Walker Percy and his books

March 27, 2008

Not the books he wrote, but the books he owned. A few months ago I wrote about an interesting project at LibraryThing in which users were cataloguing the personal library of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. That effort spawned a number of other projects to catalogue the books of famous dead people, and recently, I see, the library of Walker Percy was added.

Percy is one of my favourite writers. He was from the American south, living for most of his life in Louisiana. An early career as a medical doctor was abandoned for a life of writing, but the spirit of the diagnostician remained in his work. Under the influence of existentialism and Christianity (he converted to Catholicism in 1947), he wrote cunning novelistic examinations of the spiritual maladies of modern men. My favourite of his books are The Moviegoer, which won the National Book Award in 1962, and Lost in the Cosmos, a faux self-help book admixed with a hefty dose of semiotic theory. Percy’s writing is always funny, sharp, and finely wrought.

His personal library can be browsed at LibraryThing, and it makes for interesting viewing if one admires the man. One expects to find Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, and Faulker, but I was a little surprised to see Henry James and G.K. Chesterton so well represented. The overlap of my library with his includes just 152 volumes, or 6% of his collection (10% of mine).

If you’d like to know more about Percy, the Walker Percy Project is probably the best resource around. For a taste, try his essay “Bourbon“, excerpted from Signposts in a Strange Land. Here is a short video of him accepting the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in 1989 (He begins speaking at the 4 minute mark). He died in 1990.

Percy is not the only dead person to have his personal library added to LibraryThing. Recent subjects have included John Adams, W.H. Auden, Marie Antoinette, and Ezra Pound, among others.

2 Responses to “Walker Percy and his books”

  1. redmirabai Says:

    This morning I am in the first pages of “Everlasting Man,” and read “The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth.” This reminded me of “Lost in the Cosmos,” a book which always causes me to feel something inside my mind shift. So of course I had to log on and Google “Chesterton Walker Percy influence,” to be led to your website; where I instantly liked “glad rags of popery.” Serendipity is a great gift. Bookmark!

  2. cburrell Says:

    I’m very glad that you’ve found me. Anyone who is a friend of Percy and Chesterton is a friend of mine. Welcome!

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