If you’re looking for a last-minute gift idea for a friend (or for yourself), you could do a lot worse than My Ideal Bookshelf. The authors asked more than 100 creative luminaries to list a handful of books that defined them, and then they placed the interview commentary alongside illustrations of the books chosen by each contributor.
Bibliophiles be warned: This book is highly addictive. And it gets you thinking – What were the books that were most formative for me?
Fu Manchu – My first series. My grandfather used to pick these up at a used bookstore in Lowell, Massachusetts and send them to me. When I’d visit, we’d walk there. It was a place I could spend hours browsing in and the root of my current addiction to such establishments.
H2G2 – I know I’ve written somewhere in this blog about Nelson, with whom I spent many hours mowing lawns and trimming hedges. His battered copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was filled with notes and arrows and diagrams and all sorts of indecipheable marginalia. I later fell in love with Douglas Adams’ five book trilogy, but Nelson’s copy came earlier and imprinted upon me the idea that one could interact with a work of literature this way.
Shogun – This all started with the television series starring Richard Chamberlain as the English pilot stranded in feudal Japan. It was so eye-opening, and both my sister and I followed up by reading James Clavell’s 1200 page novel (It was the biggest thing I’ve ever read.). The effect was life-changing. She later taught English in Japan, and I ended up falling in love with the language.
Idoru – This may or may not be my favorite William Gibson novel, but it is the first book of my favorite Gibson triptych (The Bridge Trilogy, along with Virtual Light and All Tomorrow’s Parties). This is also the one sitting atop one of the stacks of books in the hall outside our bedroom, calling to me.
Winter’s Tale – Mark Helprin is highly underappreciated. Read this book or read A Soldier of the Great War. Go. Do this.
On the Road – Read and reread when I moved to Denver because I wanted to identify Dean Moriarty’s haunts. Now that I think more of it, I liked The Dharma Bums better.
Watership Down – I recall reading this in the back of my parents’ station wagon and being utterly transfixed. Just picked up a copy for my daughter.
Infinite Jest – I had to include this because it showed me what was possible, not just with writing but also with reading since I read it along with a few thousand others as part of 2009′s Infinite Summer. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.