There is much you can learn about a person from the books they own. If you ask me over to your house don’t be surprised if I spend considerable time staring at your bookshelves. And if all you have is an e-reader and you smugly declare books are passé—please do not invite me to your home.
One way I came to better understand John Kennedy Toole (who left no journal behind and only a handful of letters) was by reading the books on his shelf at the time of his death. In Butterfly in the Typewriter, I reference many of them, but I did not include the list of titles. I promised Spencer Throssell (@Spencaurus) this morning I would post it.
Below you will find the titles that appear on a document composed by New Orleans bookseller Rhoda Faust. She founded the famous Maple Street Book Shop. She was also close to Walker Percy, and through him became a friend to Thelma Toole, who offered Faust her son’s books to sell in her store. Eventually, Thelma and Rhoda had a falling out over the rights to publish JKT’s first novel The Neon Bible. But before that happened, lucky buyers picked apart and purchased JKT’s library.
So friends, if you recognize these titles and years listed, check your shelves. You may find some of Toole’s marginalia and he usually inscribed the books with his name and address.
Before I get to the long list let me first point out some important books that do not appear on Faust’s inventory, one’s that I know Toole read. These are, in no particular order:
A collection of Harvard Classics (gifted to Joel Fletcher but unfortunately ruined by water damage)
A collection of Children’s Books (recently sold at auction through Sotheby’s. University of Louisiana at Lafayette now owns them)
Many Evelyn Waugh novels, particularly the early comical ones.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Only Yesterday by Frederick Lewis Allen (Toole frantically requested his mother send this to him in Puerto Rico)
Stern by Bruce Jay Friedman (Toole told Robert Gottlieb how Stern profoundly impacted him)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac (his copy of this book is in the Toole Papers. He picked this up while at Columbia University 1958-1959)
Superworm by George Deaux
Rhoda Faust’s catalog appears as such:
Approach to Literature (1964) by Cleanth Brooks
Queen Elizabeth (Knopf, 1929) by Katherine Anthony
Archy and Mehitabel (DD, 1955) by don Marquis
Elizabethan World Picture (1956) by EMW Tillyard
The Group (1963) by Mary McCarthy
The Political Works of Edmund Spencer (1921) by Edmund Spencer
Romantic and Victorian Poetry (1954) Ed. by William Frost
All the King’s Men (1953) by Robert Penn Warren
The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (1958) by W.B. Yeats
The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy
One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding (1961) by Robert Gover
A Thirsty Evil (1958) by Gore Vidal
Finnegans Wake (1959) by James Joyce
Goodbye to All That (1957) by Robert Graves
Brideshead Revisited (1945) by Evelyn Waugh
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Pragmatism and American Culture: Problems in American Culture (1950) Ed. by Gail Kennedy
The Big Change (1961) by Frederick Lewis Allen
Inquest (1966) by Edward Jay Epstein
Selected Poetry (1950) by William Wordsworth
The Young American Writers (1967) by Richard Costelanety
Viking Portable American Lit. Survey (1968) Ed. by Stein & Gross
Selected Poetry & Prose (1951) by Samuel T. Coleridge
To an Early Grave (1964) by Wallace Markfield
The Humanization of Eddie Cement (1964) by George Deaux
A Mother’s Kisses (1964) by Bruce Jay Friedman
The Poetical Works (1933) by Chaucer
Ulysses (1946) by James Joyce
By the way—if you like looking at overflowing bookshelves and interesting ways to display books, check out The BookCase Project on Facebook.