We've been in love with Jane Mount's "ideal bookshelf" paintings for a long time. Having seen them featured in dozens of book blogs and in The New Yorker, Paris Review, InStyle and elsewhere, we've often longed for one of our own. After all, where better to display a cheery illustrated shelf of life-changing books than a bookstore? And what better way to acquaint yourself with a team of booksellers than by knowing which books most profoundly changed, defined, or enhanced their lives?
Last spring we learned that many of Jane's paintings, plus dozens of new ones, were being compiled for a new book: My Ideal Bookshelf. That was it. We decided to go for it!
Each Changing Hands staffer selected one book (his or her all-time favorite, which was no easy task) and we sent the list of 33 titles to Jane. When she finished, we were thrilled. The original illustrations are hanging above our magazine racks, and a huge banner now dominates our front window. The books are also on display in the store, so we hope you'll stop by and discover one you haven't read yet. You can also browse below and learn more about who picked which book, and why.
When you're finished, feel free to visit our Facebook page and keep the conversation going. Which books would you pick for your own Ideal Bookshelf? We'd love to know.
Sartre's Nausea affected me in a way that very few books can. His profound ruminations on art, knowledge, and human interaction have stayed with me for years. One of the few philosopher-novelists who have impacted my thinking so tangibly.
To read this clever and heartwarming adaption of the Grimm fairy tale of the same title is to rediscover the pleasures of fantasy writing itself. Compelling personalities, vivid settings and Hale's overall impeccable storytelling easily transport you into another world where things like communicating with animals and controlling the wind feel entirely feasible, and indeed, like home.
The most haunting book I have ever read, Embers takes the reader on a journey of friendship betrayed and the calculating patience of vengeance. Marai grabs his readers with subtle brilliance, elegance and emotions barely recognized until the last hypnotic sentence.
The voice of the nine-year-old narrator has stayed with me over the years, as has the joy and wonder I felt when reading this amazing novel. If you haven't read it yet, I'm jealous.
Who doesn't want to escape to the circus? The Night Circus is the type of book that makes me smile to the very core. It cheers me when I am down and lets me explore a world in which magic is real. I love fantasy and I love historical fiction, and this has a little bit of both.
Saul Bellow is the greatest writer of American prose, period. And this is his breakout novel. Augie March won the first of Bellow's three National Book Awards and established him as a major literary figure. But it's also his breakout in the sense that, after two short apprentice novels, this is where he broke free linguistically. With Augie came that astonishing style of his—that exhilarating torrent of high-flown purple prose and gritty Chicago street vernacular, often deployed in the same sentence. Of course, astonishing prose isn't the only reason to read Augie March. Augie's story—of a poor boy growing up during the Great Depression, of a young man ricocheting from job to job and from relationship to relationship, of a restless man yearning for freedom while longing for a sense of home, of a man forever slipping punches and breaking free of anything or anyone with the power to constrain him—is uniquely American, and seems as relevant now as it did when it was first published in 1953. I agree with Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, and many others: The Adventures of Augie March is the Great American Novel.
Les Miserables is one of those books I can read over and over and never get bored. I love that each time I read it I find something new I never noticed or realized that I can enjoy.
Each time I read Jellicoe Road, the outside world disappears and I am completely ensnared by the tragic mystery at the center of Marchetta's YA masterpiece. It's not just the heartbreaking story either; Marchetta's eloquent writing imbues the novel with an almost magical quality. Very few books can make me laugh on one page and cry on the next, but Marchetta is a master at getting to the emotional core of her readers. Her beautiful writing and brutally realistic characters affect me deeply, every time we meet.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is the quintessential Latin American novel. This extraordinary tale is layered with magical realism, true historical realities, epic family tales, sadness, solitude, and comedy, all woven together in beautiful prose.
Jane Austen had an amazing ability to see the humor and contradictions in everyday life. In Pride and Prejudice, she used those observations to create a witty social commentary helmed by the intelligent and outspoken Lizzie Bennett, all while still embracing the ideals of family, love, and romance in ways that make every woman want to find her own Mr. Darcy.
