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Monday Miscellany

You Are What You Read: 14 Thought Leaders Share Their Bookshelves

I admit I’m a book snob. The first thing I look at in people’s homes or offices is their bookshelves. I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours:

my bookshelves

I moved recently and haven’t even unpacked my books yet. These are new ones that I’ve acquired since the move.

Anyway, in the article linked here Shane Snow explains an experiment he tried out recently:

I emailed a few friends and people I admired and asked them if I could see photographs of their bookshelves (or book stacks or Kindle screens). Just about everybody said, “yes.” The experiment soon metastasized, and I started pestering thought leaders in spaces I followed–tech, advertising, philanthropy–to see what books the innovators cared enough about to allot real estate.

Soon, I had more photos than I knew what to do with.

Take a look at some of his favorite photos.

THE BIZARRE AND THE JEJUNE: Tom Wolfe talks about his life

At age 82 Tom Wolfe, credited with being the founder of what came to be known as New Journalism, talks about his writing life:

It helps to know from a very early age what you want to do. From the time I was five years old I wanted to be a writer, even though I couldn’t even read. It was mainly because I thought of my father as a writer. Actually, he was an agronomist. But he was editing a magazine called The Southern Planter, which gave advice to farmers.

I would see him writing on a big yellow legal pad. And then about two weeks later there would come out a publication in type. I don’t know if I can explain it, but when I was young type was so refined. It had these sharp edges. I wish I could relive the excitement of seeing type for the first time. So it was pretty clear that I wanted to be a writer.

Read here about his early journalistic career, the time he followed Muhammad Ali around New York City for a piece for Esquire, how New Journalism came about and where the name came from, and this lesson that he learned:

I started out like most young writers, thinking that great writing consists of 95 percent of your talent and 5 percent your content. But you have to write about something and pretty soon I had those figures really turned around. It was more like 75 percent content and 25 percent ability.

Bleak Books: The Best, the Bad, the Broken

Many years ago, when my library book group read Mary Karr’s memoir The Liars’ Club, one woman said, “I wish we didn’t have to read books about such depressing things.” Karr’s book discusses some disturbing things that happened to her as a child. Since I had recommended the book to the group, my reply was that we need to read about such things so that, as a society, we can work to make the world a better place.

But what about bleak fiction? Elizabeth Bluemle addresses this question in a blog post for Publishers Weekly. By bleak she seems to mean violent here. And with violence as the deciding criterion, I have three well-known novels that I still refuse to read:

  • The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

I may have to revise my resistance to The Road in light of Bluemle’s evaluation here: “Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a stunner.”

Bluemle mentions some other bleak (violent) novels that she finds worthwhile. And here’s her overall conclusion:

Maybe a good bleak book is one that makes us face some of the harder human truths, makes us think, disturbs us — upsets our simple preference for rewarded virtue and punished villainy — in important ways. The good bleak books deepen our appreciation for humaneness, mercy, compassion. Perhaps the good bleak books shatter our hearts, but show us how to start putting them back together again.

What about you? Are there some books that you won’t read because they’re too violent? Is there such a thing as “a good bleak book”? Have you read some books that you thought you’d hate but ended up liking?

The Literature Behind Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Best Movies

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had an uncanny ability to portray the complexities of human nature. Here’s some information on the literature behind some of his most famous roles:

  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
  • The Master (2012)
  • Almost Famous (2000)
  • Synecdoche, New York (2008)
  • Capote (2005)