In setting up my new study, I did something with my books I've never done before in the twenty-odd years that I've been building this library: I alphabetized them. Not all of them, actually. That would take a week. I've brought down to the study what I'm unofficially calling the canon: roughly two hundred books that have been influential in some way over the past two decades, even if in some cases I haven't actually, you know, read them. The rest remain scattered randomly through the bookshelves in the rest of the house.
This smaller collection makes for a nice little bookshelf, as you can see here. (Click on the thumbnail for a high-res version for those of you who want to zoom in to read all the spines.) It's not a comprehensive list -- there are a number of key books that I'm using right now that aren't on the shelves, and for some arbitrary reason I decided not to put any fiction in the canon, maybe because novels look nice in the living room, and because I'm a little less likely to draw on a novel for research purposes. It's also erratically organized within each letter -- once I got all the B's together, I had a hard time finding the energy to put the Br's after the Bo's.
But alphabetizing has a cool little side effect that had never occurred me. It lets you see very clearly which authors dominate your collection. As I was putting the books up on the shelves, I came up with a couple of interesting taxonomies that genuinely surprised me.
Author with the most books in the collection: Raymond Williams, followed closely by Freud, Stephen Jay Gould, Michel Foucault. (I suspect that Foucault and Derrida would have won this hands down -- given my recovering Semiotics major status -- but a bunch of their books didn't make the canon, and are still sitting around upstairs somewhere.)
Authors with the most books calculating re-readings of books as part of the total (i.e., if I've read Interpretation of Dreams three times, it counts as three books): Richard Dawkins, Freud, E. O. Wilson, followed by Foucault, Jane Jacobs, and Frederic Jameson. (And Jameson is only on there because I read two of his books -- Postmodernism and The Political Unconscious -- about ten times each in my early twenties.)
Author with the highest percentage of books that I really only skimmed: Fernand Braudel. I know, I know. I really should have read them start-to-finish.
Authors with only one or two books who nonetheless had a huge impact on me: Kevin Kelly (Out Of Control), Michael Pollan (The Botany of Desire), Robert Wright (Non-Zero), Manuel De Landa (A Thousand Years Of Non-Linear History.)
The thing that's funny about this list is that looking at it you'd assume that Freud was central to my thinking about the world. But in fact, he's really not -- I rarely use Freud in my writings, and rarely think about him in passing. He just happens to overlap with three of the four major phases of my intellectual life (college, grad school, FEED, and book-writing.) We read him quite a bit in the Semiotics program at Brown (as an entree to Lacan, god help us), and I took a class on Freud with Steven Marcus at Columbia. And then Mind Wide Open had a whole closing chapter about updating the Freudian model in the light of modern neuroscience. So as Freud himself would say, his presence in my private canon was over-determined.
Can we start some kind of blogging/flickr sharing of personal library photos? I kind of like the idea...