I tried to not clean this up on purpose, because this is how it naturally is. Russell has his own bookshelf upstairs. Some of these are ours, a lot of them are books by friends, which is fantastic, because so many of them are signed. They used to be alphabetically organized, and then Hugo happened. So his books are slowly moving up and up, and spreading like mold. It’s gonna be kid’s books everywhere.
This is the situation: I mostly work in here, in the sun room. I'm working on a book on the American South, and I'm growing my plants at the same time. This is my favourite room to read in, and these are the books that I like to have close by, just because I love them. Or the books that I'm reading, working towards what I need to know, researching for my book. And of course, I'm always—every time you think you're closed to finished, you're just not. So you end up buying more books, and having to read more and more. But this is the room where I do my work, I get up in the morning and come here first thing, sit there in the corner by myself and have my tea.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Lauren Kirshner, the author of the novel Where We all Go, and founder of Sister Writes, a writing program for marginalized women in Toronto’s West end. Her books are in her home in Toronto, which she shares with her husband and two cats.
When I moved in here, I had about 400 books and I just tried to move everything. It ended up being in garbage bags, and I was so eager to get everything unpacked that I didn’t shelve them in alphabetical order. After a while I got frustrated with not being able to find anything, I couldn’t lend people books. Finally, I put everything in a loosely alphabetical order. But I like lending books, or giving people books, and now it’s gotten messed up. But I’m not too particular about it.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to editor, National Post books columnist, and critic Steven W. Beattie. As the reviews editor of Canada’s book industry magazine, Quill and Quire, and proprietor of the long beloved literary blog That Shakespearean Rag, Beattie is an extremely dedicated reader. His books are tightly packed onto various shelves in the apartment he shares with his fiancé, Sarah Dunn. Dunn pointed out that her books were once organized alphabetically and by genre, and they both laughed as Beattie admitted that his encroaching book storing habits had overtaken her system, which sounded to me rather like love.
Organization is, how does one say...nonexistent. Books tend to get thrown wherever. These shelves over here started as overflow. Now there’s a section for Canadian poetry. Every shelf has more books behind the front ones. So I guess if there is any organization, it’s that the stuff in the front is newer than the stuff at the back. This is the problem with just throwing books on the shelf. Many of them are just pushed to the back and forgotten. At some point I’d like to go back and find out exactly what I’ve got back there.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to novelist, critic, and Ryerson University director of American Studies Randy Boyagoda. His shelf is in his office at the university, across from a window with a panoramic view of Toronto’s sky, which was grey on the day he gave me the tour of his book case.
What you’ll notice here would be primarily American books. As a professor of American Studies, that’s the context for most of the books here. But they are also books that I teach, that I end up reviewing, books that people send me...but the majority would be books that speak to my great interest in American literature and culture. In some ways, as I look at this shelf, what I notice are books that I’ve written about for various magazines and newspapers alongside books that I’ve enjoyed reading for my whole life, and books that I teach, various copies of my own fiction, pictures of my various kids...That’s kind of the main element here. If my writing life has multiple purposes then so too does my bookshelf.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to author an columnist Tabatha Southey, whose famously tart and smart writing delights readers of the Globe and Mail on the regular. Southey’s book shelves are all over her house, which she describes as designed specifically to enable comfortable reading. She shares her home, and her books, with her two children and their dog, Tulip.
It’s just such a random collection of books. This book here, I don’t know if you know this book. He was on the Scott Expedition. Asply Cherry-Garrard was the youngest on the Scott Expedition. He almost died, as did his two companions. He was sent to collect Emperor penguin eggs. George Bernard Shaw, who was his neighbour, actually helped write the book. He almost dies, and the book ends with him taking the emperor penguin eggs to the British museum. And they don’t care about them at all. They’re just stuck away in a box. It’s a beautifully written book, a classic of Antarctic exploration. It’s a book I really love.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Michael Lista, who is the poetry editor of the Walrus, a poetry columnist at the National Post, and the author of Bloom, a book of poems about Canadian Manhattan Project physicist Louis Slotin. His shelves are at the literal centre of his home, a loft in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, where Lista has lived for four months. All sight lines in the space extend toward his enviable library, which was lit beautifully by the afternoon sunlight on the day I visited.
My old place, I was there for three years. I had a bunch of random bookshelves, and the books got out of control. It was sort of like Hoarders-esque. It was really, really bad. Like, everywhere towering fucking stacks. So when I moved in here I got my sister’s boyfriend, who’s a carpenter, to build these shelves. And I got in touch with Carey Toane [a poet and librarian], I knew that she had gone through library studies, and I asked her if she knew anyone who wasn’t working and might be interested in organizing my bookshelves. So she put something on Facebook, and like five minutes later this woman, Elizabeth Ellie McAlpine, got back.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to book seller and publishing lover Ben McNally. McNally’s books live all over his house: on the stairways, lining closets, in boxes in the basement, even behind the couch. An attic bedroom seems representative of his family’s affection for the beloved things; they spill out of shelves into waist-high stacks on the floor. While McNally gave me the tour of his still-growing collection, his wife Lynn and teenaged son Yeats stood by, occasionally interjecting to show me their own favourites—and there were many. At times, McNally’s voice would fall into a reverent whisper, the closer we stood to the books on his shelves the quieter he would get.
