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personal libraries

Jennifer Egan's bookshelf from “My Ideal Bookshelf,” as illustrated by Jane MountJane Mount

What's in our libraries says a lot about who we are. Jane Mount asked some 100 writers, artists, foodies and film-makers to describe the books that inspire them. Then she painted the spines, asked her subjects to comment and put the results in a book called My Ideal Books. The examples below are just part of a roster that includes Dave Eggers, Patti Smith, Alice Waters and Michael Chabon:

Junot Diaz

Immigration first got me reading. I arrived at six years old, in 1974, in central New Jersey. At the time, the United States was a profoundly hostile environment for immigrants. … I wish I could summon my younger self to explain why I fell in love with The Lord of the Rings, because the person who falls in love is not the person who remembers falling in love. I'm like a forensic investigator trying to put the pieces back together. But I think it was the way Tolkien created this extraordinary, secondary world, and how, through that, he enchanted the primary world. That resonated with me. His books had the power to transform what we otherwise take for granted. Reading The Lord of the Rings made me see how a novel was another – and see that I could immigrate there, too, whenever I wanted.

Junot Diaz's most recent book is the story collection, This Is How You Lose Her.

Jennifer Egan

Emma has always been my favourite Jane Austen novel. A lot of people tend to like Emma – she's such a winningly flawed person. One thing that surprises me about Austen is that her characters are very inflexible; nobody changes that much. Emma might be the slight exception, but she still stays Emma in the end, even if she's a little bit wiser. You could almost say that Austen deals in types, which normally is a very dangerous practice and doesn't lead to anything interesting. Yet her work is stupendous. Her novels work themselves out with a tremendous clarity that feels mathematical or geometric. It's very spare; there's nothing extra. Her books shouldn't work, but they do, and better than almost anyone else's.

Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Malcolm Gladwell

I'm in the middle of writing my new book, which is about power. I'm very interested in the strategies we use to keep people who are powerless in check. And the ways in which the powerless fight back. So I started reading about crime. I've probably acquired 150 books for this project. I haven't read all of them, and I won't. Some of them I'll just look at. But that's the fun part. It's an excuse to go on Amazon. The problem is, of course, that eventually you have to stop yourself. Otherwise you'll collect books forever. But these books are markers for the ideas that I'm interested in. That's why it's so important to have physical books. When I see my bookshelf expanding, it gives me the illusion that my brain is expanding, too.

Canadian Malcolm Gladwell, a New Yorker staff writer, is the author of several bestsellers.

Miranda July

A lot of times, especially when I'm writing a screenplay, I'll sit and flip through an art book. I don't own any scripts. For whatever reason, I never like to come straight at an idea. It's why I find a book like the Fischli & Weiss monograph very liberating – I'm looking at a different medium, and I can still see the common threads. I'd put Lydia Davis in the same category. When I'm writing fiction, I'll flip to a page in her book. She's a reminder for me to be aware of what is happening to me right now. To ignore some larger literary striving that usually comes to no good. I don't write like her, but she makes me a better writer. I like to stay in touch with that book. And it's a nice book – I like the colour of its cover.

Miranda July works in film, fiction, digital media and live performance art.

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