Last month, New York-based cultural club WHAAM! launched a physical and virtual library of books, hand-picked by artists, musicians, and public figures in response to the question: In isolation, what parts of yourself have you recovered?
Those in New York City can book an appointment to visit the physical library, or find a directory of the city’s independent bookstores on New Reader’s site. There will also be a printed version of the library’s contents, which is available in various NYC bookstores and features illustrations by WHAAM! artist Hunter Ney.
For anyone outside of New York, the online library features write-ups by each contributor, detailing the reason behind their selection.
Arca picked Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1969 groundbreaking novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, and wrote that isolation has helped her “recover the sense that I am part of something larger”. The artist continued: “It is in setting aside my apprehension towards conflict, and steeping in the discomfort of total flux, that I have been most able to feel connected to others in public civic spaces, even in virtue of a loss of intimacy, united in our facing mortality, worldwide, all at once in a way that was inconceivable before it happened.”
Elise by Olsen chose the aptly titled Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge. “During various lockdowns, I have enjoyed silence and the possibility of solitude, of restitution, of meditation,” she said of her selection. “Silence is, to me, more important now than ever.”
For Zarina Muhammad, lockdown has introduced new challenges – namely, remote treatment for an eating disorder. “I am not cured,” she said, “but it’s all less opaque and I understand it now.” Speaking of her choice in book – Clarice Lispector’s 1948 novel The Besieged City – Muhammad continued: “It talked to me through these states of being: Girl, animal, object. I have wanted to be them all, at some point. (Protagonist) Lucrécia longs to think only through seeing the surface of things, to arrange herself as an image.”
Other contributors include Collier Schorr, who chose D.W. Winnicott’s 1994 Holding and Interpretation – a verbatim record of the author’s sessions with a psychotic patient – art collective DIS picked Kim Stanley Robinson’s 1990 sci-fi novel, Pacific Edge, and Fran Lebowitz, who selected Lisa Robinson’s 2020 book, Nobody Ever Asked Me About the Girls: Women, Music, and Fame. Hans Ulrich Obrist, Kiko Kostadinov, Liz Johnson Artur, and Nhạc Gây have also selected books for the project.
Visit the online Reading Room library here, and book an appointment to visit the physical library here.
Reading Room is supported by Burberry, and will run until April 4 at 15 Elizabeth Street, #113, New York City. Donald Judd Furniture is courtesy of Salon 94 Design