We have books all over the place, so I don’t know how intensive you really want to get. This is stuff in transit. Stuff comes in… we’re always bringing things in. We have a bookstore, so we’re always getting stacks of galleys. And Lynn does doing buying (for the store) here at the house, so sometimes people will just drop buy and bring a ton of them. Some of them we throw out immediately. The ones at the store, it kind of depends who gets them first. What happens with galleys is sometimes you’ll read three or more pages and think, This is unbelievable shit, and you’ll throw it out. Or you’ll think, Okay, maybe I’ll get to that, and other times you’ll read them and think, Oh! This is really good. We’re going to run with that.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Arianne Shaffer. As a writer, performer, and love letter archivist, Shaffer works mostly with true stories—both as a listener and teller, she's invested in the way that words can make us better understand each other and ourselves. Shaffer has also organized and facillitated peace building and storytelling workshops internationally, in Poland, Turkey, Israel, and Palestine, among other countries. Her books are all over her small and beautiful downtown apartment. They are piled up under the coffee table and in the corners. The light leaks in from the south-east, and fades slowly while she walks me through her personal library.
So, out here it's mostly a cook book section. And behind the nettles, is Michael Jackson. It's the uncensored—my friend got me that. He's a teacher and he stole it form his school library.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Jessica Duffin Wolfe, the editor-in-chief of the Toronto Review of Books. Jessica is also an academician of print culture in the 19th century, and recently built a digital encyclopedia of readerships with some of her students at the University of Toronto. She also founded an interdisciplinary learning initiative called WIDEN. Jessica’s bookshelves are in her downtown loft, which she shares with her fiance, Daniel Goldbloom.
I moved in in 2005. I came with a lot of books—I used to work in bookstores, [and] ever since I was a kid I’ve picked up books. I have almost the same number of books at my parents' house. Maybe not quite as many. When I moved in here I couldn’t fill these shelves, [but] I felt that since I had the shelf space, I might as well have bought some more.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Andrew Pyper, who is the author of six novels, most recently The Demonologist. Andrew’s bookshelves are all over his West Toronto home, which he shares with his wife and their two young children. He showed me his library on a sun-shiny Sunday that begged to be called the first one of spring.
When we moved into this house we didn’t do any of the renovations, that was great, but it didn’t really have anything in the way of bookshelves. It was very clean and modern, so we added this. Just because a living room without books feels like a set for some kind of California thriller where people just die on the marble floor. So we had this installed. When we moved there was a book cull. There were just so many boxes and boxes and boxes. This is just one segment of where the books that I have now are—there are a bunch in my office, there are a lot in the bedroom, and then there’s a whack of paperbacks in the basement. Without having to give it much thought, I guess this is the kind of the favourites. Of hardcover fiction, at least. And cookbooks.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, award-winning creative writing instructor and the author of four books, including All the Broken Things, which will be published in the spring of 2014. Her books are primarily in her bright office, with ancillary shelves in the hallway and bathroom keeping control of the overflow. Kuitenbrouwer’s office is in her west-end Toronto home, which she shares with her husband Marc, two of their three sons, and a very friendly, big brown dog named Chester.
I generally don’t keep any books on the main floor of the house, because I wouldn’t be able to have a proper conversation; I’d be admiring my own embodied knowledge. It’s just an act of vanity to be sitting on a couch, having conversation with somebody, meanwhile glancing at—there’s this great scene in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in which Stein talks about how she had this dinner party with all these famous artists, between the wars. She and Alice were worried, or I guess it’s Gertrude and Alice, they were worried about the artists arguing. So they organized the room so that each artist was sitting opposite his own art. Of course, their house was full of all these beautiful paintings. But because the artists would only be glancing at their own beautiful works of art, they couldn’t argue apparently.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Charles Foran, the author of 10 books, winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, and current president of PEN Canada. Foran has but one actual bookshelf in the midtown Toronto apartment he shares with his wife, but there are books and journals gracing almost every horizontal surface. His desk is in a second bedroom, across from a table laden with approximately 150 books. The rest of his collection, he laments, is still in his previous home in Peterborough.
Outside of the books related to current projects, there are only a few books that I sort of travel everywhere with, and you’re looking at them there. These are sort of totemic books for me. The complete works of Lu Xun—probably my next book is about that man. He is China’s most important writer, enormously influential in China, but almost entirely unknown in the west. Which is odd. And Beckett. He was sort of the writer that awoke me to great art. And I’ve always loved Montaigne’s essays. As I said, I always keep those books nearby, on the off chance that the proximity makes me a better writer. Unlikely though that is.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Dalton Higgins, the author of five books, most recently Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake. Higgins is also a critic and broadcaster, as well as a music programmer and publishing professional. A man of many interests, his bookshelves are stuffed full of books, DVDs, magazines, LPs, CDs, and photos, and are spread out over several rooms in his west Toronto home, which he shares with his wife and their two children.
