The Bookshelf Report is an ongoing series where we ask 5 questions and share 5 pictures of a bookshelf belonging to a Bushwick reader. Today’s bookshelf comes from Elizabeth Cohen, author of the new book The Hypothetical Girl, a delightful collection of short stories that captures the magic within the wonderfully awkward world of online dating.
What’s your favorite book on the shelf?
My favorite book is The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander. A kid’s book that was incredibly important to me as a child and into adulthood – a coming of age story about an assistant pig keeper (that he was an “assistant” was important to me, who became, of course, a king of a magic land). I was read it by my dad and then read it alone and later had a series of “assistant” jobs in which I often thought of that book.
The job does not define the person. That was my little life lesson I somehow need to cling to.
How do you organize your books?
Organize? What is that? Joking. By TIME PERIOD THEY WERE IMPORTANT TO ME.
So…you will see the kid’s books together (and note I have the original Wizard of Oz Books… my daughter’s now!), all the Navajo and Native American books together, from when I co-authored a book about the first Navajo woman surgeon, The Scalpel and the Silver Bear. Books about economics, I inherited from my father, an economist…and then MY books. Short story collections, poetry (gazillion poetry books, those are in my university office), novels and nonfiction, mixed together by the time I read them. And then there is the perennial “night side table books,” that I am in the middle of or read over and over. (Behind my buddha fish tank where my fish, Tomas, guards them).
I think of books as representing life segments. So the novels I read in the 80s hang out together. The novels from the 90s are by themselves too. I have a friend who organizes her books by PUBLISHER! That is so wild to me – all those orange Penguins side by side, a tangerine sea. I organize, if you can call it that, by my heart.
85– I guess… I have never read my father’s books but I can’t seem to part with them because they have crib notes he wrote in them. And his name, so neatly, on the first page. Even HIS books, Labor in the United States volumes 1-6, I haven’t read. Because I am just not smart enough. Sadly.
What book do you plan on reading next?
Well… where should I begin? I am reading Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai right now and it is luscious. I am also half way through Ann Patchett’s Book of Wonder (I often read multiple books at a time), pretty damn good as well. Then I plan to dig into Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings and John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars because my 14-year-old told me it is supposed to be great. Maybe we will read it together! I want to read Caroline Leavitt’s new book and Jo-Ann Mapson’s new books because they are my literary pole stars.
Then I will STOP reading because I will be writing and I cannot write when I am reading.
I start to imitate the authors I am reading, it is just awful.
Wild Card Question: Why so many vintage children’s books?
SO… I am a fan of YA and kid’s books. And the books I read as a child, the OZ books, the Narnia books, the Hobbit and books like Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and oh God, let’s not forget, Harriet the Spy, about a girl writer, who thinks she is a detective of her neighborhood; these books had a profound influence on me and who I am and how I wrote. And moreover why I write. For this reason I collect vintage children’s books because I love them and they make me so happy.
The cover of The Secret Garden makes me feel better, just to look at.
My ex was very kind and bought them all. It was a nice nice thing to do.
Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth! May your fish keep your books out of harm’s way.