Shelf Life

Shelf Life

by Jami Attenberg

We asked the widely acclaimed author of All Grown Up to show us a section of her bookshelf. Here, she talks about the stack of books—both fiction and nonfiction—that she used for research and inspiration for her novel Saint MazieAnd don't miss Jami Attenberg in conversation with Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney (The Nest) on April 18th at the Center.



This bookshelf sits in the center of my apartment. I bought it when I first moved to New York City in 1998 for forty bucks at the Gothic Cabinet Craft in the East Village. The shelves are crooked. At some point I must have painted it white, but I don't remember when. I don't know why I can't treat myself to something nicer, but then again, this one works just fine. It holds my books, what more could I want?

Anyway, after I finish writing a novel, I end up with a little stack of books that I used either for research or inspiration. This is the Saint Mazie corner of my bookshelf. So you'll see the source text, Up in the Old Hotel, and then other books I used for historical research, Only Yesterday, Amusing the Million, and Low Life, which was the first I read when I started researching, and it remains my favorite of the non-fiction texts. There's also one DVD, On The Bowery, which I've watched a dozen times. Drunks on the Bowery in the 50s! Both enjoyable and devastating. Grace Paley's work was the most important fiction I read while I was writing my book but of course I've been reading her for years. She is eternally important. When I was looking for purity in language, boldness in character, and unconventionality in voice, I read Broder, Myles, and Nelson. If I hadn't read Bluets I don't know if I'd have finished this book.






Jami Attenberg has written about sex, technology, design, books, television, and urban life for The New York Times MagazineThe Wall Street JournalThe Guardian, Lenny Letter and others. In March 2017, HMH Books will release her novel All Grown Up. It will also be published in the UK, Italy, Holland, Poland, France and Germany


Her debut collection of stories, Instant Love, was published in 2006, followed by the novels The Kept Man and The Melting Season. Her fourth book, The Middlesteins, was published in October 2012. It appeared on The New York Times bestseller list, and was published in ten countries in 2013. It was also a finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction and the St. Francis College Literary Prize, and has been optioned by Showtime. A fifth book, Saint Mazie, was published in 2015 in the U.S. and the UK, and in Italy, France and Germany in 2016, and has been optioned by Fable Pictures. She divides her time between New Orleans, LA and Brooklyn, NY.