For number two in my bookshelves series, we’re transitioning from red to orange. As usual, the top is stacked mostly with newer arrivals. The Vegetarian was so puzzling to me that though I didn’t absolutely love it, I thought I’d keep it around for a potential reread one day. A friend and colleague gave me The Jam Fruit Tree, which I read late last year to get some more background on the Burghers in Sri Lanka, and his sharing it with me was meaningful, so the book stays on my shelves. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was recommended by another coworker a few years ago and passed along to me through yet another coworker (we did a book swap). I didn’t love it but figure I should pass it along to someone else, or at any rate that it’s not mine to sell. I’ve owned this copy of Europe Central for years and never read it. I want to like Vollmann but have real trouble liking his stuff, so this is one of those mountains I figure I’ll climb one day. It sits atop the stack because I found it buried in my nightstand drawer recently, where it had sat for years.
Nathaniel Philbrick wrote a pop history of the whaler Essex, which was sunk by a whale and figured into Melville’s Moby-Dick, and the slim dark red book at far left is his defense of reading Moby-Dick, which is a nice little read. The Morgesons is awful. I read it last year as part of a project to read non-white-dudes, and a professor I had spoken with at a community Moby-Dick discussion group suggested this and Beulah (not pictured) as good specimens. Given how dry The Morgesons was, I haven’t had that heart yet to pick up the other from the shin-high stack (in front of this shelf, on the floor) of things I haven’t yet had the heart to read but probably will. I’m not sure why I’m keeping this one. Speaking of tough antiques that it can be hard to get into, maybe 20 years ago, I read the first three fourths or so of The Brothers Karamazov before giving up and ultimately selling the book. A couple of years ago, I decided to try it again, finished it, and figured I’d keep it, as I’ll probably dip back in at some time in the next 20 years. The drama book is a textbook containing a number of non-Shakespearean Renaissance plays, of which my favorite is The Knight of the Burning Pestle (which is basically like a venereal disease joke right there in the title). Before I failed to get into grad school for literature and went off to earn my fame and fortune working on the internet instead, I had hoped to study this stuff as my life’s calling, so I suppose it’s worth keeping a couple of inches of shelf space even though I rarely go back to the plays these days.
I have not read The Inkling by Fred Chappell, but I did go listen to him at a poetry reading when I was in school, and a very young Chappell taught my mother English at UNCG. I forget how I came by this book, but I’ve always meant to read it. It’s not inscribed to my mom or anything, so I suspect it’s not hers and that I just found it at a book sale sometime. This is a weird one because I attach no sentimental value to Chappell or to the book in particular or to my mom’s brief overlap with Chappell, but the book nevertheless represents some sort of tie between my mom and the studies that were so important to me at a time when I was certainly growing more distant from her, so while I don’t ever think about the book or really any of what I’ve just said, when I think about getting rid of the book, I decide not to.
The short story anthology satisfies my penchant for such anthologies. I generally like Zadie Smith’s work and will probably read White Teeth again one day. Half of a Yellow Sun was the best book I read in 2015 (and the best I’ve read since, an among the best I’ve ever read), and you should read it. I think this copy of The Canterbury Tales belongs to my wife. I haven’t read a significant number of the tales since high school but was reading “frame tales” a few years ago and had intended to go back to Chaucer as a purveyor of them, so I must’ve stolen this one from my wife at the time.
The Broom of the System is an obvious keeper for this fan of Wallace. It’s certainly not my favorite of his books, but I do have a fondness for it. I loaned out my first copy many years ago and never got it back, so this is a replacement whose spine I haven’t cracked. The Zak Smith book is a book of illustrations of Gravity’s Rainbow, one for every page. It was an art project a few years back that inspired Matt Kish’s similar Moby-Dick project (more on that when we get to shelf #10). Some of the art here is really neat, and some is I suppose profane (as of course is much of Pynchon’s novel). I walked through this book page by page the last time I read GR a few years ago, and it was neat. Finally, in this little postmodernish section of the shelf (not so shelved by design), we have a slim book by John Barth that I have not read but intend to. I tend to like Barth more in the abstract than in his particulars, but I haven’t read much of his shorter work, so maybe the shorter particulars will do more for me.
Next up, we move into the yellows!