I Spent 40 Days Taking Photos of My Books. Here’s Why.
Sometimes the only reason you need to start something is to see if you can finish it. That was the main reason I started the #InstagramBookProject 40 days ago. My goal was simple: take a photo of a book in my collection; share it on Instagram with a short post about what it means to me; repeat 39 more times. I did it. It feels good.
When I started the project, I didn’t feel good. In mid-February, I got into a bad bicycling accident that left me with a concussion and a directive to go easy on my brain and limit screen time. I’ve always been a reader, and found that during my recovery, focused reading was good for me. I thought about how valuable my love of books has been for me. It has not only served my hunger for great writing and stories, but over time, established a habit that was coming in handy. I wanted to write my books a love letter. The #InstagramBookProject was born.
By taking creative photographs of the books and telling stories about them, I would certainly be working my brain. I set some parameters. I didn’t pick out the books in advance or plan out the shoots. Most days, either before going to work or late at night after my twin infant daughters went to sleep, I looked at my bookshelves until something grabbed my attention. I thought quickly about how to represent it, and set up the photo shoot or planned it for the morning. The art direction was my favorite part. I took a photo of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist on cobblestones in downtown Nashville while walking from the train station to the bus station. I paired two versions of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with apples and oranges. Well, apples and clementines. That’s all I had in the kitchen. Some of the shots worked really well. Some not as much. The photo of Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, taken on the floor in my kitchen, is my favorite. In some instances, original concepts didn’t pan out and I wound up taking too many photos and spending too much time trying to capture my vision. It was an exercise in letting go, or “shipping” as Seth Godin calls it.
As the days and weeks passed, I realized that maybe the entire project was a metaphor about letting go. I was subconsciously assessing what I’ve accumulated and carried with me over my lifetime. With each major life event, whether it involves marriage, moves, children, career changes, aging parents or bad bicycling accidents — we either put books on, or take books off, our shelves.
The project ended where my book collection likely began, with an old paperback copy of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It may not have been my first book, but it’s certainly one of the oldest. It was purchased for me by my mother at Garden State News on Central Ave in the Heights section of Jersey City. I was 10 years-old and all I asked for that Christmas was books. I was with her in the store and picked it out, along with a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It’s floating on a makeshift raft in a baby tub, because that’s where I am now in life, making it up as I go along. The adventure continues. I hope to one day pass it down to my daughters. I hope, too, that I can give them a book of their own choosing that will one day mean something to them.
While I have some nice first editions and rare copies of books in my collection, the #InstagramBookProject includes quite a few cheap paperbacks and late edition hardcovers that aren’t worth anything. They all mean something to me, though. I wanted people scrolling through to know that a personal library and book collection can be made up of whatever you want it to be.
Other than one user who used the hashtag in 2015, I was the only Instagram user to use #InstagramBookProject throughout the duration of the project. My hope is that others will join in to celebrate their own books. So go ahead and look at your bookshelf. Where did you get that book? Who gave it to you? When did you read it, and where were you when you did? Why do you still have it? I hope thinking about these questions brings you joy, and keeps you reading.
All of the books and photos are on my Instagram account. Here’s a list of the books I grabbed off my shelf each day, along with their publisher and date of publication.
40. THE LATE MATTIA PASCAL by Luigi Pirandello (1987/Eridanos Press)
39. HUNGRY GHOST by Keith Kachtick (2003/HarperCollins)
38. MOON PALACE by Paul Auster (1989/Viking)
37. DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES by Jonathan Miles (2008/Houghton Mifflin)
36. THE INVISIBLE MAN by H.G. Wells (1968/Magnum Easy Eye/Lancer Books)
35. DEMIAN by Hermann Hesse (1989/Perennial Library)
34. NEW JERSEY: THE AMERICAN GUIDE SERIES (1939/Viking Press)
33. TROPIQUE du CANCER by Henry Miller (1996/Folio)
32. WOODY GUTHRIE ART WORKS by Steven Brower and Nora Guthrie and (2005/Rizzoli)
31. LAST TRAIN TO MEMPHIS by Peter Guralnick (1994/Little, Brown)
30. THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis (1970/Collier Books)
29. LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN by Colum McCann (2009/Random House)
28. SCOTT FITZGERALD by Jeffrey Meyers (1994/HarperCollins)
27. TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY by John Steinbeck (1986/Penquin Books)
26. THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY by Michael Chabon (2000/Random House)
25. ON THE ROAD (1976/Penguin) and ON THE ROAD: THE ORIGINAL SCROLL (2007/Viking) by Jack Kerouac
24. MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, THE STORY OF A NEW NAME and THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY by Elena Ferrante (2012–2014/Europa Editions)
23. BORN TO RUN by Dave Marsh (1981/Dell)
22. BUTLER’S LIVES OF THE SAINTS edited by Michael Walsk (1985/Harper & Row)
21. THE TENDER BAR by J.R. Moehringer (2005/Hyperion)
20. FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS by Ernest Hemingway (1943/Scribners)
19. COMPLETE WORKS (2004/Penguin Classics) and LEAVES OF GRASS (2005/Oxford) by Walt Whitman
18. THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett (2009/Amy Einhorn Books/Penguin)
17. THE ALIENIST by CALEB CARR (1994/Random House)
16. THE CONFESSIONS OF MAX TIVOLI by Andrew Sean Greer (2004/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
15. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1986/Collier Books)
14. ULYSSES by James Joyce (1986/Vintage/Random House) and THE NEW BLOOMSDAY BOOK by Harry Blamires (1994/Routledge)
13. ROME, FLORENCE and VENICE picture guide books (circa 2000)
12. THE POCKET BOOK OF GREAT OPERAS by Henry W. Simon and Abraham Veinus (1962/Pocket Books)
11. LES PAUL: IN HIS OWN WORDS (2005/Russ Cochran)
10. KAWS (2010/Rizzoli)
9. MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (2010/MOMA)
8. ORACLE NIGHT by Paul Auster (2003/Henry Holt and Company) and THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett (1965/Alfred A. Knopf)
7. FREEDOM RIDERS by Raymond Arsenault (2011/Oxford)
6. THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS by Chris Fuhrman (1994/The University of Georgia Press)
5. TRATTATO DI FUNAMBOLISMO by Philippe Petit (2009/Ponte Alle Grazie)
4. STRANGER MUSIC by Leonard Cohen (1993/Pantheon)
3. WORDS AND ANECDOTES OF SAINT PIO by Father Constantino Capobianco (2006/Edizione Padre Pio Da Poetrelcina)
2. LIFE IS A WHEEL by Bruce Weber (2014/Scribner)
- THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain (1959/Signet)