Writers and Their Libraries; Fashion v. English


Ask The Paris Review

I love reading authors talking about their own reading experiences—it seems like such a beautiful way to understand how and why they write. I recently read Walter Benjamin’s essay “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting,” and I was wondering if you could think of any similar essays about the private libraries of great writers.

There’s a long tradition of writers writing about their libraries. Some of the first modern essays—by Michel de Montaigne and Sir Francis Bacon—are on that very subject. Among more recent publications, you might enjoy Anne Fadiman’s collection Ex Libris or Larry McMurtry’s Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. The trouble with people writing about their libraries is, well, every writer has one. It’s like writing about your left hand. Or your M.F.A. program. But McMurtry is a special case. If he had never written Lonesome Dove or The Last Picture Show, he would be famous—at least among collectors—as one of the country’s most respected dealers in used and rare books. When he writes about his library, he always has something interesting to say.

My younger sister wants to become a fashion designer when she’s older. How do I keep my cynical twenty-three-year-old English major at bay in order to support her dreams? —Anonymous

I have now reread your question four times: You did write “English major”! Support her now—soon she may be supporting you.

Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.