The curator’s job—to recall, choose, arrange: to impose order and so communicate meaning—is marvelously synechdochic of the life of the solipsist, of the survival strategies apposite one’s existence as monad in a world of diffracted fact.

Except a big question is: whence facts, if the world is “empty”?

—  David Foster Wallace on David Markson's Wittgenstein’s Mistress
Once, Turner had himself lashed to the mast of a ship for several hours, during a furious storm, so that he could later paint the storm. Obviously, it was not the storm itself that Turner intended to paint. What he intended to paint was a representation of the storm. One’s language is frequently imprecise in that manner, I have discovered.
—  David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress.


In general, I’m interested in other people’s book collections. How many books, which ones, how are they kept, where are they kept? So, one rainy afternoon, I started poking around the book collections of famous people, to see which ones happened to be (technical or actual) book hoarders. Some of the results surprised me—though I admit I already knew about Karl Lagerfeld.

N.B. that of course this list is in no way scientific or exhaustive—no doubt there are scores of famous people out there with large libraries (disposable income and lots of space tend to make that possible), but either the actual numbers have never been documented, or I simply couldn’t (or didn’t) dig them up. Notables with high figures who didn’t make the top ten include Marilyn Monroe (400 books), George Washington (1,200 books), Charles Darwin (1,480 books), Oprah (1,500 books), Frederick Douglass (2,000-odd books), and David Markson (2,500 books). If you have any further intel on this score, please add on to the list in the comments as you see fit.

Karl Lagerfeld: 300,000 books

Karl Lagerfeld has more books than pretty much anybody. During a “master class” at the 2015 International Festival of Fashion and Photography, Lagerfeld explained: “Today, I only collect books; there is no room left for something else. If you go to my house, I’ll have you walk around the books. I ended up with a library of 300,000. It’s a lot for an individual.” No kidding. His collection includes books in French, English, and German, and in order to create more space in his home for all the volumes, he stacks his books sideways—that is, horizontally instead of vertically. Oh, and there’s a catwalk to reach the upper levels. This is Lagerfeld, after all. George Lucas: 27,000 books+

In 1978, George Lucas established the Lucasfilm Research Library—first collecting volumes at his Los Angeles office, and eventually moving the library to the main house at Skywalker Ranch. In addition to the more than 27,000 books, the collection includes over 17,000 films, as well as photographs, periodicals, press clippings, and more. Lucas’s library is not open to the public, but his employees—as well as special guests like Cecil B. DeMille, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Clint Eastwood, Steve Martin, Edith Head, and Charlton Heston—are allowed to check things out.

Jay Walker: 20,000 books

So, Jay Walker is only a famous person if you’re a nerd, I guess. He’s an entrepreneur who founded Priceline.com, but to me at least, he’s actually famous because of his personal library: a wing in his Ridgefield, Connecticut home that he calls “the Library of the History of Human Imagination”—which is deeply pretentious, I know, but just look at it. It has three levels, a glass bridge, floating platforms, and yes, lots and lots of books

Michael Jackson: 10,000 books+

The King of Pop was also the King of Books. During Michael Jackson’s life, he was a regular customer at his local bookstores in Los Angeles, including Book Soup and Skylight. “He loved the poetry section,” Dave Dutton of Dutton’s Books in Brentwood told the L.A. Times. Ralph Waldo Emerson was his favorite. Jackson’s attorney Bob Sanger told L.A. Weekly that the pop star had 10,000 books at the Neverland Ranch, “[a]nd there were places that he liked to sit, and you could see the books with his bookmarks in it, with notes and everything in it where he liked to sit and read. And I can tell you from talking to him that he had a very—especially for someone who was self-taught, as it were, and had his own reading list—he was very well-read.”

Ernest Hemingway: 9,000 books+

According to Debra A. Moddelmog and Suzanne del Gizzo’s Hemingway in Context, the writer carried a library with him wherever he went, and was continually acquiring new books, as many as 150-200 a year. By the time of his death, his Finca Vigía library had some 9,000 volumes—which does not even include the books he left behind in Key West (he moved with about 800 of his books and built from there). Not surprising, perhaps, but still impressive

William Randolph Hearst: 7,000 books+

Hearst had two libraries in his castle/Ken Dream House—the main library, which held 4,000 volumes, and the Gothic study, which held 3,000, but it seems even that wasn’t enough space for all his books, and he tucked them pretty much wherever he could find room.

