June 10, 2013

These are the spines of our lives


The multimedia artist Nina Katchadourian started her “Sorted Books” project in 1993, when she and her classmates took over various rooms in a friend’s parents’ house to focus on their respective art projects. She got the library.

While perusing the spines, as she explains on Slate, “I thought it would be amazing if accidentally the titles formed a sentence, and then I realized I could make that happen.” Since then, she’s continued to sort other people’s libraries to create found poetry, from koans to practical advice, from life’s intimacies to life’s grandiosities, all revealing—and then somehow reworking—the psychologies of the books’ owners.

Now Chronicle Books has published a collection of these portraitures, as she likens them. Perhaps soon she will finally sort her own library.

With her blessing, I tried my hand at sorting mine, and asked various writers—Laura van den Berg, Teju Cole, Celina Su, and George Szirtes—to sort theirs.

Wah-Ming Chang was the managing editor of Melville House.