What Books Adriana Trigiani Keeps on Her Shelves and by Her Bed

I have all of Edna Ferber’s books: “So Big,” “Giant,” et al. A few are signed in her regal cursive style. Don’t get me started on handwriting! Her autobiographies, “A Peculiar Treasure” and “A Kind of Magic,” were not best sellers but should have been. Everything she wrote then matters now. When she returned from a trip to Europe in the 1930s, she wrote about “clownish” dictators, including Hitler, who was considered a joke. The great writers can see into the future. Beware the clowns.

I was a constant reader. “Voracious” doesn’t nail it because it implies enthusiasm or animation. I disappeared into books. My mom was a librarian who taught me to revere books. At home, I remember “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” with pictures by Hilda Miloche, and “The Book of Knowledge,” my dad’s childhood encyclopedia from the 1940s. My mom gave my daughter “Strega Nona,” by Tomi DePaola, when she was born.

The first thing we did as a family in Big Stone Gap, Va., was to sign up for our library cards on the Wise County Bookmobile. Mr. Varner, the librarian, allowed us to sit on the snap stools as long as we wished. The books were behind wide straps of elastic so they wouldn’t fall off the shelves when he navigated the twisty mountain roads. He recommended the divine “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White, “Too Many Mittens,” by Louis and Florence Slobodkin (we don’t talk about that master illustrator enough!), “Pippi Longstocking,” by Astrid Lindgren, and “Theater Shoes,” by Noel Streatfeild.

Ernestine Roller, my elementary and middle school librarian, turned me on to Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle,” Beverly Cleary’s “Fifteen,” “Harriet the Spy,” by Louise Fitzhugh, and the Bobbs-Merrill series “Childhood of Famous Americans.” I like to think I read them all — how else could I tell you about the childhood of Babe Didrikson Zaharias? My pal Douglas Brinkley could because he was as obsessed as I was with this series. Of course, he turned it into a career as a historian, while I retain how the athlete Jim Thorpe liked his eggs. Middle grade reads: “Bless the Beasts & Children,” by Glendon Swarthout, and Dr. Irwin Maxwell Stillman and Samm Sinclair Baker’s “The Doctor’s Quick Teenage Diet” (drink a lot of water and eat hot dogs without the bun).

Billie Jean Scott, my high school librarian, allowed me access to the magazine stacks. I should’ve been reading Tiger Beat, but I preferred Life, Time and Look from the 1940s. She recommended “Spencer’s Mountain,” by Earl Hamner Jr., and “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” by John Fox Jr.

When the public library opened in Big Stone Gap, I became captivated with “They Had Faces Then,” by John Springer and Jack D. Hamilton. This compilation of Hollywood movie stars of the 1930s was rarely on the shelves because I checked it out constantly. When I last visited the library, out of curiosity, I went in search of it. The last person to check it out was me.

If I understand this question correctly, it’s essentially a double date I’m putting together here. So, I’m going to punt my husband for the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II (whom I find very attractive). We would dine with his contemporaries: the playwright and critic George S. Kaufman and the novelist Edna Ferber at my kitchen table. I would make spaghetti with traditional gravy and add my mom’s bracciole. Good wine because these three would know the difference. Chocolate fudge for dessert from “Candy Hits,” by ZaSu Pitts. We’d discuss Scott Meredith’s “George S. Kaufman and His Friends.” I found this magnificent doorstop about life in the golden age of American theater in the library of the Milbank House, a boardinghouse in Greenwich Village where I lived when I first moved to Manhattan. The library had been donated by Irving Berlin. I imagined Berlin had read all the books before giving them away, so they seemed magical. In the end, they were.

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