Review: “My Ideal Bookshelf” by Thessaly La Force

Thumbs up for My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly La Force, illustrated by Jane Mount. Nonfiction.

I spent about a third of my weekly grocery budget on this book, but once it was in my hand I knew I could never let it go. (Albeit this may be more a reflection on my finances rather than on the price of the book.) It’s hard to describe an art book in prose, but the concept is that the authors asked more than a hundred famous and famous-ish people – from Malcolm Gladwell to Maira Kalman to Alice Waters – what their ideal bookshelf was. The exact interpretation of that was left open; it could be the books that most influenced that person, or the books they would want on a desert island, or the books they refer to every day. The illustrations are what charmed the money out of my wallet. Each shelf is displayed as a colorful hand drawing of the books’ spines, as if they were sitting on a bookshelf on the page. I love the idiosyncracy of the book choices: almost all of these shelves contain books I’ve never even heard of, much less seen. My brain feels expanded. Each subject also provided a one-page essay about their choices. My favorite was James Patterson’s (and I never thought I would put “favorite” and “James Patterson” in the same sentence). A sample:

Stephen King has been busting my chops for years, but I’ll put one of his books on my shelf. I don’t know if I like him, but I like Different Seasons a lot. He’s a bit like the bully in your high school. He once wrote something like “James Patterson is not cool and has never been cool.” But you know what? I’m actually cool. My teenage son thinks I’m pretty cool, and kids don’t like anybody. So come on, Uncle Stevie, let’s have a coffee. Then you can go out and trash me.

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