In John Fante's Ask the Dust, Arturo Bandini believes so strongly in his writing that he leaves his family behind and moves to Los Angeles. Any semblance of success eludes him, and he confronts poverty and soul-crippling depression as the rejection letters pile up. His suspicion is that he can't write a great novel because he has yet to experience love, so he goes about the city trying to find it with prostitutes and a mutually destructive relationship with a local waitress named Camilla. Set in Depression-era Los Angeles, Fante's novel captures both the grit and the romance of a struggling writer with its portrayal of the tragic American idealist, Arturo Bandini. Fante creates a world so compelling, realistic and bleak that it serves as a precursor to all the gritty literature that has come since.
With an ease close to breathing, Richard Yates casts open the gate to the dark soul of 1950s American culture. It will ring on and on as an indictment of the American dream and the values we think are our only savior.
William Cooper claimed it was his duty to inform and empower his audience, thereby placing a great responsibility on society to do what is right. After reading Behold A Pale Horse, I had to get everyone to read it and find the truth for themselves.
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Lily Bart's ingrained desire to be accepted and taken care of leads her to mold herself into whatever personality she believes others wish her to be. Lily's progression throughout The House of Mirth relays a powerful message of how easily our actual selves can be destroyed by a perceived necessity to please others. It is a cautionary and beautifully told tale that is still relevant today.
Being able to help a child discover the joy of reading is one of the most rewarding things I do, and I owe it all to this book. It was the first children's novel I read as an adult, and without it I would never have realized that a life surrounded by children's literature could be as fulfilling as it has been for me.
This novel has haunted me for years—haunted in a good way. It's a reminder of what good writing, strong characters and a sense of place can bring into a reader's life. It's about a marriage fraught with difficulties, big questions about commitment, and what the individual loses when partnering with another person. There are no extraneous words in this epic novel, set in the late 19th-century American West. Stegner's sentences can be read aloud and savored. It is a narrative told from the present day—a grandson reflecting on his grandparents' lives—and from the past—a couple living and grinding out their existence emotionally, psychologically, physically in the hardscrabble rocky landscape. None of the characters has an easy life, but with prickliness and all their flaws, they dance on the pages as multi-dimensional, highly believable human beings.
Every time I read Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland it is a reminder that the world doesn't make sense and it never will, but that's okay, there's a whole lot of fun and adventure to be had anyway. I could read and reread Alice my entire life and never be bored by it.
I remember being assigned The Iliad in ninth grade, and again in my eleventh grade Latin class. Both times — reading it first in English, then in Latin — were experiences that I'll never forget. There was everything I could wish for: epic battles, vengence, melodrama, and the sense of reading something important, something that had been told and retold for thousands of years. In college, I found a renewed love of ancient Greece, spending days and many courses reading the works of philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus. And I got the impulse to return to Homer, this time of my own volition, in Fagles' transcendent translation. I consumed every stanza, footnote and glossary. It all returned to me, that feeling that through this prose, this plot, I was as infinite as history — inextricably, tangibly entangled in time. That is what a book, a story, should embody to me: something infinite, unchangeable. A living, human relic that cannot be lost or consumed, that connects each of us to something like divinity.
Geek Love is one of my favorite books, not only because the story is great and has incredible characters, but it also has some of the best things to say about our individuality. The performers in Dunn's traveling freak show despise 'the norms,' who come to spectate, and they embrace what makes them different.
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The Stand was my introduction to Stephen King, and after reading it, I was completely hooked.
In Half Broke Horses, Lily Casey's many adventures are brought to life by author Jeannette Walls, Casey's granddaughter. Because of their relation, Walls is able to share her grandmother's story in a first-person voice that is both authentic and irresistible. Casey's life of adventure certainly wasn't boring or dull—she was a mustang breaker, schoolteacher, ranch wife, bootlegger, poker player, racehorse rider, bush pilot and mother of two. I really enjoyed Walls' crisp, clear language which evoked deep emotion keeping the narrative moving. This would be a great book club book.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a fantastic book that sends you on a roller coaster ride of emotions and keeps you guessing until the very end. The two main characters, Mikael and Lisbeth, are easy to relate to and amaze you throughout the novel with their resourcefulness and desire for finding the truth. The Millennium Trilogy is one that you will want to come back to time and again.
Charlie spoke to me, and years later I'm still thinking about the way this book carried me though the darkest of times.
Probably the most important book ever written about the Colorado Plateau, Abbey's masterpiece is a gruff and passionate account of life in an unforgiving environment. Imagine Kerouac without his aunt's checkbook. Imagine if Henry David Thoreau had known what "roughing it" really is. Edward Abbey was the real deal and will forever be remembered as the "Desert Anarchist."
Of the many books written about cancer, Murkherjee demystifies the subject like none other. Cancer's ability to flourish in all life forms, not just people, ensures its continued existence. In spite of lifesaving treatments and cures, Murkherjee shows that cancer will always be with us. This realization is one of the many insights that made me love this book.
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Reading about an English veterinarian was about the last thing I wanted to do, but it was the only book in the house I hadn't read. It starts out as such a nice story and then you start to smile, then chuckle, then put the book down and laugh with tears. My husband would ask me to read him the funny part but finally just said, "Hurry up so I can read the book!" James Herriot has a great wit and a wonderful way of writing that makes you care about each person.
Yoga of the Voice is a path of personal devotion that brings us therapeutic and spiritual experiences. Silvia Nakkach skillfully incorporates her 30 years of Indian singing studies into her teaching of indigenous chanting. Her method utilizes call-and-response, so memorization is not an issue. Free Your Voice gives readers an opportunity to practice the exercises Silvia has gathered, and is accompanied by a free audio download from SoundsTrue.com, which adds to a fuller experience of learning from this dynamic teacher, scholar, and music therapist.
In an age of ever-increasing digital awareness, no author's work has been so influential to me than that of Cory Doctorow. He has advocated for digital rights and education through his work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org) as well as in his prolific fiction. The supposedly 'teen' novel encapsulates the incredibly real issues facing us today with regard to government control in the "war on terror " and the stark reality of the consequences of what could — and does — happen when you're on the wrong side of the accepted rules of engagement. I don't say this lightly: everyone should read this book.
Beowulf is a classic poem of living by the warriors code and finding balance between being a wise leader and a dutiful warrior. It still resonates within the context of our own contemporary society and values.
In the Heart of the Sea is an incredible true story of tragedy and survival. The author, Nathanial Philbrick, writes in a historically and emotionally engaging way about the doomed whaling voyage of the Essex, the inspiration for Melville's Moby-Dick. Truth can be stranger than fiction, however, and when the book opens, we find a second whaling vessel has come upon an open dinghy where there are two emaciated men gnawing on the bones of their dead crewmates. It's quite gruesome, but in an I-can't-stop-reading-this kind of way. Philbrick tells a compelling and insightful tale of America's whaling industry at its height, and of the frailty of men thousands of miles from home, at the mercy of the sea.
— SARAH ANN
"Sometimes I live in the country,
Sometimes I live in the town;
Sometimes I get a great notion
To jump in the river...an' drown."
—From the song "Good Night, Irene" by Huddie Ledbetter and Jon Lomax
Sweet, sad, funny and tragic, Sometimes a Great Notion is American icon Ken Kesey's best novel. Kesey's rugged Oregon upbringing and counterculture middle-age gave him rare insight into the conflicted nature of American character in the 20th century, and he poured it all into this amazing book.
— SARAH B.
Milo is incredibly bored. He doesn't understand why he has to learn things like math and reading—that is, until he comes home from school one day to find a tollbooth in his bedroom. In the car that came with the tollbooth, Milo embarks on an adventure in the "Land Beyond," where he meets an amazing array of characters in his quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.
If I were stranded on a desert island, this is the book and series I would want with me. It has action, drama, humor, love and sex as well as some of the best writing ever. Not to mention the men in kilts ...