Monday, July 27, 2009

I See Dead People’s Books

There is an interesting (and slightly morbid) project going on at “I See Dead People’s Books” gives readers a chance to virtually peruse the bookshelves of authors who have passed on and left a legacy for us to snoop around their homes and offices. Other famous individuals such as JFK are included for those who cannot limit themselves to scoping out the dusty shelves of novelists and poets.

Why would anyone want to know what stories entertained C.S. Lewis or what George Washington read before bed each night? Because it’s entertaining, educational, and brings us one step closer to recognizing these folks as plain old, regular people. People like you and me who share(d) a love of words and stories.

The project includes both a ‘completed’ catalogue for those libraries considered fully researched and a ‘libraries-in-progress’ section for those whose inventory is still being investigated. Participation is welcome in the discussion boards and there’s an open invitation to submit corrections, facts, and interesting tidbits.

There’s also a nifty feature on the side panel of each author page that lists “books you share” with the legend you are snooping. It cross-references the books listed in the notable person’s library with your own (if you’ve created a list on So, while it’s interesting to notice the books F. Scott Fitzgerald enjoyed, it’s also fun to observe that he and I evidently share no books in common. I do, however, appear to share some tastes with Hemingway, who we learn had copies of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and Salinger’s Nine Stories. And while I share Crime and Punishment in common with Joyce, I will admit… I have not yet actually read it. I’m sure Joyce did. Or at least pretended he did.

Since this project includes shelves from other notable historical figures, it’s fun to see that perhaps I have more reading tastes in common with Marilyn Monroe. Her collection included Kerouac’s On The Road, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and – of course – A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams.

However, this project is not just about scanning book collections of those who have passed on or seeing what you may have in common. There are also autobiographical notes and other notes of interest to observe. Such is the case with Sylvia Plath, where a reader can learn about the author’s life and publications, burial location and estate management, and lists places where the author’s actual personal library has been distributed for public viewing.

This is a great procrastination/time-waster for bookworms and fans of the literati. It’s also a challenge; for those living literary types who like to populate their bookshelves with books that make them look smart (come on, we all know one person like that!), this could create a whole new level of paranoia.

In the end, though, you can’t help but ask yourself: what will your bookshelf look like when you’re gone? What impression will it leave? Will it be an intellectual library like Washington’s? Or will it be a mishmash of genres and interests like George Orwell’s?


  1. Cooooool.

    Like I wasn't already sufficiently addicted to LibraryThing...

  2. Lori,
    Very good post! I enjoyed reading it and then the links taking me to those authors directly from your page. ;) Sylvia Plath is a favorite of mine and I had the opportunity to see her works at Smith's College in Northampton, MA...however, I didn't know it was there when I visited. I'm was so sad to realize this only after driving back to Amherst where I was at the end of a week long trip to Wellspring House. I will have to go back just to see it. Also, tried to visit the home of Emily Dickinson and it ended being closed the one day I went. I was so sad! but couldn't help find it amusing since that sort of thing happens to me all the time. I must make it back :)
    have a great day!!!

  3. Wow, great find, Lori. I'm a history fan of...well...historic proportions, so, this resonates with me no end. Unfortunately, I was just lamenting on another blog about how I'm afraid I fritter my time away. As you point out, this could be another way to do I need more of those. Anyway, think I'll now go over there and do some...research.

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  4. Carrie, no kidding, right? It’s easy to get sucked in over there.

  5. Lydia, I’m glad the links served a purpose! I was hoping I was making it easy to get sidetracked… er… um... to help serious people with research. =)

    And I feel for you. There’s nothing worse than leaving someplace cool only to realize you missed something you would have really, really loved. I hope you make it back there someday!

  6. Galen, I’m always happy to help find new research portals. And timewasters. =)

    Hope you found some good fun over there.