Study No. 9 · James Hughes · Writer / Editor
James has a deep place in his heart for ‘80s L.A. culture, as he spent some of his formative years in Tinseltown while his Dad was making films. We had a nostalgic blast flipping through James’s copy of Robert Landau’s Rock ‘n Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip (2012), as those flashy advertisements with their super-sized creativity impacted us both as kids. He is also a dedicated cinephile, and is shown above flipping through a prized copy of The Art of Alfred Hitchcock (1976).
James Hughes is a writer and editor who has contributed articles on film, culture, and sports to The Atlantic, Wax Poetics, The Village Voice. and Slate. Throughout the 2000s, Hughes was an editor and co-publisher of Stop Smiling magazine (which we collected religiously), as well as its book imprint. Last year, for the sports-focused site Grantland, James wrote a beautifully penned amalgam of three things he loves: Hockey, Chicago, and the work of his father . . . celebrated (and deeply missed) director John Hughes. It would’ve been impossible to grow up in the Hughes household without developing an immense respect for the filmmaking process, so it makes sense that the bulk of James’ library consists of cinematic themes. Books are on display in many rooms of the Lincoln Park brownstone he shares with his wife, design instructor and creative director Tracy Boychuk, their adorable son, and Basset Hound. In the family’s top-floor library, they’ve set up the ultimate inspiration space; furnished with daydream-worthy couches, ‘70s film posters, and crocheted granny blankets. On the floor-to-ceiling mahogany shelves, first editions and literary anthologies mingle with books on film technique and criticism, Hollywood history, director biographies, music, WWII, American history, advertising, nature, science, crime, and dogs. In this special room, James and his family can hop on the over-sized, worn leather lounge, inherited from his father’s office, and wrap themselves in happy memories and literary love.
The five most-treasured books in James’ collection, including a Stanley Kubrick biography picked up in Paris as a teenager that he attempted to learn French solely to read. Also in the stack, a first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), previously belonging to his father, director John Hughes.
James shared with us a special collection of books once belonging to his father, on The Mighty Mississippi, Mark Twain and the Old South, which had served as inspiration for a future film project sadly halted by his passing.
One of the 12 beautifully illustrated volumes of The South Polar Times (2012); a magazine originally created by Captain Scott and his Antarctic exploring team from 1902 to 1912, written to entertain themselves and record their journey during the frigid winter. It was published in an edition of 1,000 by The Folio Society, in collaboration with the Royal Geographical Society, the British Library, and the Scott Polar Research Institute, to honor the centennial death of Cap't Scott and his companions, including Ernest Shackleton. Each volume features stories, illustrations, photographs, paintings, songs and cartoons, along with observations about fauna and weather.
The South Polar Times displayed among James’ wife Tracy Boychuk’s books on graphic design, art and fashion. Tracy is a creative director, as well as a design instructor, previously teaching at New York’s School of Visual Arts (she was a mentor to The Librarian’s designer/photographer, Nic Taylor).
A clean, cozy, well-lighted place to read overlooking an idyllic, tree-lined Lincoln Park street below, and furnished with family heirlooms. Could there be a more perfect place to spend a mellow afternoon?
Name: James Hughes
Profession: Editor and writer.
Describe your relationship to books: I’ve edited and published books, written about and reviewed books, and love no object more than books.
You are currently reading: I’ve been reading Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations, which led me to other collections of Sacks’ fascinating case studies, like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
Favorite authors: Most of them are newspaper writers. I love American novelists like Richard Yates and John O’Hara. A favorite contemporary novelist is Don DeLillo. Essayists like John McPhee amaze me. Tom Wolfe can pick a subculture clean like few observers I’ve encountered. And it’s about time I sat down with all of the Patricia Highsmith books I’ve been collecting.
In a bookstore or library, you head straight for: The K’s in the film section, to make sure there isn’t a new Stanley Kubrick book I don’t know about.
