Shelf Life

Shelf Life

by Jami Attenberg

We asked the widely acclaimed author of Saint Mazie 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. 



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 is the author of a story collection, Instant Love, and four novels, The Kept Man, The Melting SeasonThe Middlesteins, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and, most recently, Saint Mazie. She has contributed essays and criticism to The New York Times, Real Simple, Elle, The Washington Post, and many other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.