What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You?

The moment I cross the threshold into any and every home or office of friend and stranger alike, my eyes are unfailingly pulled to the most telling item in the room: the bookshelf. 

I’ve always believed that a bookcase is a window into its owner’s soul. The volumes we keep are the written records of our formative influences that we actively choose to keep around, a physical accumulation of the ideas that have provoked us, confused us, and – above all – inspired us. In an effort to share my inspirations with students across the web-o-sphere, below you will find a glimpse of my bookshelf, a collection of the ideas that continually give form and content to the ways in which I think.

Assorted Programs – I have never lived somewhere more culturally saturated than New York City. Pounding the pavement through the city’s grid of streets can lead to fleeting moments of magic, where one moment you can be passing a traditional Irish Cèilidh on 22nd Street and the next be settling in for a new musical exploring the generational effects of the Black Panthers movement. These are a selection of the playbills and programs I’ve accumulated from the 40-odd shows I’ve seen over the past few months, paper representations of the hours I’ve spent sharing in performance with friends, family, co-workers, and countless strangers in darkened theaters across the 5 boroughs. 
Funny, Strange, Provocative – When not instructing students in our Armonk offices, I work as a Producing Fellow for a prolific downtown Manhattan theatre company, Clubbed Thumb. This book is an anthology of plays that have been produced by the company since its founding in 1996, each one in its own way pushing the boundaries of how art can engender meaning through theatrical conversation.

Brecht on Theatre, The Shifting Point, Local Acts, Ghost Light, Towards a Poor Theatre, and others – These writings by Bertolt Brecht, Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski, and others — all conceptual fathers of the contemporary theatre — are a selection of books that have given shape to my ever-shifting mass of thought, especially vis à vis my medium of choice: the theatre. To possess passion for any given endeavor necessitates an understanding that will ever remain quixotically incomplete. Yet, it is the joy of fervid pursuit and the act of aspiration that drives on onward. I may not always agree with the viewpoints presented in them, but they each make strong statements that provide me with the opportunity to consider and decide what I do and do not personally agree with.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and assorted individual plays – Thespian or not, this compilation is essential reading for anyone who desires a deeper understanding of the human condition. Though Shakespeare often carries a reputation of being an irrelevant artifact from days long past, every aspect of contemporary human experience, from epic warfare to the minutiae of human feeling, can be found somewhere in this collection of the Bard’s best. Though it may first appear inaccessible, the language can be easily unlocked with equal parts patience and interest, and the power of his poetry and prose can release insights that can teach, or at the very least reflect on, us all.

The Birth of Tragedy, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility…, and The Interpretation of Cultures – In class, through conversation, or by fortuitous accident, these are all books that came into my hands while I was attending college. With these, what began as a cursory assignments or passing intrigue have since grown into books that contain ideas that I view as being fundamental to the ways in which I receive and interpret the world. These books, landing on the intersection of social and cultural theory, help me to understand the ever-progressing world in which we are living and, perhaps, my own place within it.

Well, that’s all folks. I hope this glimpse into my bookshelf gives a taste of the inspirations I seek to share with my students as we discover the powers of language through our work towards Verbal mastery.  Moving forward, I hope that readers of all ages will take a few moments to reflect on the books that fill your shelves. How did they get there? What do you think of them? How will they guide you to where you wish to go?