Other People’s Books

When you visit your friends’ houses, do you find yourself scanning their bookshelves to see what books they have? Jay Parini shares some of his own, exploratory experiences in a brief piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Here he is, discussing a visit to Graham Greene’s apartment:

I’ve known any number of writers and have warm recollections of wandering in their houses, seeing what books they had on the shelves, by chance or choice. Sometimes an anomaly struck me. I remember being shocked, for example, by how few books Graham Greene had in his home in Antibes. It was, of course, an apartment, not a big house, that Greene occupied. And he was by nature peripatetic, shifting among countries, even continents, right to the end of his life. It was, he told me, an inconvenience to own a lot of books, as they’re heavy in one’s bag. So he kept only those authors who really mattered to him: Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and, to my surprise, the 19th-century naval hero and prolific novelist Capt. Frederick Marryat. “Now Marryat,” Greene said to me, “there is a writer!”

You can read it all here.