Get Stacked: Authors on their Bookshelves
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Late-night cocktails with adult children of psychotherapists led Jill Bauerle to the idea for Stacked Up, a web-based video series about authors and their bookshelves. She described it as a cross between "Cribs" and "The Paris Review." WNYC's Janaya Williams had a few questions for her.
Janaya: So you were out with some friends, and things went from there....
Jill: The idea for Stacked Up came out of a late-night round of cocktails I had this summer with two of the show's producers, Jennifer Katz and Maya Rossi. Maya's parents are both therapists and their book collection covers a gamut of titles, from "The Broken Brain" to "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life." Maya's stories about her parents' library are incredibly funny, and we considered doing a one-off video about them for YouTube. From there, the idea spun off to how much you can learn about a person from his or her book collection, and how much fun it would be to talk to authors about books. The idea of treating writers like rock stars and going into their homes to interview them also appealed to us. After all, these people write the stories that feed the entertainment complex; why should they get less attention than actors, musicians, directors or chefs, even?
Janaya: You've interviewed Susan Orlean, Amanda Stern, A.J. Jacobs, among others. What did their libraries say about them?
Jill: Susan Orlean shelves her books according to size. She said, "I have a little bit of a system that starts with the absurd and moves towards something a little bit grander." To us, that spoke both to her aesthetic sensibility and her intellectual curiosity.
A. J. told us that he frequently purges his library because the space in his apartment is limited. So when we asked him to show us some of his favorite books, he said he'd gotten rid of them. "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" by Tom Wolfe that inspired him to become a writer? Gone. He said that he was more interested in the ideas conveyed in books than the books themselves.For a writer, his detachment from books as objects struck us as superhuman. Every other author we've interviewed has shown a strong, sentimental attachment to their favorite titles and consider them irreplaceable. Not A.J.
Amanda Stern organizes her books in clusters throughout her apartment. She keeps her favorite books in her bedroom and said that they give her a sense of security. She revealed that, as a child, she often slept in her mother's room out of a fear that her mother would be snatched away during the night. She now feels the same way about the books in her room. It was kind kind of exciting when she described her complex relationship with her library because it confirmed the premise of Stacked Up, (namely that your library is your portrait.)
Janaya: What's in your library?
Jill: I have a huge fiction collection, a number of books about philosophy, and about the principality of Liechtenstein (the subject of a novel I'm working on) and lots of dictionaries and reference books, including a $150 coffee-table book about the history of punctuation called "Pause and Effect." My most prized book is an original edition of Leonard Woolf's five-volume autobiography.
Here's Stacked Up's video: "The Freewheelin' Susan Orlean":