mallarme’s cat


Mallarme’s cat by Edouard Manet

On a cold, rainy February night in New York, I remember a story Andre Malraux used to tell — and which, at some remove, was told to me — about Mallarme’s cat, whose name, almost needless to say, was Blanche.

On a cold, rainy February night in Paris, a thin and bedraggled alley cat, wandering the streets, looks in the window of Mallarme’s house and sees a white, fat and fluffy cat dozing in an overstuffed chair by a blazing fire. He taps on the window:

“Comrade cat, how can you live in luxury and sleep so peacefully when your brothers are here in the streets starving?”

 “Have no fear, comrade,” Blanche replies. “I’m only pretending to be Mallarme’s cat.”

— From “Anecdotal Evidence,” by Eliot Weinberger, in the Fall 2003 issue of Conjunctions. [reprinted in Harper’s Magazine, June 2004]

my book(shelf) problem

I like to think of myself as a pretty good thrower-away-of-stuff. Except when it comes to books. And that’s a shame, really, because books are a) heavy as bejeezus, b) not terribly tidy, visually, and c) hard to house.

But I love books, and I love keeping them around me. They add a certain realness to a space, provided the books are ones you have acquired yourself, and have some meaning for you. Many of ours are books we’ve accumulated together, as a family, so our library serves as a living, organic reminder of where we’ve been, and what we’ve done together. On the birth of our daughter 5 years ago, we purchased, for her, Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching as a sort of “first principles on her first day.”


Lao Tzu

Every year since then, we’ve given her books that we think are important:  Marco Polo’s travels, Shakespeare’s Comedies (I can’t bear to give her the tragedies quite yet), Pride and Prejudice, and so on, all in the same family of editions. We hope that when she leaves the house, she’ll have a meaningful mini-library. Which begs the question….where do you PUT all the books?

And since I’m an interior design schizophrenic, I find myself veering wildly between extreme minimalism (ie, I don’t want to see the books, but want to know they’re there) and a deshabille, rambling country house aesthetic that asks for mountains of books in every room.  As a result, I’ve developed a…fixation?….on bookshelves, and clever solutions for books.

Some of my favorites for inspiration…

My personal favorite: Gianni Botsford’s library

Book Room, Wimpole Hall

Charming idea

Bookcase in the stairs

at Merci Merci in Paris

Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the living room


…and some of my favorites, for purchase.


minimal shelving by Sticotti


blu dot

Chicago shelving by Blu Dot


Vintage industrial-style shelving from Restoration Hardware


Valsa Bookcase at Tema Home

for a long time I used to go to bed early — proust

I still do, more or less. The mundane complications of life conspire to wake me early, too. Even this morning. But this morning is a little bit different, since I am sprawled in a King size bed, with a dry, soft sage-scented breeze surrounding the sheets, my robe, a newspaper and book in my hands.

It’s silent in this room, and I’m enjoying that sweet tension where one revels in the distance from demands of… a daughter, the dog, the beleaguered cat, kind friends and charming colleagues… while simultaneously missing the very web of responsibilities that one sought to escape in the first place.  It seems there ought to be word for such a feeling.

reading in bed

The truth is I haven’t read in an uninterrupted fashion, in the morning, in bed, in what seems like years. But the joys of doing so haven’t dimmed…even though I’m a little anxious about sending coffee across the pristine sheets.

About 15 years ago, I read a book about people who love books. I can’t remember the title, or even the author, but I do remember one sweet essay about what you choose to read when you travel, and where you choose to read it. Are you the kind of person, she wonders, who reads about the place where you are when you travel? Or are you the kind of person who reads about other places?  And do you do so in the plaza or by the pool? On the top of a mountain, after a hike, or at a cafe table?

I stay in bed, unmoving, looking at the desert, reading about Aix-en-Provence. It’s pretty much heaven.




“we live in an age of science and of abundance. the weeder is supremely needed if the Garden of the Muses is to persist as a garden.”

— Ezra Pound

helvetica forever

It’s a typeface that has garnered praise and vitriol. Movies have been made about it; books (many) have been published. For my part, I kind of find it a comforting, understandable typeface that has usually done the job I’ve set to it with little complaint or difficulty.  In short, despite its ubiquity, I like it.