Ursula: My Ideal Bookshelf
If I had $380 to spare, I’d spend half on a new stroller for the new babe. Our current apparatus, after three kids and innumerable trips across potholed Manhattan boulevards, looks like a prop from The Waltons. It’s also currently covered with spiders in our Connecticut garage. The other half of the loot would go toward heating oil bills, one of which is sure to send me into labor in the next three weeks.
Why $380 you ask? Because Jane Mount, an artistic college acquaintance of mine, is hitting the big stage with an awesome idea. She creates custom original paintings of your “ideal bookshelf.” Prices vary, but the one that allows you “up to 15 books” goes for $380 dollars.
Jane’s work — minimal, bright, and winsome — is well worth the money. She offers various other bookish art options on her site, at varying prices. I particularly like this one of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series for $28.00.
Earlier this week, Jane and a co-author published a book in which they share the ideal bookshelves of a handful of semi-famous folks. I hope her idea catches on, because I’d love to see the ideal bookshelves of many of the people I admire: brilliant economist and political thinker Thomas Sowell, for example, or my favorite male actor, Robert Duvall, or even this year’s National League Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey. I’d love to have copies of my mom’s and dad’s choices on my wall today.
Anyway, since I don’t have $380 lying around, I thought I’d just share what a painting of my ideal bookshelf would include. (I’d be curious to see what readers and my fellow contributors to On The Culture would choose!)
Senior Prom by Rosamond du Jardin I could have picked any of du Jardin’s books, actually. I was obsessed with these books, now long out of print, in high school. I have always wanted to live in the ‘50s, wear ‘50s clothes and have ‘50s-type idealistic romances with ‘50s-type boys. (I’m sure a psychiatrist could easily slice and dice this admission to “prove” that I am regressive, paternalistic, lame, stupid, conservative … whatever … it’s true.)
The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald Again, I could have picked any in this 7-book series about three Catholic boys – one a clever huckster – growing up in the late 1800s in Mormon Utah. These were the books I read again and again beginning in the 3rd or 4th grade. Even on college breaks at home, after days of cramming for exams about the CO2 cycle in biology or the French Revolution, I would calm my nerves with a chapter.
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather Just … love it.
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis Not one of his more well known books, and folks to whom I’ve recommended this generally give me a ‘meh’ response in return, but I love it. It’s a retelling of the Greek myth of Psyche and Cupid. I am currently reading it again for the 3rd time.
Hawthorne’s Short Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I am especially taken with “The Birthmark,” which has come to have so much more meaning to me as a mother of a 6-year-old girl with Down syndrome.
Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron I would guess that Styron’s other, “big think” type books would be over my head, but this one, about depression, really hit home for a number of personal reasons.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White I was required to buy this book for my high school journalism class, and it’s still my main grammatical reference. Brief. Direct. Easy for dopes like me to understand.
The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer This book pushed me over the edge toward homeschooling and gave me a practical plan to implement it.
Adam Bede by George Eliot I think this might be the only book that I actually read, cover-to-cover, in any of my college literature classes. Can you believe that? And I was an English major. Sigh. Confession time: I typically would read about ½ or ¾ of every assigned book and then agonize with guilt into the late hours of many nights over my inability or unwillingness to just finish the dang things. My college English essays were often … lacking. Not surprising.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Yeah, yeah, it’s now a new movie. But this was one of those books where I had to close my eyes before reading certain passages because the plot and the language struck me so deeply. Yet, I have not read it since falling into actual love with my husband and having kids. I’m almost afraid to read it again.
Fall River Dreams by Bill Reynolds This is a high school basketball story, but also so much more. The main character of the book, Chris Herren, has gone on to live a remarkable life, documented in a second book Basketball Junkie and in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called Unguarded. I hope and pray for Herren’s continued sobriety as I think his story can impact the high school students to whom he now gives inspirational talks.
Random Family:Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc This book was a major eye-opener for me in terms of understanding inner city poverty. It’s too bad I only read it after teaching in the South Bronx for two years. I might have thought about – and done things – differently. It totally revamped my thoughts on what causes some of the biggest problems in our country. It offers no solutions, but paints a very striking picture.