Other People’s Bookshelves #54 – Susan Halligan

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s books and shelves. This week we are off to Manhattan, to join Susan who has nicely just popped the kettle on and will be serving us all some pastries and the like, so kind. Before we have a nosey through her shelves, let’s find out more about her…

I’m a digital marketer and work (mostly) with non-profits on social media strategy, online and offline communications integration, content development, analytics and implementation. You can learn more about my work here. I’ve lived in Manhattan for most of my adult life and grew up in Baltimore, that wonderful, complex city that manages to be both Anne Tyler as well as The Wire and is home to the beautiful Enoch Pratt Central Library. I spent a lot of time in libraries as a kid (I was parked there after school, because both my parents worked) and remain an advocate of them as an important community resource. I even worked in one — The New York Public Library — one of the worlds greatest. I began my career in book publishing and still have many friends in the industry. I thank them all for continuing to send me free books.

 SRH6

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

A book does not have to be a masterpiece for me to wedge it into the shelves. If I like it, I generally keep it. I have a weakness for fast-paced mysteries (The Girl on the Train is the most recent example) and I very often pass those along to family and friends. About a quarter of the books on my shelves are unread. Should I admit that? The reasons vary: someone sent me the book and I just wasn’t interested in the subject, but I appreciated the gesture; I started the book, but couldn’t get going with it (and these include a couple of literary masterpieces); and the books that I am determined to read … one day, like The Adventures of Augie March.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

My shelves are organized very broadly: cookbooks all together, by cuisine or subject. Art books — one long bottom shelf — together, Rembrandt next to Michelangelo. They painted, right? Oh, yes, Michelangelo sculpted. Perhaps I should move him next to the Rodin. Fiction, by author. As I glance over I do see that all the Highsmith’s and Cormac McCarthy’s ‘s are together, one after the other. Half my shelves are devoted to biographies (from Princess Diana to the LBJ of Robert’s Caro’s magisterial biography) and history, mostly 20th Century, everything from Margaret Macmillan’s Paris 1919 to Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower about the lead up to 9/11. I love big, sweeping looks at lives — the famous and the forgotten — and history. I consider these two particular interests my continuing education.

I do not alphabetize and rarely cull.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (Second Edition.) I bought it in a bookshop in Lagos, Nigeria. I wasn’t particularly drawn to Communism (likely I had no idea what it was), I simply loved the red plastic cover. And, yes, it still has a place on my shelves.

Here’s one of Chairman Mao’s quotes: “We are now carrying out a revolution not only in the social system, the change from private to public ownership, but also in technology, the change from handicraft to large-scale modern machine production, and the two revolutions are inter-connected.” Hmm.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I am completely unembarrassed to admit that I love books about the movies. This includes bios, cheesy as well as scholarly, and inside Hollywood accounts. Barry Paris’ Garbo, Katharine Hepburn’s Me, A. Scott Berg’s Goldwyn, Debbie Reynolds’ autobiography and tons of others have a home on my shelves. Anything that gives me a look behind-the-scenes at the movies — Old Hollywood, New Hollywood — delights me. Steven Bach’s Final Cut about the disastrous meet up of money v creative in the making of the movie, Heaven’s Gate, is probably the best inside-Hollywood account ever written and should be required reading for any entrepreneur today. Brooke Hayward’s Haywire, about the disintegration of the marriage of her parents, the 1930s cult actress Margaret Sullavan (The Shop Around the Corner) and the bigger-than-life Broadway producer, Leland Heyward, and its eternal effect on the lives of their three children, remains a devastating read.

Fun fact: Katharine Hepburn and Leland Hayward had a romance in the early 1930s before his marriage to Margaret Sullavan. In Me, Hepburn describes their relationship this way: “I could see very quickly that I suited Leland perfectly. I liked to eat at home and go to bed early. He liked to eat out and go to bed late. So he had a drink when I had dinner and then off he’d go. Back at midnight. Perfect friendship.”

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

The Junior Illustrated Library signed by my maternal grandparents and given to me between the ages of six and eight.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” I was 14. I thought I could learn something from Scarlett. A friend gave me a boxed 60th Anniversary edition of Gone With the Wind.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

Timely question. A friend’s mother just loaned me Thomas Beller’s J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist. I will definitely add to my shelves just to reread the section where Beller is in the Princeton University library moving between two tables of Salinger papers, the one with his laptop set up and a box of material that he was allowed to quote from, and the other, with letters, that he was prohibited to quote from. At that table, he’d read a bit, try to memorize something and then scoot back to the table with the laptop and start typing. A librarian never stopped him.

