20th Century and Contemporary, Books, Contests, Photography

A Quiz about Writers and Their Books

Later this month, Yale University Press will publish Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, edited by Leah Price, the highly-anticipated follow-up volume to Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books, edited by Jo Steffens, and published in 2009.  Through gorgeous photographs and Leah Price’s thoughtful questioning, this new volume explores the bookshelves of 13 acclaimed writers: Alison Bechdel, Stephen Carter, Junot Díaz, Lev Grossman & Sophie Gee, Jonathan Lethem, James Wood & Claire Messud, Stephen Pinker & Rebecca Goldstein, Philip Pullman, Gary Shteyngart, and Edmund White.

What can we learn about writers from their libraries?  The answers are surprising, and as varied as the fiction each writer creates. Test your knowledge of your favorite literary luminaries below, by matching each writer with his or her collection of books. The contestant with the best score will win a copy of Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books! Send us your answers by Monday, November 14 for your chance to win! (Entrants must have a valid mailing address in the US or Canada.)

 Unpacking My Library Writers Quiz Questions:

  1. Which author recently donated a thousand books to a non-profit charity bookstore?
  2. Which writer keeps the complete series of Sopranos DVDs on a bookshelf (that also contains Dante and Charles Dickens)?
  3. Which writer’s library also houses a nearly-complete, hand-made (by the writer) rocking horse?
  4. Which writer rereads Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse every year?
  5. Which writer’s bookshelves include copies of Dolphins, Whales, and Other Sea Mammals and Reptiles and Amphibians, books that were prizes for coming in at the top of the class in third and fourth grade?
  6. Whose top ten list includes A Guide for the Undehemorrhoided by Charles Willeford?
  7. Which writer puts unwanted books outside on the curb, and then waits to see how long it takes them to find new owners?
  8. Whose first book purchase, at age 14, was a copy of Throeau’s Walden?
  9. Which writer could also, happily, produce a top ten list of cookbooks?
  10. Which writer appeared on an episode of the TV show I Want That extolling the virtues of his/her preferred brand of bookshelf?
  11. About the future of the printed book, which writer said, “I figure books survived the Dark Ages—why couldn’t they survive the Age of Darkest Capital”?
  12. Which writer has multiple shelves devoted exclusively to chess books?
  13. Who doesn’t feel true ownership of a book until it’s “bespangled” with Post-its, highlighted in multiple colors, and filled with “incriminating marginalia”?

Answer Bank:

a) Alison Bechdel

b) Stephen Carter

c) Junot Díaz

d) Sophie Gee

e) Rebecca Goldstein

f) Lev Grossman

g) Jonathan Lethem

h) Claire Messud

i) Stephen Pinker

j) Philip Pullman

k) Gary Shteyngart

l) Edmund White

m) James Wood


  1. There is a typo here; Charles Willeford’s book is actually A GUIDE TO THE UNDEHEMORRHOIDED. (Note the extra “DE”.) Willeford self-published the 32-page hardback in 1977. The bottomline: don’t have hemorrhoid surgery

  2. caitlin

    Can you post the answers? So curious!

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