Friday, 18 July 2008

Other People's Bookshelves

Have you ever spent the pre-dinner conversation moments at someone's house browsing their bookshelves? Ever waited, at your new friend's or new date's home,  for the first opportunity to be alone, so that you could go through their books? And, most importantly, have you ever wondered what was on the bedside tables of Sylvia Plath, ee cummings, or WH Auden?

I See Dead People's Books, the latest project by LibraryThing, gives you the possibility to find some answers for this last question: yes, you can actually have a look at the bookshelves of some of your favourite authors. Of course, as Graeme Allister points out in the Guardian blog, "many of the books are predictably familiar", and the lists cannot actually be read as a complete representation of anyone's literary preferences - they have been put together through various different methods, mainly with the help of American academic libraries, and they cannot account for those books that were sold or disposed of by the authors or by their families. But the idea still has an undeniable charm.

And you might find out, for example, that Guy de Maupassant's short stories featured  in Faulkner's library, or that Ernest Hemingway was a fan of Rudyard Kipling's Plain Tales from the Hills. Or, even, that he shared with Francis Scott Fitzgerald an interest in G.K. Chesterton - but while Hemingway himself preferred The Incredulity of Father Brown, Fitzgerald was keener on The Napoleon of Notting Hill

The website even tells you about what state the copies are in - whether, for example, they are pocket editions or leather-bounds, and whether their owners wrote anything in them (apparently, Sylvia Plath and Ezra Pound were very active scribblers).  It might not be the most academically accurate way of learning about your favourite writer's influences, but it is hard to resist the curiosity...

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