loved so that might be a good place to start.


  2. This is a cool idea. The only one on your list that I’ve read is Jane Eyre. I’ve I need to reread that one sometime…it’s been awhile!


    1. Jane Eyre might be might favorite on the list, but I’ve never actually been able to pick a favorite novel (or movie, or food…). But Jane Eyre is always worth a reread. And the 2006 Jane Eyre is always worth watching!


    1. I was thisclose to putting Henry James’s Washington Square or The Bostonians in place of Persuasion. I’m still not sure this list is it, but it’s what I’ve got for now. I’m still seriously considering Neverwhere or Middlesex. Luckily my birthday’s not until July – I share the day with Tom Cruise (interesting, no?).

      I imagine you’ll have a Henry James and We Need to Talk About Kevin, I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of your list.


    2. And I’m still not sure if I want to try and squeeze in The Cider House Rules or The Hotel New Hampshire as well. I think the latter is my ultimate JI favorite, but Owen Meany meant more when I read it. I need to keep telling myself this is just an imaginary bookshelf.


    1. It is definitely a fun project, though I suspect I take it too seriously :). It is just a bookshelf, but I love the idea of summing up your reading in just 15 (or so) definitive titles.


    1. I hope you enjoy it, I found many of the entries fascinating. There were a few surprises like Stephenie Meyers and Judd Apatow. It is a fun project to put together, it took me two months to come up with this list and I’m still not sure about a couple.


  3. I’ve only read Jane Eyre and A Prayer for Owen Meany from your list and I think they’d be on my list too. I read Owen Meany last year after my brother died. It was a book he had recommended to me long ago and not only did I love it but I saw so much of my brother in Owen Meany. That book was a gift from my brother that I will always treasure.

    I’ve always wanted to read Empire Falls and will have to add it to my TBR pile.


    1. What a lovely memory to have. And I cannot recommend Empire Falls enough, but then I do love Richard Russo. There is one particular scene I still laugh out loud about when it crosses my mind.


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