Which is your oldest book and your newest?I wish I could say that I've saved a beloved book from my childhood, but sadly that isn't the case. Between moves, storage space disasters, and outgrowing things, I don't have any books of old, emotional value. The oldest (by publication date) books on my shelves are a two-volume set of The Life of Abraham Lincoln, written by Ida Tarbell. These books were published in 1900, and were a very thoughtful gift from a family member.
As for newest books, there are quite a few 2017 releases on my shelves, but the newest is Five Carat Soul by James McBride, which was released on September 26, 2017.
Which is your biggest book (size, not page length) and the smallest?Measuring at a whopping 2 1/4" thick, Haymarket Books' hardcopy, centennial re-release of Leon Trotsky's The History of the Russian Revolution is the biggest book on my shelves. The smallest book is a thin collection of essays called Black Writers Redefine the Struggle: A Tribute to James Baldwin, edited by Jules Chametzky, just weighing coming in at 1/4" thick.
Which are the longest book you own and the shortest?By pure page numbers, the longest single book on my shelves is the Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti, which tops out at 1312. The shortest book is definitely Toni Morrison's The Nobel Lecture in Literature, at 40 pages.
Which is your most expensive book and which was the best bargain?I'm such an omnivorous book purchaser, that it's hard to keep track (and I don't keep a record of dollar amounts spent on individual books - partly for my own sanity) of which books hurt my wallet the most. So, I have absolutely no idea which of my books is the most expensive. The biggest bargains are those books that I get at library book sales, where any book is usually between $1-3. There are too many for me to select one to share here; I'd wager that at least 30% of my books came from library book sales.
What are, in your opinion, the most beautiful cover on your shelves and the ugliest?I talked about pretty books not that long ago, and I chose the omnibus of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy as the most beautiful book. However, as I've been thinking about it today, I think I'm going to pick the naked hardback Envelope Poems by Emily Dickinson, beautifully published by indie press New Directions. It's a lovely light shade of blue, and seems more like an artifact than a book you'd find in the New Releases section of a bookstore.
I don't like calling a book cover ugly, because what "ugly" looks like can change radically from year to year. A design that I don't care for in 2017 might have been really desirable when the book was published. One exception to this are "movie/TV covers" for books, which I never think are particularly beautiful. One example of this is my edition of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, which I picked up at a library book sale for $1. Although the story and the movie on which it was based are beautiful, this tie-in cover is not my favorite.
What is your favorite book and what's one that you really disliked?I couldn't possibly pick a single book that's my "favorite", but these five are among the ones I like best:
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Moby-Dick or The Whale, by Herman Melville
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
I don't care for discussing books I really didn't like, so I'm going to skip the second part of this question.
Name a book that made you cry, and one that made you laugh.The most recent book that made me shed tears was Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoir of the 2016 presidential election cycle, What Happened. There were such evocative moments that took place just after the unbelievable results of the election; they brought me right back to the head-space I was in at that time, which brought forth tears now just as I experienced then.
As for laughter, I can always count on David Sedaris' wry observations and dark comedy to make me giggle. My favorites of his collections are Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.
What book warmed your heart, and which one made you shiver?There's an assertion, that I hear here and there throughout the bookish community, that there aren't any "happy" books being published anymore. I disagree! I read and loved Robin Sloan's Sourdough last month, and I found it to be a heartwarming read about a young woman, a magical sourdough culture starter, and their journey of self-discovery through food and technology. There's nothing especially sinister in the story, and it has quite a happy ending.
On the other end of the spectrum, the shiver-inducing books I've read recently are non-fiction accounts of the horrors that befall many Americans every day - racism, sexism, undue targeting by governmental and law enforcement officials, and bodily violence. Tears We Cannot Stop, by Michael Eric Dyson; Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward; and Between the World and Me. by Ta-Nehisi Coates. They are scary because they are true.
What's one book you can't wait to read, and one that you've been putting off?When I buy books, I'm always excited to get to reading them...until other new books compete for attention. The exception is any book I borrow from my local libraries, which have an expiration date. So, the one book I CANNOT wait to read is usually the one that I most recently added to my shelves, or the one that's due back to the library the soonest. Right now, that is We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Recommend a book that you would like more people to read, and anti-recommend a book that wasn't as good as you expected.
In general, I'd love to see more people reading poetry. Many of us have bad associations with poetry from studying it in school, and never go back to it later in life. As a gateway between reading prose and poetry, I'd highly recommend Matthew Zapruder's Why Poetry. You can check out my full review here, but it's a great resource to use if you're interested in reading poetry but aren't sure how to go about it. Once you've read that, I have a few diverse poetry collections to recommend:
- I Shall Not Be Moved, by Maya Angelou (easy to read structure but hard-hitting topics)
- My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, by Aja Monet (pertinent topics and lots of compelling imagery)
- Cold Pastoral, by Rebecca Dunham (environmental poetry esp. human impact on the environment)
- In Spite of Everything, by Curtis Robbins (deaf experience of living in the hearing world)
- City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology, edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (huge collection of poems that were originally published by City Lights Publishers in San Francisco - heavy on the "Beat era")
As with previous question, I'm not going to down-talk a book, so there won't be any anti-recommendations here.
What is the next book you plan to acquire, and one that might be purged from your shelves soon?
I'm really excited for a book called Beyond the Rice Fields, written by Madagascan author Naivoharisoa Patrick Ramamonjisoa (pen name Naivo) which is being published in the US on October 31. It's the very first Madagascar novel being published in English, and I'm hoping to pick up a copy on its release day.
I did a purge of my shelves a few months ago: Taking some books to my workplace lending library, some to a local library for its book sales, and others I sold to my local secondhand bookshop for store credit. Therefore, I don't expect to get rid of any books for quite awhile.
And that's the "This & That" book tag! If you're interested in answering these questions, consider yourself tagged!