Thomas Jefferson: 6,487 books

“I cannot live without books,” Thomas Jefferson famously said. According to the Library of Congress, when the British torched the capital in 1814, Jefferson had built the biggest personal library in the United States—which he then sold to Congress for $23,950. After that, he promptly began acquiring books again (and sold that new collection to pay his debts in 1829).

Nigella Lawson: 6,000 books

Food writer, television personality and “domestic  goddess” Nigella Lawson is pictured above in front of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with thousands of cookbooks in her house in Belgravia, London. It’s not just cookbooks that populate her reading lists, though—she also has a literary bent. Her favorite book is David Copperfield.

Harry Houdini: 5,000 books+

[Insert joke about not escaping from piles of books here.] When Houdini died, he left his private collection—book on magic, theater, and spiritualism—to the Library of Congress. Several sources claim that at that time he probably had the largest collection of books on magic in the world. You can browse almost 4,000 of them here.

Hannah Arendt: 4,000 books

The Hannah Arendt collection at Bard College is made up of some “4,000 volumes, ephemera and pamphlets”—including over 900 featuring her annotations—that come directly from the New York City apartment she lived in until she died in 1975. I hope it was bigger than a one-bedroom. (For some reason, 4,000 seems to be a lucky number for libraries of literary types—other writers who had about that many books in their private collections include Virginia Woolf and Katherine Anne Porter.)

La útima voluntad del escritor David Markson, que murió en Nueva York en junio de 2012, fue que su biblioteca fuera vendida íntegramente en Stand, esparcida entre tantísimas otras bibliotecas de innumerables y anónimos lectores. Por un dólar, por veinte, por cincuenta: sus libros estaban ahí, reintegrados en el mercado al que antaño pertenecieron, esperando su suerte, su destino. Markson podría haber legado su biblioteca a alguna universidad, donde hubiera acumulado polvo y habría sido visitada tan sólo por los escasos estudiosos de su obra; pero optó por un gesto antitético: repartirla, disgregarla, someterla al rieso de las lecturas futuras totalmente inesperadas. Cuando se corrió la voz, decenas de seguidores del autor de This is Not a Novel acudieron a a librería de Manhattan en busca de aquellos volúmenes subrayados y anotados. Se formó un grupo virtual. Se empezaron a publicar en la red las páginas escaneadas. En el ejemplar de Bartleby el escribiente Markson subrayó cada una de las apariciones de la frase “I would prefer not to”; en el de Ruido de fondo, alternó los “asombroso, asombroso, asombroso” con los “aburrido, aburrido, aburrido”; en una biografía de Pasternak escribe al margen: “Es un hecho que Isaak Bábel fue ejecutado en el sótano de una prisión en Moscú. La poderosa posibilidad de que el manuscrito de una novela publicada en su arresto todavía exista en los archivos de Stalin.” Con todas las anotaciones de su biblioteca podría escribirse una de las novelas fragmentarias de Markson, en que los apuntes de lectura, las impresiones poéticas y las reflexiones se van sucediendo como en una sesión de zaping. Sería una novela imposible, porque nunca van a ser localizados todos los libros que un día conformaron su biblioteca: muchos de ellos fueron comprados o están siendo comprados ahora mismo en Stand por personas que no saben quién fue Markson. Ese gesto forma parte de su legado. Un gesto final y definitivo que conjugó la muerte, la herencia, la paternidad y una sola de las infinitas librerías, que resume, no obstante, al resto como un único cuento a la literatura universal.

No hay ideas salvo en las cosas.

David Markson, La soledad del lector

—  Jorge Carrión, Librerías, Anagrama, 2013.

The only Becket [sic] I’ve read is Molloy, and that was under academic duress. And my mom made me read both Ulysses and Stuart Gilbert. Yet I’ve read and reread every word of Pynchon, Barth, Delllo, Puig, Cortazar, and Jean Rhys – my own little Olympus.

- From a 1990 letter to David Markson.

Once, Turner had himself lashed to the mast of a ship for several hours, during a furious storm, so that he could later paint the storm.

Obviously, it was not the storm itself that Turner intended to paint. What he intended to paint was a representation of the storm.

One’s language is frequently imprecise in that manner, I have discovered.
—  David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress
“Wittgenstein’s Mistress” by David Markson

Сразу хочу сказать, что “Любовница Витгенштейна” (“Wittgenstein’s Mistress”) - не та книга, которую я стала бы рекомендовать незнакомым людям. Да у меня и друзей таких нет, которым я могла бы ее порекомендовать. В этой книге нет загадки, нет сюжета; это постмодернистский роман, в котором ничего не происходит, так что ожидать какого-то финта в конце не стоит. Это скорее не книга в привычном понимании, а чувство, способ распробовать одиночество как хорошее вино, возможность побыть наедине с самим собой и представить, что вы можете соткать мир из слов. Я влюблена в эту книгу, и хочу обязательно перечитать ее когда-нибудь осенью через много лет, в деревянном домике на берегу моря.

