Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Haunted by Books: Caroline Leavitt’s Library

Reader:  Caroline Leavitt

Number of Books:  Please don’t ask me to count. It will take me forever to number them because I know I will sit down and start reading.

My personal library began when I was 9 and my mother bought me a blue painted bamboo shelf for my room. I loved that I had my very own shelf! I immediately began putting my favorite books on it—starting with Nancy Drew and moving on to 1984, Animal Farm, A Clockwork Orange, and all sorts of other books. Over the years, that little shelf began to buckle under all the weight of all my books, but I didn’t give it up until I moved to college and then to Manhattan, where I had books lining the floors, and piled up towards the ceilings.

When I got married and had an actual home, we had bookshelves on all three floors and in both bathrooms. But I have my own office on the top floor and three different bookshelves, all with the books I love the most.

This little shelf is more of my work shelf, with some of my books, my husband Jeff Tamarkin’s books, and books on writing. It’s an all-business sort of shelf, except for the silly birdhouse in the middle, festooned with writerly comics. I didn't photograph the bottom shelf because it’s stuffed with ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) and books I am going to read and review and I feel like those titles are private until the reviews come out.

Sometimes I keep a book because it got me through a terrible time and I’m grateful to it, like Larry McMurtry’s Moving On. I found that book in a second-hand bookstore in Pittsburgh when my first marriage was crumbling in the most astonishing way. Somehow the story of Patsy who left her marriage and found herself in the world of rodeo made me feel cheerful and although I haven’t reread that book for years, just looking at it makes me happy.

No rhyme or reason to how books are sorted on these shelves but notice all the foolish extras, including a Malibu Barbi with a broken leg, my son’s first baby sneakers, painted to look like a lion, dog buttons from Parnasuss Books, a tiny statue of a man wearing a fez....and so much more. Here are all the Richard Price books, bios like The Hemingway Women by Bernice Kert and The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller, and a first edition of Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson.

Book I’d run into a burning building to save:  I want to say A Little Life by Hanyah Yanagihara because it showed me that dark is never too dark and no other book has haunted me as obsessively. (I like obsessions.) But truly, a book I treasure is a collection of Kafka short stories given to me by my very first boyfriend when I was barely 17. The pages are underlined by him and there is an inscription that says only, “This is for you with love.” He wanted to prove to me that he was really smart. I knew that he was, and all those underlines made me realize he was full of heart, too.

This shelf is filled with my favorite books, from Anna Solomon’s Leaving Lucy Pear to Mary Morris’ The Jazz Palace to Leora Skolkin-Smith’s Edges. And again, note the amount of silly stuff, including Mrs. Mustard’s Baby Faces on the top of the shelf.

Favorite book from childhood:  Mary Poppins In the Park. Forget the dreadful saccharine Disney film and Broadway show—both so sweet you could get tooth decay before the first act. This Mary is a tart, no-nonsense and sort-of-scary nanny, and she showed me how there was a very thin line between what is real and what could be real, if only you would let it be. These books felt so real to me, so exciting and yet terrifying, too. And I think I loved it because that’s what my life has turned out to be.

Guilty-Pleasure Book:  I can’t find it in my piles but I know I would never part with it. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. Yep, it’s deliciously trashy, about three young women whose lives upend when they get hooked on pills. I was shocked when I read it as a young girl, delighted in it when I was in college, and I still appreciate it now for its complete over-the-topness and hilarious dialogue.

And, finally, here is a 1951 edition of Winnie the Pooh that was my mom’s—and her writing is in it! (I think I love books with writing in them.) It’s falling apart but I loved it when I was little and I love it now.

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow, Pictures of You, Girls In Trouble, Coming Back To Me, Living Other Lives, Into Thin Air, Family, Jealousies, Lifelines, and Meeting Rozzy Halfway. Her newest novel, Cruel Beautiful World, is set in the early 1970s against the specter of the Manson girls, when the peace and love movement begins to turn ugly. Cruel Beautiful World is the story of a runaway teenager’s disappearance and her sister’s quest to discover the truth and her own complicityand about an 80-year-old woman falling in love for the first time. Caroline’s many essays, stories, book reviews and articles have appeared in Salon, Psychology Today, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, The New York Times Modern Love, Publisher’s Weekly, People, Real Simple, New York Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and numerous anthologies. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin.

My Library is an intimate look at personal book collections.  Readers are encouraged to send high-resolution photos of their home libraries or bookshelves, along with a description of particular shelving challenges, quirks in sorting (alphabetically? by color?), number of books in the collection, and particular titles which are in the To-Be-Read pile.  Email for more information.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely idea for a post! I'm married to a writer and we have rooms and rooms of books. No need for pictures or other wall decorations, the decoration is the subject. History and science downstairs, fiction in my study, more fiction in the snug because it overflowed my study, graphic novels and short stories in Dave's study, almost anything in the bedroom. I'm a definite fan of print books and hardly ever read in ebook form. I like the unique size and thickness of each book. I like to look at its spine on the shelf afterwards like a souvenir - so I really smiled when Caroline said she gets a smile just by touching a book and remembering the lovely time she had with it. Thank you both.