Thursday, July 27, 2006

Authorial Dominance

Kate's Book Blog, by way of Terry Teachout, prompted me to consider "Which authors dominate your bookshelves?" Kate defines "dominate" as owning at least five books by or about an author. Here’s my list:

W.H. Auden
Isaac Babel
Whitney Balliett
Samuel Beckett
Saul Bellow
Walter Benjamin
John Berger
Thomas Bernhard
John Berryman
Jorge Luis Borges
Italo Calvino
Elias Canetti
Anton Chekhov
Guy Davenport
Charles Dickens
William Gaddis
William H. Gass
Witold Gombrowicz
Zbigniew Herbert
Geoffrey Hill
Henry James
Samuel Johnson
James Joyce
Fraqnz Kafka
Primo Levi
A.J. Liebling
Christopher Logue
Osip Mandelstam
Greil Marcus
Joseph McElroy
Herman Melville
Steven Millhauser
Czeslaw Milosz
Vladimir Nabokov
Flann O’Brien
Cynthia Ozick
Fernando Pessoa
Marcel Proust
Thomas Pynchon
Philip Roth
Gershom Scholem
W.G. Sebald
William Shakespeare
Baruch de Spinoza
Christina Stead
Henry David Thoreau
Leo Tolstoy
Evelyn Waugh
William Carlos Williams
Ludwig Wittgenstein

The list is pleasing, surprising and somewhat misleading. Several writers I prize highly
(even more highly than some on the list) are under-represented or absent from my shelves: Dante, Edward Gibbon, Leopardi, Montale, William Maxwell and Stephen Dixon (three volumes each); Jonathan Swift, Charles Darwin and T.S. Eliot (two each); Pope, Keats, Whitman and Yeats (one each); Faulkner (none). I’m pleased by the near-parity between American writers and those from Eastern Europe, and surprised by the relative paucity of English writers. I own nothing by an Asian or African (unless you count St. Augustine). Only six writers occupy spots on Terry’s list and mine – James, Liebling, Nabokov, Proust, Shakespeare, Waugh.

I like to think my library has been distilled to essentials, though it will always remain a work in progress. I hold on to books because I love them, find them useful or both. When a book no longer meets at least one of those criteria, I give it away. Sometimes, after I have given away a book, I reevaluate my need for it, perhaps years later, and acquire another copy. The book I’ve had the longest is a Bible I was given in 1960. The newest, dating from earlier this month, is a collection of interviews with Czeslaw Milosz.

I own 25 volumes each by Beckett and Berger, making them the largest presences on my shelves, followed by Chekhov with 23 and Davenport with 19. Nothing on the list (or my shelves) embarrasses me, and I think it stands as a fair representation of my interests and tastes, and probably constitutes an oblique autobiography

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