In this new feature, we’re asking Booklisters to give themselves a “shelf evaluation.” The rules are simple: pick any shelf in your home library, take a picture of it as is (no alphabetizing, no dusting), and then . . . explain your shelf!
I sorta did this already in a series of posts I wrote about my shelves, though those focused on individual volumes of (dis)repute. The dictate here is to focus on an entire shelf, but that also presents a problem, as my fiction shelves are boringly organized by author’s last name. I also have a stringent weeding policy: I have limited room, so when a new book enters the fold, an old book’s gotta go. It’s constant competition. This isn’t kindergarten. Not everyone can win.
My nonfiction shelves, on the other hand, are grouped by theme, and every once in a while—just like when the fences went down at Jurassic Park—rogue books ramble around where they’re not supposed to. To make this interesting, I had to focus on just a small chunk of a single shelf. So be it. Let’s go in order.
Lobster Boy, by Fred Rosen
This might be my favorite true-crime book of all time. It is 100% bananas. It’s about Grady Stiles, a guy born with a withered lower body and claw-like hands, who, as he matures into his career as a sideshow attraction, uses his super-strengthened upper body, explosive temper, and penchant for drink to become an unholy terror and, eventually, a murderer. Crazier than an issue of the Weekly World News.
The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio, by Hubert Wolf
OK, I haven’t read it yet. But! Would you just read this synopsis?!
the Church’s Inquisition uncovered the shocking secrets of a convent ruled by a beautiful young mistress, who coerced her novices into lesbian initiation rites and heresies, and who entered into an illicit relationship with a young theologian . . . the never-before-told true story of how one woman was able to practice deception, heresy, seduction, and murder in the heart of the Catholic Church.
I am a sucker for funked-up nuns. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen Alucarda. You haven’t?! Begone, you!
Christopher Lee: Tall, Dark and Gruesome, by Christopher Lee
The Wicker Man, by Robin Hardy and Anthony Schaffer
Inside the Wicker Man: How Not to Make a Cult Classic, by Allan Brown
Now we enter the Christopher Lee portion of the program. I can’t remember which Halloween it was, or which theater it was, or which double-feature it was (it all blurs together), but at some point I attended an evening of Christopher Lee films, which had as its intermission a speaker discussing his long, strange career. Tall, Dark and Gruesome was being peddled; being an obedient peddlee, I bought it. No surprise there—if you know me at all, you know I’m obsessed with Lee’s best film, The Wicker Man, and I’ve even visiting a far-flung Scottish beach to see the remains of the wicker man burned in the film’s final scene. These two companion books are only the beginning of my collection. I have soundtracks, framed photos, scraps shed from the wicker man itself, and several fewer friends, now that they’ve read this and are backing away slowly.
Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass, by Alan Greenberg
Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed, by Paul Cronin
Herzog is Kind of a Big Deal in our house. His film Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices inspired a section of my book The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, and for us, films like Lessons of Darkness, Stroszek, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Land of Silence and Darkness, and, yes, Heart of Glass, are religious experiences. Instead of unleavened bread, though, we prefer Goldfish crackers.
That tiny pamphlet between Herzog books
Man, I have no idea what this is or how it got there.
War Diaries from Inside Hitler’s Headquarters, by Thomas Fensch
Though, really, it’s not by Fensch—the book’s description suggests that these are the reconstructed diaries of German historian Helmuth Greiner, who was there with Hitler until almost the end. This is one of those bizarro objects that showed up at work that I can’t resist: grainy, photocopy-level, near-unreadable reproductions of documents that, while mostly incomprehensible, make you feel a little ill just looking at. Given that half of the things on my shelves have the effect, it makes the cut. For now.