Unpacking My Library Artists and Their Books Jo Steffens, Matthias Neumann, Marcel Proust

Publication date:
24 Oct 2017
Yale University Press
184 pages: 140 x 203mm
270 color illus.
Sales territories:

A captivating tour of the bookshelves of ten leading artists, exploring the intricate connections between reading, artistic practice, and identity

Taking its inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s seminal 1931 essay, the Unpacking My Library series charts a spirited exploration of the reading and book collecting practices of today’s leading thinkers. Artists and Their Books showcases the personal libraries of ten important contemporary artists based in the United States (Mark Dion, Theaster Gates, Wangechi Mutu, Ed Ruscha, and Carrie Mae Weems), Canada (Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller), and the United Kingdom (Billy Childish, Tracey Emin, and Martin Parr). Through engaging interviews, the artists discuss the necessity of reading and the meaning of books in their lives and careers.

This is a book about books, but it even more importantly highlights the role of literature in shaping an artist’s self-presentation and persona. Photographs of each artist’s bookshelves present an evocative glimpse of personal taste, of well-loved and rare volumes, and of the individual touches that make a bookshelf one’s own. The interviews are accompanied by “top ten” reading lists assembled by each artist, an introduction by Jo Steffens, and Marcel Proust’s seminal essay “On Reading.”

Jo Steffens is an independent writer and curator; she is the former director of the Municipal Art Society of New York’s Urban Center Books and Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival.

Matthias Neumann is principal at normaldesign and adjunct assistant professor of architecture at the New York Institute of Technology.

“Attractive . . . Lavish photographic surveys accompany enjoyable interviews with the artists, who are asked to select 10 favorites from collections that vary in scope from cherished childhood books to working archives.”—Ernest Hilbert, Wall Street Journal

“This beautiful and riveting volume illuminates the interior lives and minds of ten great artists. Full of delicious surprises, it’s an experience to treasure.”—Claire Messud, author of The Emperor’s Children

“I loved the in-depth interviews with this diverse group of artists, and of course I pored over their book collections.  A real treat for any reader!”—Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason