On Curation

Oct 8, 2019

I've been listening to the audiobook version of Questlove's Creative Quest recently. I love it, and I may end up buying the paper version at some point, just so I can take notes. I can't really do that when I'm listening in the car. But I wanted to write about a bit I heard the other day because I realized that what he was talking about was something I was doing already, albeit in a different format and at a different level.

He was talking about the idea of curation, and how as a creative person you really need to be a curator as well, picking and choosing those things you want to inspire or influence your work and being OK with not having an opinion about everything. He was talking about it in the context of music and curating his personal DJ collection, but I related to it with my writing and my books as well.

I have a metric shit-ton of books in my house. Seriously. My daughter and I did a rough calculation one day and figured out that we have around 1,300 books just downstairs. This does not include the 2.5 shelves' worth in my office or the books my kids have in their rooms on their own shelves or the books my husband keeps in his office. I love being surrounded by books, having all those minds and stories to dive into and learn things from.

But I have a couple of shelves in my office next to my desk where I rotate out a smaller group of books that I want to have immediate access to. These are the ones that feed whatever I'm currently interested in and represent not only aspirations but interests and passions. A couple of months ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to write better short stories, so I brought up some of my short story collections. I also have a few books that I really love and enjoy thinking about, like True Grit by Charles Portis and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

A picture of the shelves where I keep my curated set of books

On the shelf below that, I have a section of books that have to do with a couple of passions of mine, some magazines, and then some books that I want to read or think more about. I love reading about the Trojan War, it's been an interest of time since I read Cassandra by Christa Wolf in college, so I have a few books relating to that. I have loved dinosaurs ever since reading Jurassic Park in junior high, so I have some books about dinosaurs there as well.

These are the shelves that I find myself looking at when my attention wanes. My gaze shifts to the left and I see my copy of Etgar Keret's Suddenly, a Knock On the Door and I remember how much I love his story What Of this Goldfish Would You Wish? I see Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard by Isak Dinesen and I remember how much Ehrengard had delighted me when I read it the first time. I see Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and wonder if I could ever write stories that blow people away the way that book did me.

Just having those books there next to me helps keep them fresh in my mind. In having those books at hand, I am curating my inspiration.