THE IDEAL BOOKSHELF of Hilton Als is an economic selection of seven books including “The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948-1985” by James Baldwin and titles by Marcel Proust, Truman Capote, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Anton Checkhov.

The New Yorker writer’s choices are included in “My Ideal Bookshelf,” a compilation of artist Jane Mount’s work. Her portraits of book spines capture people’s favorite books—their “ideal bookshelf.” The titles are usually inspiring, have proven pivotal or eye-opening. They are cherished books people display and return to over and over again.

For Als, the quintessential library includes writers who work in multiple genres. In addition to the aforementioned literary lions, he includes books by two fellow writerly journalists: “The Selected Works of Djuna Barnes” and “Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets” by dance critic Edwin Denby.


“I wrote before I read. …When I started reading, I realized that books were connected to other people and other people’s writings, and that there was this whole world of people who were connected in this river.”
— Hilton Als, My Ideal Bookshelf

Als recently authored the book “White Girls.” The title moniker serves as an archetype for many figures, including black and white men, subjected to his cultural analyses. A theater critic for The New Yorker, Als also writes broadly about culture and in 2007 penned a profile of Kara Walker for the magazine.

In reporting “The Shadow Act: Kara Walker’s vision,” Als joined the artist (along with her daughter, mother and sister) in Paris before the opening of her traveling retrospective “My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love” at the ARC/Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The lengthy portrait of Walker is a thoughtful examination of her artistic practice and career arc and also offers a revealing look into her family life.

IN ADDITION TO ALS’S SELECTION, the book features more than 100 bookshelves curated by all sorts of people, including chefs, musicians, designers and artists, filmmaker Mira Nair and writers Ishmael Reed, Junot Diaz, Malcolm Gladwell and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, among them. Each contributor includes a brief, insightful essay about the contents of their bookshelf.

Mount’s bookshelf paintings replicate the typeface, colors and graphics of book spines. Her work includes collections of art books, cookbooks, children’s books, Shakespeare and many other genres of interest to a wide audience. Bibliophiles also commission her to create custom shelf portraits like those included in the book. CT


Hilton Als – pages 8-9: “My Ideal Bookshelf” with art by Jane Mount, Edited by Thessaly La Force (Little, Brown and Co., 240 pages) | Published Nov. 13, 2012


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.