In curating your ideal bookshelf, you are constructing an expression of yourself in that specific moment: what’s important to you right now? The contributors to My Ideal Bookshelf have different ideas of import. Some focus on reference, others on beloved texts, others on texts they haven’t read yet but want to or think they need to. As an editor at heart, curation comes naturally to me: my spring cleanings are more ruthless culls. With my birthday on Tuesday, I thought this would be a good time to start a new tradition: to celebrate my nativity each year, I will curate my ideal bookshelf, so that I may count my rings in the future. The rules? Ten books I would actually use as reference material. Commence shakedown.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
When The Marriage Plot dropped last year, I, as well as most of my campus, was eager to get at it. When I attended a panel on the Denver Publishing Institute, every head turned when a professor walked in with a fresh package from Amazon bearing the tome. I even took a picture of it, just for that extra hint of creepy. But I despaired of getting my own hands on a copy in a timely fashion, and let it simmer on a backburner for a while. So imagine my delight when I walked into my library at home and found not one, but two shiny copies on the New Fiction shelf. It’s part of the reason I was able to plow through A Feast for Crows in such a timely fashion…
Have you ever fallen in love with a fictional character? Who and what about them did you love?
Would you like that list alphabetized or arranged in chronological order? I’m from fandom; this is something I do all the time. For the sake of time, I’ll just highlight a few of my beloved literary characters this morning.
John Watson, Mary Morstan, and Irene Adler from Sherlock Holmes. Not that I don’t love Holmes, but Watson is such a good, loyal, and capable gentleman. The same goes for Mary, his own beloved, whose neglected death in the books I am not looking forward to, and I just love Irene to pieces.
Daenaerys from A Song of Ice and Fire. If you have to ask, you probably haven’t met her.
Cal from Middlesex. He’s more of a person than a character to me, especially after listening to the audiobook.
If you had to pick only 5 books to read ever again, what would they be and why?
Ouch! Let’s see…
- The Lord of the Rings, because if you have to ask, you don’t know me very well.
- The Magician’s Book, because Laura Miller is a genius and I love it so much.
- Middlesex, because Cal is a human being to me, not a character.
- A Game of Thrones, because the devil is in the details.
- Maps and Legends, because Michael Chabon is a genius and I love his nonfiction essays, especially “Fan Fictions: On Sherlock Holmes”.
Well, that was actually easier than I thought it would be! Fantasy and literary criticism, that’s me.
Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate it—but it’s also the last Sunday of the year, which means it’s time for my top ten list. As usual, these are my top reads of 2011, not the top published books of 2011. But I’ve also added my favorite film adaptation and my favorite audiobook of the year, since I’ve started really keeping those posts up. I was lucky enough to have a good handful of five star books, but that meant leaving off a lot of four and a half star books that I honestly loved off the list. I invite you to rifle through those categories to your right. And here’s 2010 in review and 2009 in review, if you’re so inclined. I think that’s all the housekeeping, so let’s get started.
What’s more important to you? Real, three-dimensional, fleshed-out fascinating characters? Or an amazing, page-turning plot?
(Yes, I know, they are both important. But if you had to pick one as being more important than the other?
Oh, how incredibly cruel to make me choose! In a perfect world, these things walk hand in hand—an amazing, page-turning plot is the result of actions of real, three-dimensional, fleshed-out fascinating characters. I know I’ve said in the past that I prefer plot, but after spending quite some time writing about Kitten from Breakfast on Pluto, I’m going to go with characters here. It’s hard not to fall in love with the cheerful and narratively powerful Kitten; after all, Patrick McCabe gave her a happier ending in the film adaptation of the book, which I actually think is superior to the book. (Of course, I’m also taking a shining to film criticism, so I’m a little biased. But I thought this long before I took my Introduction to Film Studies class!) And, of course, Cal Stephanides comes to mind, Jeffrey Eugenides’ greatest accomplishment in Middlesex. When I was listening to the amazing audiobook while walking the dog, it was like I was walking side by side with the man.
But in a way, I’m being sneaky and having it both ways. Again, amazing plots are, in the best works of fiction, the results of amazing characters. I’m just choosing the cause, not the effect.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
read by Kristoffer Tabori
Middlesex was my introduction to Jeffrey Eugenides in high school—I’d seen a friend of mine toting it around, so I swapped for it on SwapTree and got to reading. If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you’ll know I absolutely love Eugenides, who stole my literary heart with his knack for detail long before Chabon did, and Middlesex is the book that did it. I learned a lot reading it, and the paperback copy I got on SwapTree remains on my bookshelf to this day. While shelving at the library, I stumbled across the audiobook, which was then promptly checked out by someone who wasn’t me. I patiently waited for it to come back in (instead of putting it on hold like a normal person) and immediately snatched it up.
And the winner of a gently used copy of Middlesex is…
Bhumika has been contacted by e-mail and has two days to respond before an alternate winner is chosen. Thanks for entering!
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license…records my first name simply as Cal.”
So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.
As we bid goodbye to summer, I thought I’d give away one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. I remember reading this in high school and being utterly blown away. I’m giving away a gently used copy of Middlesex away to one reader.
Here are the rules:
- Comment to enter–don’t forget to include an e-mail address I can reach you at!
- US residents only, sorry!
- Winners will need to respond within two days or another winner will be chosen.
This giveaway will end on August 26.
There’s something wonderful about getting in on the ground floor of an author’s career–about being one of the first people to read and admire them, before they became famous best-sellers.
Which authors have you been lucky enough to discover at the very beginning of their careers?
And, if you’ve never had that chance, which author do you WISH you’d been able to discover at the very beginning?
I feel like I haven’t discovered anyone at the beginning of their career, in that I read their book before it exploded in popularity. Technically, I read and enjoyed Jaclyn Dolamore’s and Kristin Cashore’s first books early in their careers, but they were pretty well-known regardless.
I wish I’d discovered Michael Chabon or Jeffrey Eugenides at the very beginning—they have such a beautiful way with language that I would have enjoyed watching them grow. (Also, I would actually have copies of Eugenides’s short stories. Collect them already!)
But ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me if I discovered an author before they went supernova. I pay a lot more attention to personal recommendations than to best-seller lists. While there are some series I drag my feet about because they’re popular—the Millenium trilogy, anyone?—I think I still read them with the same attitude as I would if I’d stumbled across in a bookshop five years ago. (Only, you know, not, because five years ago, I was fourteen and had barely stopped being annoying.)