The Bookshelf Report is an ongoing series where a Bushwick reader invites us into their home and shares a little bit about the books that occupy their shelves.
Today’s bookshelf lives inside the home of Chuck McKeever. I first met Chuck a few months ago at A Literary Mixer which is a local book club meeting here in Seattle scientifically designed for fun people. Chuck is a full time staff member at Literacy Source, a Seattle based non-profit organization that has been providing adult literacy services since 1986.
How do you organize your books?
You’ve caught me just after moving, so my books are looking tidy for the first time in ages. There’s generally a pile of books on my immediate “to-read” list stacked apart from the others, and at times I’ve kept another pile going of books that for whatever reason I never finished and intend to pick back up again. Right now, they’re organized by… whichever ones fit best into my cramped little shelves.
Be honest. What percentage of the books on this shelf have you actually read?
I actually counted–there are 46 books on the shelf, and I’ve read 23 of them cover to cover. So a tidy 50%. When I have occasion to go back to my parents’ house in upstate New York, I always stuff books I’ve already read in my bag and sort of phase them out into the shelves of my old bedroom back home. The only exemptions are the books I really love and can reread over and over–those never get shuffled out.
What’s your favorite book on the shelf?
Ooo, great question. Like any good lover of books I won’t give just one answer (and it’s a good thing my Kindle isn’t displayed, because that has another two dozen books I’m obsessed with on it). I really, really love “The Dog Stars” by Peter Heller. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel that’s beautifully written and actually quite hopeful, which is a welcome spin on that genre. I am also really into “The Proud Highway,” which comprises all of Hunter S. Thompson’s letters from 1955-1967. That was the span where he was really starting to grow up and find himself both as a person and a writer, and it’s fascinating to actually get a look inside the developmental processes of someone whose work I really admire. Oh, Dinaw Mengestu’s “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears” is incredibly poignant and infinitely recommendable, too. You can see I’m not very good at this.
What book do you plan on reading next?
It will probably be awhile before I start anything new — I’ve just cracked open William Least Heat-Moon’s “River Horse,” which is his narrative of crossing the United States by boat. It’s a nice, non-fiction twist on the quintessentially American idea of writing about long car trips or train rides. What’s next will really depend what I’m in the mood for once I finish up. Strong candidates at the moment are John Williams’ “Stoner” (the last name of the eponymous title character, not a drug novel), Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” (which I’ve somehow never read), and John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces” (because New Orleans is my favorite American city outside of Seattle). I never seem to know until I actually pick it up.
Is that Steal Like An Artist by Austin Klenon?!! That book is on my shelf too! How did it end up on your bookshelf and what is your biggest take away from the book?
Oh, man. One of my favorite people on earth who I don’t know personally. A friend and I discovered Austin Klenon when we were wasting time on StumbleUpon during our Renaissance Lit class at Ohio State, and I’ve been a serious fanboy ever since. I actually got to see him speak and meet him in April, which was a dream come true. The biggest thing I took away from Steal Like an Artist was that it’s alright to let the things you love influence your work–there are no true originals in art, just people who are good at building on the great work that has come before and can carry on the traditions that matter to them.
You probably know this but there is an Ender’s Game movie (I’ve never seen it). Where do you stand on the classic Movies Vs. Books debate? Books are better than movies, movies are better than books, or somewhere in between?
Books are always better, though I like when movies supplement my understanding of a book. I tend to be a horrible movie critic, because I am very easily entertained and usually enjoy just about anything. The only exception to that is when movies are made that differ wildly from a book I’ve enjoyed. I hated, hated the second Hobbit movie, because it jumped the shark so hard I barely recognized the story. The Ender’s Game movie wasn’t much better, save for the battle room scene and Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham. I actually just saw The Giver, and I was pleasantly surprised — other than aging the characters up to appeal to the young adult set, it was a semi-faithful adaptation that got the most important character right. Though in my book Jeff Bridges can do no wrong, so that probably shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Thank you, Chuck! That was fun.
As for the rest of you, if you would like your shelf featured on the Bushwick Bookshelf Report all you need to do is ask.
Until next time…