So this is the only section that I think is kind of curated, and it’s because these are the books I wrote. To be honest—yeah that’s it! Everything else is just really random. It’s like, okay, remember Dalton, you wrote that book. So you have to kind of put them together. And so these are the books I wrote, Far from Over, about Drake, that’s the new one, it came out a couple months ago. Fatherhood 4.0, that’s about the new generation of—I call myself a hip hop pop.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Serah-Marie McMahon, the founder and editor in chief of WORN Fashion Journal. McMahon’s bookshelves are in her attic apartment in west Toronto, which she shares with her husband Ted and their two cats. While snow was falling fast outside, the apartment was a warm dry place that seemed to stop time. There were records and books neatly stored in almost every place my eye went to rest, including a short wall of shelving separating the guest room—a double bed pushed against a sloping eastern wall—from their kitchen.
So, our place is pretty small, but it’s really cheap. It’s kind of how I can afford to do WORN, it keeps our expenses really low. Inside the nook is kind of the best. This is our spare room. Everything has to fit. My little cousin Liam comes to visit a lot and I’m really close with him, so it’s good to have the spare room. All the stuff in the nook is like, shit you read in high school, and kid’s books, and light, amusing things that are fun for guests to look at.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs Corey Mintz, the man behind the Toronto Star’s weekly dinner party, Fed. Mintz is a former professional cook and still keeps his home kitchen up to municipal code. He is also the author of the forthcoming book How to Host a Dinner Party. Mintz’s books are kept in various space saving devices throughout his very neat Toronto third floor apartment, which is decorated with repeating shades of blue and white. When he brought out a few selections from his thousands of comic books, we sat on his bedroom floor and fanned them out around us.
I actually cleaned this shelf up the other night. This is sort of all general, but there is more reference stuff. This Flavor Thesaurus is gorgeous. It’s great. Between that and Culinary Artistry—which is just straight-up lists of classically accepted food pairings, and is really helpful, in a dry sense—but then this is like the opposite. When you look up something like Cashews, and Lamb, and maybe it’s a poem in there, or something. Sometimes it’s a story. Sometimes it’s a recipe. It’s more of a personal interpretation of why these flavours work well. Most often I’ll reach for this when I’ve got a guest who’s like, I don’t eat this or that, but they do say one thing, like I love lamb, I love shrimp. Or if I’ve got that ingredient myself. Then I’m like what’s one new thing. I think sometimes you’re reading, and you’re like, Cucumber and Shellfish, cucumber and shellfish, and you’re going through it, and you’ll be like, Oh! Maybe a sandwich. You get an idea.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs Choire Sicha, founding editor of The Awl, former managing editor of Gawker, and author of the forthcoming book, Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c.2009 A.D.) in a Large City. His bookshelves are in his office,which is in his home, which is in Brooklyn. Sicha shares the space with his husband and their two cats. Sicha said that he trained them, the cats, mostly using a book called Train Your Cat in 10 Minutes a Day, which was on a pile of other books just outside his office door, presumably destined for some other place.
So my bookshelves aren’t that interesting. Do you like how it’s a mess in here? I got married a couple years ago, and we had to combine books. It was actually good, because we needed a good cleaning, and we moved three times in two years, or something like that. Or four times? So I got rid of half my books, which is great. But there is that thing where you go through, and you’re like, which ones can I bear to part with?
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs Chuck Klosterman, the New York Times Magazine’s Ethicist and the author...
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs Edward Keenan, eight time national magazine award nominee, lead columnist and senior editor for Toronto’s The Grid, and author of the forthcoming book Some Great Idea. Keenan shares his bookshelves with his wife, Rebecca, and their three children in their home in the Junction, in Toronto’s west end. The shelves are the clear focal point of the family dining room, and even the youngest, still toddling member of the family wanted to show off her favourite book—the ever classic Goodnight Moon—before wondering away to play elsewhere.
None of this is organized in anyway. Partly because we’re still in that stage of fixing the roof, and making sure the kitchen’s all good, more so than organizing any of the books. But at the same time, Rebecca has more of an impulse to organize than I do. I kind of like just finding things. I like that when I’m looking for something, I find a bunch of other things. It seems to me to be part of the charm of traditional libraries, that internet search capabilities kind of—with digital searching you definitely find what you are looking for, but you don’t have happy accidents as often.
Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Wendy Gomoll and Paul Van Kooy, the publishers of Paul + Wendy Projects, a small company that publishes artist books and other multiples. Wendy is also currently an archival technician for the AGO, and in the last few months of an intensive graduate program at the University of Toronto. Their main shelf is in the bright living and dining room of their downtown Toronto apartment, though there are books and artworks stacked neatly, if a little precariously, throughout their home.
WENDY: The shelf is kind of Paul’s baby.
PAUL: Yeah, so it’s kind of mostly art books at the bottom, literature at the top, with a kind of mushy middle. The organization of the shelf is mostly just finding space at this point.
WENDY: It’s three rows deep in some of those shelves.