Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Our Bookshelves Reveal About Us: Thoughts About "Important Artifacts . . ." by Leanne Shapton

I just finished a terrific new book. It's strange and wonderfully creative, a Regarding the Fountain for grown-ups. You'll have to see it to know what I mean. It's a story told through "the stuff" of a couple in New York who met at a Halloween party (dressed as Harry Houdini and Lizzy Borden), and then fell in and out of love. It's called Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry. You have to piece together their love story from items in an auction catalog, including books, knick-knacks, photos, postcards, CD mixes and love notes. It's seductively voyeuristic.

I could see reading this for a really personal book club meeting, where everybody brings a small bag of "stuff" to tell a story in their life. Actually, I think one of my kids had to do this for school at St. Pet's, a teacher's get-to-know-you-show-and-tell activity. I have a vague recollection of golf balls, Pokeman cards, a sea otter beanie baby and an all-star baseball hat. (Hopefully, your bag would be a little more revealing. But then again, I'd be impressed if you really did have an all-star baseball hat!)

Of course, being a bookseller, I was drawn to the books in the fictional auction Important Artifacts catalog. I found myself snooping through their titles, noticing who bought it, what the notation was, and what the books implied about the couple's story. (Virginia Woolf, Alice Munro, self-help, erotica, cooking, poetry, . . .) Sometimes there were personal notes left inside, so personal that you felt guilty reading them. You forget it's fiction. There was a collection of duplicate paperbacks, and I couldn't help but wonder, whose were they? His and hers? How romantic! (Sadly, two copies of "The End of the Affair," one bought in 2004.) You see what I mean? It sucks you in.

It made me wonder, what would someone else think my books say about me? There's always something wonderfully revealing, sometimes misleading, about a person's bookshelves. But the problem is, I've had to cull my bookshelves many times over the years (very reluctantly, sometimes under duress) and I no longer have every single book that was significant in my life. So I came up with a kind of autobiography in books, at least some of which is pictured below. What books would tell your life story?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.