I got my first iPad about four years ago. From that moment, every book I read was digital. I did not add them to my shelves (just the cloud.) And then about six months ago, I began to weary of the screen and the swipe and long for the pinch of paper between thumb and forefinger as I turned the page. To test whether this was a phase or a physical need, I reread three books in hard cover — all novels — that had made especially powerful impressions on me at one point. Could I still read a physical book? Were the books as wonderful as I remembered?

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The Great Gatsby still glistens. Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is still one of the most thrilling-paced and potent novels that I have ever read. And that end? I still don’t know exactly what happened. It’s haunting. Twenty odd years ago, I read Peter Taylor’s exquisitely written A Summons to Memphis in the back seat of a car as my parents drove me back to New York after the Christmas holidays in Baltimore. It’s a story about a sympathetic older widower who falls in love and wants to remarry, but is thwarted by his evil children. That’s how I remembered it anyway. This time? Still beautifully written (and if you haven’t read Taylor’s two novels and his many short stories, get thee to a bookstore.) But my conclusions about the family completely flipped: the father was far less sympathetic, now revealed as selfish and emotionally absent from his children while they were growing up. The children remain manipulative and cruel, but the reasons why are far more complex. An interesting exercise to read a book when you are young and then re-read after you’ve experienced more of life’s nicks.

So I have a new rule: I will only read fiction on paper and I will buy the books in stores, not on the Internet.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Charles Blow’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones. Blow is a New York Times columnist that I admire a lot. He writes with a clarity that has cumulative power. He’s been an important voice in much of the recent anguished conversation about racism in the United States, from the death of Trayvon Martin to the Oscar snubs of the movie, Selma. The book is a memoir of his growing up in rural Louisiana. Months before the book’s publication, Blow began to tweet and Facebook like mad about the book to build interest. Turns out he’s a genius marketer, too. Authors should closely study his pre-publication, digital promotion model (@CharlesMBlow)

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Lemony’s Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’ve read them all, borrowed from my niece, Amy, but I only have the first, The Bad Beginning. Never was a book so inaptly named, it was a fantastic beginning. I also must find a hard copy of Mommie Dearest🙂

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

Whenever someone comes over, even repeat visitors, they spend some time eye-balling the shelves. The shelves run floor-to-ceiling along a 21-foot wall and are hard to ignore. Sometimes the objects displayed attract attention — especially my grandmother’s clock and the pieces of African art — but, mostly it’s the books. I have a lot of interests (did I mention the boxes of board games at the bottom of one shelf?) and am endlessly curious. I hope my shelves reflect that. I love it when a visitor pulls a book off the shelf and opens it up…

SRH8

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A huge thanks to Susan for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Susan’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

7 Comments

Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

7 responses to “Other People’s Bookshelves #54 – Susan Halligan

  1. Ann Fuller

    I love Susan’s bookshelves.

  2. My book collection in my tiny flat could never compare to Susan’s – I’d love to learn more about her work but there was no link! Gorgeous house (or apartment!), great book collection Susan!

  3. Apartment! Thanks for your lovely comments. Here’s a link to my website: http://www.susanhalligan.com.

  4. Susan and I have been friends since the late 80s, so I’ve been lucky enough to see her splendid and awesome collection of books. GONE WITH THE WIND was my first adult book too, and while going through my mother’s library after her death last year, I discovered a copy of the 60th anniversary edition of GONE WITH THE WIND and brought it to my house. But I didn’t realize Susan and share a fascination with books about Hollywood and the movies. I can remember reading HAYWIRE in the late 70s and Debbie Reynolds memoirs were the first of their type to reveal how successful, hard-working actresses nearly ruined their lives turning over their finances and parenting responsibilities to the irresponsible men in their lives.

    I’m still a fan of the an electronic library, but it has to be fiction or biography. I have a massive cookbook collection and do not download them. I prefer all non-fiction, cookbooks, history, art, etc. to be in book form. Still for sheer delight, Susan’s New York library is a delightful distraction while she goes to get you another glass of wine!

  5. Delighted to discover, Greg, that we have a whole new subject to explore. Thanks for your lovely words!

  6. So many bookshelves and books! I feel so tame. Also, I’m beyond jealous of your working at/for the NYPL.

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