Do Haeng Michael Kitchen

Writer. Attorney. Detroit City FC Til I Die.

What’s on your bookshelf?

In November, 2012, Little Brown published a collection of essays titled My Ideal Bookshelf.  It was edited by Thessaly La Force, who collected one-page essays from more than one hundred leading cultural figures on the books that mattered to them the most.  As the inside flap reads, “books that define their dreams and ambitions and in many cases helped them find their way in the world.”

Each essay was accompanied by a picture of the bookshelf, painted by Jane Mount.  Not only is it interesting to learn what other cultural icons have read that inspired them, but that you can commission Ms. Mount put to canvass a painting of your own ideal bookshelf.

Not to begrudge Ms. Mount her art, but wall space is scarce in my abode.  So instead, I took to two of my favorite endeavors – book shelf arranging and photography – and created a photo of my ideal book shelf.  Fortunately, the former Borders bookshelf was tall and deep.


An ideal book shelf, in my view, would reflect the influences on one’s life and the many dimensions to the person’s being.  Thus, my ideal book shelf covers a range of topics.

The comic book period represents the emergence to adulthood.  The comic book collections I’ve chosen are those that came at that edge of time where childhood immaturity traversed into more mature themes and characters.  And to this day, American Flagg!, Nexus, The Question, and Watchmen can be appreciated by the adult.

Then, there are the books that started me on the path of writing.  It was of course the encouragement of people in writing classes and friends that caused me to begin putting pen to paper the makings of my imagination.  Early guidance through books introduced freeing lessons which released me from inhibitions.  I was never told by a professor that I was free to write the worst junk in the world.  But Natalie Goldberg blew open that door, freeing me from the rigid cold hand of immediate perfection.

There are the books that guided me to the Zen Buddhist path, both early on in my young adult life, and to more recently upon finding a Zen temple to experience Zen practice; something that you cannot honestly achieve through reading a book.

There are the nonfiction books that provide the uncompromising hard facts about the world that those in the mainstream media force us to ignore.  Such powerful journalism and activism –whether it be political issues or exposure of the cultish positive thinking gurus – confirmed the guttural feelings of illusion that profit-first seekers cast over us.  And of course, sport.  Space limited me to choose from hockey of the past to soccer of the present, so I selected three soccer books that I have found as compelling and entertaining as the sport itself.

Down Through the Years: The Memoirs of Detroit City Council President Emeritus Erma Henderson is also there.  It is not only because I co-wrote the book with her, but the influence she had on my life as well as my family’s.  To me, it was more than the writing of my first (and currently only) book-length publication, but a period of growth intellectually and a leap of the maturation process.

Finally, there is the fiction that has inspired me to write; the authors and novels and short fiction whose writing I enjoy and hope to emulate.  Topping that list is my favorite novel, The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham.  It is the story – depicted in Maugham’s print, and by films in 1946 starring Tyrone Power and 1984 starring Bill Murray – that is the source inspiration of my writer’s soul.

At the back of My Ideal Bookshelf, there are ten blank book covers to fill in with your own top ten.  The photo of my shelf far exceeds that.  Which of them would make the top ten?

1.  The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham.

2.  The Antidote:  Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman.

3.  The Autobiography of My Body by David Guy.

4.  The Still Point Dhammapada by Geri Larkin

5.  Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

6.  Enough Rope: Collected Short Stories by Lawrence Block

7.  American Flagg! Volume One by Howard Chaykin

8.  The Question by Dennis O’Neil and Denys Cowan (all six volumes).

9.  A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

10.  The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

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