Like many projects whose time has come, My Ideal Bookshelf, released in November 2012 by publishers Little, Brown, is several things at once. It is a beautifully illustrated collection which celebrates the shelf-lives of books by artfully rendering their collected spines in elegant, joyful color. It is also a wonderful sampling of sentiments about the relationships humans have with books. Finally, it is a sneak peek into the psyches of modern artists and writers, chefs and musicians—by assembling a small row of their favorite books for the public eye, these contributors allow the books to tell a story about who they are, or who, at least, they are willing to let us believe they are. For when we designate something as “ideal”, when we assign significance to a thing or idea, we invariably say something true about ourselves. At its very core, My Ideal Bookshelf is a delightful collection of portraits. Read this book to see who keeps Chekov company on Francine Prose’s bookshelf; learn Jennifer Egan’s goal as a writer, or confirm something you already believed about Michael Chabon. The 101 “portraits” included in My Ideal Bookshelf are painted by artist Jane Mount, and the first-person commentaries are taken from interviews compiled and edited by Thessaly La Force.
Once you see the book, you may become desperate for your own Ideal Bookshelf portrait—the good news is you don’t have to be a cultural celebrity or a Medici to commission one. Through the project’s website, artist Jane Mount offers reasonably priced single spine book portraits as well as entire shelf collections. My Ideal Bookshelf is a charming project that underscores the human desire to be recognized by more than our faces. We want to be known for what we love.
Interesting aside: On his website, data engineer (and companion to Thessaly La Force) Fred Benenson posts a surprising range of statistics he compiled based on crossovers between the book’s 101 contributors, their professions, and their bookshelf choices. Predictably, however, with so many writing professionals among the interviewees, certain authors showed up on ideal shelves again and again.