Colson Whitehead talks about five of the books on his bookshelves. I would love to see this become a meme, because it would make for fascinating reading. Problem is, in its current form it relies on someone else choosing the books.
How about this: If there's no one nearby to choose books at random, figure out how your bookshelves/piles are divisible by five. Go to each one however many times as needed. Close eyes, spin around a couple of times (I'm totally serious about that part, it's necessary) and touch a book. Be right back with my own results.
Knocked over books and shelves: Zero. Go me!
Grace Paley, The Collected Stories. This is embarrassing to admit, but a big part of the reason I bought this is because my softcover copy of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute is signed, has sentimental value because it was a major text for a particularly memorable workshop, and was getting pretty beat up. So when I want to read something of hers, I tend to reach for the indestructible version. I also love the picture of her on the cover.
Neil Gaiman, Coraline. I bought this on Amazon, not long after I finished reading American Gods. It's a great story, but when I hear it's appropriate for eight year olds I think of the mother's eyes and I think are you sure about that? Because that creeped me out big time, and I'm a lot older than eight.
Sarah Waters, Affinity. I think this was the last of her books that I read -- obviously, not counting the forthcoming The Night Watch. While Fingersmith is my favorite, Affinity is the book that I think of most often. It's hard to talk about Sarah Waters' books without giving away too much. I was reading this around the same time that I was reading Brenda Maddox's biography of WB Yeats and a bunch of stuff about the Order of the Golden Dawn and automatic writing and, in one of those coincidences that probably isn't, con men and scams. It'll all come out in the writing wash at some point, I'm sure.
Russell Banks, Success Stories. A lot of what I buy is the result of reading something else. In this case, it was Trailerpark -- and that was recommended to me by a writing prof who mostly wanted me to read the Guinea Pig Lady story. At the time I didn't think twice about it, but now of course I wonder...was she trying to tell me something by having me read a short story about a woman with hundreds of guinea pigs? Success Stories is something of a misnomer -- you definitely have a sense of the autobiographical in this short story collection, and it's mostly about a young, goodlooking fellow who decides to move to Florida on a whim and makes a whole bunch of mistakes along the way. It's about as close to Alice Munro as Russell Banks ever got. Anyway, the next one in my personal Russell Banks Reading Chain was Rule of the Bone, which I recommend to anyone who will listen. I'll even throw in that the bus from The Sweet Hereafter has a significant cameo, and the house that Chappie and his friend live in for a winter and eventually trash is Russell Banks' house -- a nicely done bit of unknown-to-most metafiction.
D.G. Myers, The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880. I haven't read this in a while. I have a decent-sized collection of books about writing, and a specific bookshelf for them and that's where this came from. As a kid I bought writing guides because I thought they'd have The Magic Answers to my writing dilemmas. Now, I buy them because I'm fascinated by writing guide methodology. The Elephants Teach isn't really a writing guide, but it is a really interesting look at the history of American writing pedagogy and creative writing workshops -- at one point, I remember, workshops are described as every bit as much of an American export as baseball and apple pie.
So there you go -- Colson Whitehead, then me. Will you be next? I'll be happy to link you if you take up the challenge...