To purchase a copy, and read what you may've missed, visit: American Athenaeum.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
In case you didn't know, you can find more of 1 Bookshelf in the printed pages of American Athenaeum. Just in time for summer, the "Things They Carry" issue brings two new authors exploring the memories of their favorite books.
Posted by Hunter Liguore at 9:57 AM
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Some of the volumes on my shelf have been my companions for decades and have accompanied me across various oceans to three different continents. When I was a young student living in Germany I fell under the spell of Hermann Hesse. He was quite the rage at the time. I acquired and read nearly everything of Hesse’s. I still have some of his oeuvre in the beautiful Bibliothek Suhrkamp edition. As we mature our tastes change. I picked up Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game) some time ago and couldn’t get past the first twenty-five pages. I find Hesse unreadable these days. His style (if there is one) drips with righteous sentimentality. Still, his books grace my shelf.
The same story in reverse: Many years ago a literary friend warmly recommended the novels of Barbara Pym to me, proclaiming her a modern Jane Austen. I read one novel in its entirety but couldn’t get enthused about it. Perhaps I had other expectations. Recently I picked up Ms Pym again, Quartet in Autumn, and have become a fan. Nothing much happens in terms of action, but her prose is lucid, unencumbered, elegant. Now that I take my own writing seriously, I view Barbara Pym as a model of fine prose. I strive to write like that.
No education is complete without total immersion in the Greek myths, and no one has rendered them more poetically than Robert Graves. I cherish my Folio Society boxed edition, exquisitely illustrated. Having been subjected to a stultifying brainwashing in a religious school, my young soul soared in high school when a freshman English teacher introduced us, with infectious exuberance, to the magical world of Greek and Roman mythology. Here was poetry and imagination, stories of heroics and bloodcurdling hubris! I have never recovered from the experience. (I thank you a thousand times, dear teacher whose name I no longer remember.) Robert Graves’ I, Claudius became my favorite book all through high school. It must be one of the best historical novels ever written.
I have always loved to travel. When I can’t, the next best thing is reading good travel writing. The current master of the genre, hands down, is Bill Bryson. I have read many of his books multiple times and always enjoy them. He writes with wit and erudition. A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country are my favorites. Next to Mr Bryson is William Dalrymple, a writer of history. He lived for years in India and has written several books exploring the complex history of the subcontinent. The Last Mughal covers the fall of the Mughal dynasty and the complicated relationship of the British to their colony. In his vibrant prose Dalrymple makes dusty history come alive. In a modern vein, Paul Scott’s sprawling four-novel Raj Quartet, aka The Jewel in the Crown is a stunning achievement in modern literature. I am also very taken with the Granada BBC film version of Scott’s saga. It couldn’t have been done better than that!
John Mueter is an educator, pianist, vocal coach, composer and writer. His fiction has been accepted by various literary journals, including: Freedom Forge Press, Twisted Endings, Wilde Oats Journal, Writers Haven, Biblioteca Alexandrina, Haiku Journal. His opera Everlasting Universe, about Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati, was premiered in 2007. He currently teaches at the University of Kansas.
Friday, February 1, 2013
When I housesit for several months for friends in rural southwest Colorado, I allow myself to bring along a single bookcase, tall and narrow, made of lightweight pine and fitting easily in the back of my Jeep. The rest of my library—thirty-five boxes of books—is in storage across the state line in Blanding, Utah.
Of the five shelves on my bookcase, the top one is the most important, because it holds the books related to my work-in-progress, a novel with the working title Rivers of America. The shelf is just below eye-level. Not intimidatingly high, not so low as to be out of sight.
My novel includes invented geography and natural history, which are also elements of my recently published story collection, Recapture & Other Stories (Torrey House Press, 2012). The novel is set, in part, on a massive natural bridge in southern Utah’s canyon country. (Picture the Ponte Vecchio built on red rock.) It’s partly inspired by a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which Apollo pursues a nymph who escapes by turning into a laurel tree. In my novel, it’s aspens instead of laurels, and the cast of characters includes archaeologists and miners working during a gold rush, or possibly a uranium boom.
Accordingly, the contents of my top shelf range in time from ancient to contemporary, and in space from Europe to the Americas. The books include:
- Ovid’s Metamorphoses, translated by Arthur Golding, 1567.
- Prose fiction from the English Renaissance, including Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, a book I loathed with all my heart when it was required reading for one of my graduate courses in English lit twenty years ago. I’ve been drawn back to it for its form, a Greek-inspired romance quite unlike the modern, post-18th-century novel.
- Books about places, real and imaginary: the WPA-produced Utah: A Guide to the State; several volumes in the landmark Rivers of America history series; Holy Land by D. J. Waldie, a memoir about growing up in Southern California tract housing; and Italo Calvino’s novel, Invisible Cities.
- Books about words and places: John R. Stilgoe’s Shallow Water Dictionary, an essay on the language and landscape of tidal marshes, and The Books of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, a bibliography.
- Books on my Scandinavian heritage: The History of the Söderfors Anchor-Works, a translation of a 1791 history of the village where my Swedish ancestors lived and worked; and two histories of Stavanger, the port city on the southwest coast of Norway where another branch of my family came from. (The stories of my great-grandmother, Frida, from Söderfors, and my great-grandfather, Andreas, from Stavanger, are going into my third book. (Believing in a third book gives me the courage to complete book two.)
If I could, I’d keep all of these books open on a book-wheel, like this wonderful device (pictured right) I saw a few years ago—and surreptitiously photographed—at the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the library established in 1646 in Puebla, Mexico. The perfect bookcase for those of us who can’t keep to just one shelf.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
This book drum is a reminder of my loneliness. It's how I spent my high school and college years. I went to my first party at twenty-two, after I'd already graduated from a Master's program to become a teacher. At the time, I figured I was safe from vices. I had a career. A party wouldn't suck me in like drinking dragged my father, my father's father, my mother's father, my mother's father's father. I was right. But it did throw me farther away from society, and deeper into the drum where I often resonated in the sound of silence.
Sometimes, while reading, I’d fall asleep on the rocking chair or in quiet closets while my wife attended parties. See, she loved other people, loved noise and the din of voices. The only sound I liked was music; but I loved it because it took me out of myself (the only thing I hated more than other people). Music allowed me to exist in a song that said more about my own life, and life in general, than I could ever write. But concerts end, so back to books it goes.
I read every book on this drum twice—I had nothing else to do. I've never understood more, thought more, felt more than when I read these titles. Yet I can't help but hate them with all of my being. Yes, they've helped me clarify my feelings and emotions, understand myself, but my students do the exact same thing. High school kids teach me about sorrow and suffering, about living without regrets or care, about the physical and psychological joy of flirting. Books are one way of getting those things, but when you get them only from books, you miss the physical.
Instead of reading Zorba the Greek, save up a cache of money and find a Kramer to run your finances until they're depleted, then go back to your job. If it's feeling you want, understanding, knowledge, thought, depth, quit reading the books lining the drum, and play the drum.
Jacob Collins-Wilson currently teaches English at Forest Grove High School and writes a lot.