David Leo Rice talks about French and Southern influences, his favorite authors, and rearranging shelves as sensible exercise.
One of the six main bookshelves in my Brooklyn apartment is shown in two halves below. Its arrangement is constantly shifting as I acquire new books and give away old ones, and as I revise the organizational scheme to factor in author, publisher, genre, and the color / pattern of each book’s spine. There’s no perfect way to align all of these criteria, so I’m always trying to feel out a good balance of aesthetics and theme. I want the bookshelves to look good and also to make sense in terms of what the books are about. When I write, I work at a computer in another room, but when I print out drafts to revise, I work at the table in this room, so I spend a lot of time surrounded by these shelves, and thus gain a lot of pleasure and comfort from looking at them and contemplating their arrangement. Also, getting up to rearrange a book or even a whole shelf is a great, semi-productive break from whatever writing task I’ve set myself for the day.
In its current arrangement, the top shelf here (below) begins with a section of Japanese authors, including the sublimely weird Kōbō Abe, as well as Haruki and Ryu Murakami, who have been described as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones of Japanese literature, respectively. On the right are sections featuring two of my favorite publishers: The New York Review of Books and FSG Originals. On the far right, for good measure, is the first novel by one of my favorite filmmakers, David Cronenberg. I hope he publishes another someday.
The second shelf (above, middle shelf) contains some of my favorite edgy French authors: Michel Houellebecq, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Emmanuel Carrère, and then some great American transgressive authors: William S. Burroughs, Kathy Acker, Dennis Cooper, and Blake Butler, all of whom, I think, are influenced by French transgressive authors to some degree, especially Cooper, who now lives in Paris. After them comes a section of Southern Gothic authors: Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, and my absolute favorite author, William Faulkner, whose method of transforming his seemingly humdrum hometown into an arena for grandiose, mythic reckonings inspired me to try doing the same with my own hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts.
The middle shelf (above, bottom shelf) is the tallest, so it contains graphic novels and art books. Two of my favorites there are From Hell and Black Hole, which I think are both towering masterpieces, as is the work of Anselm Kiefer, which is also featured on this shelf. In the middle of the shelf is a section containing some of the magazines that my short stories have appeared in, including the two issues of Black Clock that I was lucky enough to be a part of.
The next shelf (above, top shelf) contains mainly Irish and British authors, ranging from Samuel Beckett and Kevin Barry on the left, through Mark Fisher, Tom McCarthy, Ian McEwan, and J. G. Ballard on the right. In the middle are two books by Patrick McGrath, who was a professor of mine at the New School, so next to his work I put a copy of my first novel, A Room in Dodge City.
Below that (above, bottom shelf) is a section of postmodern American authors, ranging from Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon on the left, through Steve Erickson and Bret Easton Ellis on the right (thus moving westward from New York City to Los Angeles), with House of Leaves, another singular masterpiece, in the center. These authors are also among my favorites — they’re the heady, urban counterpart to the more mythic, rural Americana of Faulkner and McCarthy.
The other shelves in the apartment contain genres such as sci-fi, horror, and Latin American, German, Eastern European, and Russian literature, but of the six shelves, I think this one has the highest concentration of my favorite books.