Many thanks to Claire Cameron for introducing me to the work of artist Jane Mount. After losing her studio space in 2007 and being forced to work out of her tiny Manhattan apartment, Mount, formerly a large-scale portraitist, turned her artistic eye to book spines. She says, “We show off our books on shelves like merit badges, because we’re proud of the ideas we’ve ingested to make us who we are, and we hope to connect with others based on that. I think this is endearing and charming.” The results of Mount’s efforts were so instantly captivating that she sold the first three pieces to the first viewer and was soon taking custom orders. Just send a photograph of your favourite books in a row or pile and Mount will turn them into a gouache-and-ink masterpiece to hang alongside the real articles. You can see a selection of Mount’s work (and order your own custom piece) here.
It’s fascinating to see the titles that people choose and browsing through the images on Mount’s blog, I found myself mentally compiling my own ideal bookshelf. It’s a difficult task, limiting yourself to, say, 10 titles that define you, that you loved, that you keep re-reading, or as Mount says, “books that changed my life, that made me who I am today”. She goes on, “If you’ve never tried to list out the books that you’ve loved most, I highly recommend the exercise. It’s an easy way to force yourself to consider who you believe you are, what you’ve learned in your life and what’s important to you, and who you think other people expect you to be. And then to decide which of those things matter.” Heavy thoughts for a rainy Monday afternoon.
Having now completed over 500 commissions, Mount is publishing a book (to be released tomorrow) featuring the ideal bookshelves of over 100 writers, artists, musicians and other creative types. To coincide with the book’s release, The National Post has invited its readers to vote on Canada’s ideal bookshelf. To participate, email the names of five Canadian books – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, whatever – that you think deserve a space on our national bookshelf to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 13. My list of five Canadian titles, in no particular order, appears below. My ideal bookshelf – what I would ask Mount to commit permanently to paper – that’s going to take a little more consideration. Stay tuned.
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler
Garbage Delight by Dennis Lee
Life of Pi by Yann Martel