Несмотря на то, что сюжета как такового в книге нет, описать происходящее (непроисходящее?) все-таки можно. Главная героиня книги - немолодая художница, которая по непонятной причине осталась единственным живым существом в мире. Куда делись все люди и животные непонятно, да и не в этом суть. Поначалу она ищет других людей, ездит по разным странам, живет в самых известных музеях мира, где согревается, сжигая рамы от картин, но вскоре перестаёт искать, селится на берегу моря в обычном летнем домике, и начинает вести дневник.

А теперь представьте, что вы единственный человек на Земле, представьте, что вы ведёте дневник, который никто не будет читать. О чем вы будете писать? Скорее всего ваш дневник будет похож на дневник героини Дэвида Марксона. Она пишет о том, что окружает ее, рассуждает, можно ли называть домом дом, который она случайно спалила, ведь он уже не выглядит как дом; размышляет о поступках героев литературных произведений и знаменитых художников/писателей/композиторов, сопровождая свои рассуждения интересными историями из жизни этих людей и персонажей. Форма в “Любовнице Витгенштейна” очень важна. Главная героиня путается в мыслях, забывает, что хотела сказать, и вспоминает об этом страниц через 20, случайно подменяет факты, повторяется - из-за этого повествование выглядит таким живым и естественным, а в главной героине так легко увидеть себя.

И все же, эта книга - нечто большее, чем попытка описать одиночество словами. У читателя даже нет уверенности, что героиня действительно осталась одна. Она не раз признаётся в том, что возможно она сошла с ума, а одинокой она начала чувствовать себя задолго до того, как исчезли все люди.

Говорить о “Любовнице Витгенштейна” можно бесконечно, на основе текста этого романа пишут научные работы и интересные статьи, и он вот-вот будет переведён на русский язык, но самое главное, несмотря на многочисленные отказы издательств (55!) под предлогом того, что для этой книги сложно найти целевую аудиторию, армия поклонников “Любовницы Витгенштейна” постоянно пополняется.

Was it really some other person I was so anxious to discover…or was it only my own solitude that I could not abide?

Once, somebody asked Robert Schumann to explain the meaning of a certain piece of music he had just played on the piano.
What Robert Schumann did was sit back down at the piano and play the piece of music again.

Once, I had a dream of fame.
Generally, even then, I was lonely.

One of the things people generally admired about Van Gogh, even though they were not aware of it, was the way he could make even a chair seem to have anxiety in it. Or a pair of boots.

Unpublished Letter to the New York Times by Kate Zambreno

When reading Michiko Kakutani’s review of Jenny Offill’s novel, Department of Speculation (1/29/2014), I was disappointed to find the amount of speculation Kakutani engaged in on behalf of the female narrator (and, seemingly by extension, the author) that reads as mired in a stagnant, boring gender bias in contemporary publishing.

Kakutani compares Offill’s new work to three great American novels of fragmentation published in the 1970s—Renata Adler’s Speedboat, Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights, and Joan Didion’s Play it as it Lays—although Kakutani strangely doesn’t situate Didion’s gorgeous work of Hollywood disintegration with Hardwick and Adler, instead framing the second half of Offill’s novel (with its switch to the third-person narrator) as taking a better, wittier turn from Didion buzzkill territory into something more like Nora Ephron’s Heartburn.

With all deference to the witty oeuvre of Nora Ephron, a.) Didion’s work is actually wickedly funny, but in a chilly, nihilist vein and b.) remind me, why do works of literature written by women writers have to always be funny and upbeat? Do their heroines have to be likable and entertaining as well? Kakutani similarly takes issue with Offill’s first-person philosophical narrator being too “negative” in the novel’s first half, with its meditations on the struggles of everyday existence, calling her a “Debbie Downer.” Let me quote this in full: 

“At the beginning of this carefully carpentered novel, such pronouncements can make the narrator (i.e., the wife) seem like a cartoon of a high-strung, intellectually pretentious, narcissistic woman — at least this is how her self-presentation comes off. Her constant quoting of writers and thinkers like Simone Weil, Hesiod, Keats, Stefan Zweig and Wittgenstein feels like the hectic name-dropping tweets of an eager-to-impress literary student, and her proclivity for dwelling on the negative can’t help but summon memories of Debbie Downer on ‘Saturday Night Live.’”

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