It’s Sunday morning and I am writing on ten hours sleep. I went to bed early, not even staying up for the cold open of “Saturday Night Live,’” and slept in as well. I attribute this lengthy slumber to a book I am reading, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD. We all know we don’t get enough sleep, and Dr. Walker’s book is so compelling in arguing for a change in sleep habits. On my fortieth birthday, similarly, I quit smoking cold turkey by reading a book, The Easy Way to Quit Smoking by Allen Carr. While everyone will believe I slept in this morning because of something I read, most people are skeptical that I could quit smoking simply by reading a book, but it’s true. My personal and professional bibliography is replete with books from every section of the bookstore that have influenced my life. At lunch last week I mentioned a book I read when I was young, Eleni, by Nicholas Gage, which very personally chronicles the post World War II communist-driven civil war in Greece. The book stuck with me, I find its relevance has not diminished over time.
It is fair to say I love books, and books of many genres. A number of years ago, I decided to study American history by reading presidential biographies – in order. I stalled at Polk, and need to get back to my project, and without regressing and reading the newest biography of Washington, Adams or Jefferson – not to mention Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt. So many new and fantastic books are written every year, that it is impossible to keep up; I just keep filling my shelves.
I grew up surrounded by books; both of my parents were academics, and after their retirement, they opened a bookstore. At the time, I was certain my father had read every book in the store, as he would talk books with his customers all day long and rarely did a book seem unfamiliar. When we sold our house, we donated six thousand books from my parents’ collection to a small town public library in Michigan. Comparatively, my library holds many fewer volumes, probably less than a thousand, but they are all dear to me. I read in hardcover (not on a tablet), which is very vexing when traveling, and have adopted the habit of wrapping each book in it’s own plastic jacket, just like a lending library. The books in my collection are well organized, from presidents to biography; from general history to contemporary non-fiction and sports; and finally, to contemporary fiction, which is by far, the largest single category. My shelves are full of Michael Connelly, Daniel Silva, John Grisham and Carl Hiasen – is there any better entertainment than a little light reading?
Our family moved recently to a new apartment, which although large, was lacking in personality. For the living room, we designed custom wall-mounted bookcases to house our books, which have become the main decorative element. Books add color and warmth, and activate a somewhat awkward and unremarkable space in our home. At DFA, we have a book called Living with Books, a design book dedicated to rooms where books are the dominant decorative theme. Whether people shelve their books by color, or by size, by subject or alphabetically, books highlight a homeowner’s’ personality. Some are messy, some are austere, some (like me) have OCD; but whatever their quirks, readers make for good company.
If you are interested in the books that have contributed most to my thoughts and writings, please visit my bibliographic notes.