One Sunday morning I found myself 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 (Scribner 2017). We all know we don’t get enough sleep, and Dr. Walker’s book argues compellingly 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 (Arturus Publishing Limited, 1985). While everyone will believe I slept in that morning because of something I read, most 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 recently, I mentioned a book I read when I was young, Eleni, by Nicholas Gage (Ballantine Books, 1985), which very personally chronicles the post World War II communist-driven civil war in Greece. The book stuck with me and 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. 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 vexsome 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 not only well preserved, they 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 Hiaasen – is there any better entertainment than a little light reading?
In 2018, our family moved 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 volume titled Living with Books (Octopus Publishing Group, 1992), 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 mine) exhibit 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, my reading list follows: