The Well-Readheads: Subject to Change

LH: So, it’s well known the ‘verse over that we’re bibliomaniacs – we eat, sleep, and breathe books. I myself now have just over 1,000 books in my house that I haven’t read, in addition to the hundreds I’ve read and saved. But on top of our compulsion to BUY ALL THE BOOKS, I was wondering if there any particular types of books you collect, or subjects that you own eleventeen hundred books about?

RJS: I love–LOVE–books about the intersection of sociology and sexuality. There’s Sex at Dawn, America Unzipped, Bonk (yep, I’m talking about Mary Roach again), Alexa Albert’s Brothel. So many. Add in a feminist twist–like with Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth, and I am totally powerless to resist. What about you?

LH: To start, I’m obsessed with Francis Bacon. I have about 25 books about him. Not Francis Bacon, the Fakespeare – Francis Bacon, the other white meat. The painter. My new favorite book on him is a collection of his work called, er, Francis Bacon, by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens. Then there’s Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, and Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. And my go-to book when I need to zone out in a happy place is called 7 Reece Mews – it’s a book of photographs of the inside of Francis Bacon’s studio. It was such a mess! There’s oil paint and canvases everywhere – it looks like it would go up in flames if you even thought of fire while you were visiting. Any people you collect books about?

RJS: I feel like I should duck before I admit this, but I’m not really into biographies. I feel like I *should* be, like people who are well-read are interested in reading about the lives of people who changed art and culture and politics and the world, but I just can’t get there. Maybe I’ve not met the right biographies yet? My collecting is definitely more topical. I can’t hear the words “campus story” without swooning. I know we share a love of The Secret History. Then there’s also Skippy Dies and Prep and The Starboard Sea and, oh yeah, Harry Potter. I can go on.

LH: Even Love Story?

RJS: …

LH: That’s what I thought… As far as topic-specific novels, I’m all about books that take place in the post-Civil War Wild West: Blood Meridian, Warlock, True Grit, Lonesome Dove, The Sisters Brothers, Deadwood (the Pete Dexter novel, not the television show, although I LOVE the show, as well – I never ignore the Olyphant in the room).

RJS: Is this the part where I ask if I can be your Huckleberry? Back to the nonfiction side, I love a good exposé…or attempted exposé. That book about the nasty underbelly of sorority life? It was ridiculous and gross and I LOVED it. (I remembered! It’s Pledged by Alexandra Robbins.) Brothel, which I mentioned above, is about the real lives of prostitutes who live and work in the legal brothels outside Las Vegas, and holy hellcats is it fascinating. That’s not a topic so much as a genre, I know. But I can’t get enough. Love it when a book makes me feel like I’m getting away with something.

LH: Speaking of prostitutes, the subject I have the most books on is sharks. (Okay, there was no correlation, it just sounded funny.) I love sharks – they terrify me. In an awesome way. I have three dozen picture books. And my favorite non-fiction book on sharks is Close to Shore by Michael Capuzzo, about the shark attacks on the Jersey Shore. That’s the Jersey Shore, the location, not the reality show – no such luck. I don’t really have a favorite fiction book on the subject – don’t get me started on how awful Jaws is – but Beat the Reaper certainly gets a nod for “Most Awkward Sex Scene Involving a Shark Tank.” Possibly also “Only Sex Scene Involving a Shark Tank.”

RJS: Awww yeah, that’s a great book. Is there a “F#$% Yeah, Beat the Reaper” tumblr? I feel like there should be. After a quick perusal of my bookshelves, I’m noticing a ton of books about books. Meta-books, if you will. Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris and Jack Murnighan’s Beowulf on the Beach being my reigning favorites. Do books about books ring your bells too?

LH: Oh em gee, yes! A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes is the most remarkable book I’ve read on the subject – the piece on the book kleptomaniac is amazing. Unpacking My Library is a cute little glimpse of the shelves of lots of cool writers. A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel is great, and my favorite picture book about books is It’s a Book by Lane Smith.

RJS: It’s a Book is so superduperfantastic, and it’s great fun to stand in a bookstore and watch an adult flip through it with a child, then arrive at “It’s a book, jackass!” If I can teach my 8-month-old nephew to say that (just as soon as he, you know, actually starts talking), my life will be complete. But back to the subject at hand! I also love novels in which books figure large. Like The Shadow of the Wind. There’s a favorite. Tell me, oh Demon Bookseller of Fleet Street, what else should I add to that list?

LH: Holy cats – Among Others is a MUST if you like to read about books within books. It’s an epic nerdpurr, for sure. The City of Dreaming Books is fun crazy-craziness, (written by the man who wrote The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, one of the weirdest books ever) and Fly By Night is a delightful children’s novel about a world where reading is banned. Let’s see, other subjects I have tons of books about: Agatha Christie, Lizzie Borden, rats, bats…anything else you want to add?

RJS: I don’t think so. Turns out I have more individual books about kooky subjects (boy, do I love me some single-subject narrative nonfiction) than I do ongoing collections. Might have to pick a crazy topic to read up on this summer. I’d ask you for recommendations, but I’m a little afraid…

LH: Believe it or not, The Toothpick by Henry Petroski is a really interesting read. He manages to make the toothpick fascinating. I also love Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay, and Limeys: The Conquest of Scurvy by David Harvey. And speaking of diseases, I LOVE a good pandemic. I have tons of books about plagues. But maybe that’s more a discussion for a genre kryptonite post. And with a mental health professional.

RJS: “Doctor’s notes, May TK, 2012. Ms. Hardy displays at least three of the diagnostic criteria for chronic, incurable booksanity….the outlook couldn’t be better.”

Spill it readers: you’ve got a lovely bunch of…what kind of books?