If your home were ablaze, which 5 books would you save: A first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that belonged to my father. A limited edition copy of Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman’s Fire in the Nuts that was given to me by the screen-printer who made it by hand. A rare book on Alfred Hitchcock that I bought with money I made at a blackjack table. The first paperback I read for pleasure, John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. And my favorite book I own, Le Petit Livre de Stanley Kubrick by Jean-Marc Bouineau, which I bought in Paris in high school. The receipt is still tucked in the book. I wanted to read the pages so bad that for months I tried to teach myself French. It was the peak of my high-school pretentiousness.
Your library is organized by: My fiction is alphabetized. My film books are divided by craft, criticism, Old Hollywood, and director biographies. I have a half-dozen shelves for essay collections and media criticism. History is divided into World War II, Americana, world cities, and biographies. One shelf for nature. One shelf for crime. One apiece for art, sports and jazz. Two for design, most of which are my wife’s books. I have two shelves of nothing but books, magazines and scripts on or by Stanley Kubrick. And the oversized books are a bit of a free-for-all.
Your favorite place to read: I wish it was the leather chair that’s been in my family for decades and is perfectly positioned in my library. But honestly, it’s in bed.
Last great book you read: E.L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langley, a fictional reimagining of the real-life Collyer brothers, who literally died under the weight of the tons of trash and heirlooms they collected in their Manhattan brownstone. Anyone who has any reservations or sympathies about collecting—and, to be honest, hoarding—should read it. I stared at the last paragraph for what felt like an eternity it was so powerful to me.
Last book to make you laugh out loud: A few years ago I read And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, about disgruntled office workers in Chicago. There’s a passage where a neurotic guy obsesses over his swivel chair and one where the narrator exposes the many ways a co-worker who’s a wanna-be filmmaker muses about the film industry as if he was a part of it that had me cracking up with eerie recognition.
Books you loved as a child: The moment I became a reader for pleasure was on a road trip to Wisconsin with my grandparents at age 10. I was at a bookstore before the trip and the cover of John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley grabbed me. I devoured it and began collecting Steinbeck paperbacks with the same devotion as childhood keepsakes (comics, baseball cards, etc.). I then met Chris Alexander who became my book friend, so to speak. Throughout middle school and junior-high we had a rivalry over who was out-pacing the other’s intake of Signet Classics and Ray Bradbury short stories. It’s important to find a book friend at the right age.
Most beautiful book in your library: I wrote an article for The Atlantic about Antarctic explorers in the early 20th century who played hockey when their ships were frozen in the ice, which prompted me to purchase a facsimile edition of The South Polar Times, published by the Folio Society. The SPT was a handmade newspaper that shipmates made to keep each other sane during long voyages. It was the most expensive set of books I’ve ever bought, but also the most beautiful.
Favorite bookshops: Unabridged Books in Chicago. Book Soup in Los Angeles. The Strand in New York. City Lights in San Francisco. I like new-release tables.
Books on your wish list: I wish I had the complete works of H.L. Mencken committed to memory.
Favorite private and/or public libraries: I love checking out book collections in people’s houses, so it’s ongoing. A friend recently showed me Richard Prince’s book collection, which he’s cataloged online. It’s the most obsessively curated collection I’ve seen in a while, or maybe ever. Above all, the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas seems like heaven to me.
Fictional character you most admire: Sherlock Holmes.
Guilty pleasure read: Poring over hockey coverage. Also, as a confession, I read way more book reviews than actual books.
What book would change the world, if everyone were required to read it: I can’t imagine a novel would transcend all cultures. Maybe a book that pointed out humanity’s massively disappointing and wasteful global footprint—but that alone would require printing 7.1 billion books…
Recommended reading links: Follow the Library of America “Story of the Week” mailing list—the stories are free and the deals on book collections are occasionally shocking. I love the book review sections in the FT Life & Arts, New York Review of Books, New York Times and Bookforum. “Book Notes” on C-SPAN. And I’m often pleasantly surprised by the suggestions and industry tidbits that pop up on the Twitter feed of the Los Angeles Review of Books.
What are you currently writing, or plan to write: I’m currently writing a piece about spacewalking, so I’ve been reading about astronauts for the first time, really.
Which of your past works is the most meaningful to you: The most meaningful project I published was a history of the vocoder titled How to Wreck a Nice Beach, which allowed me step into the mind of the author, Dave Tompkins, for a decade as we edited and volleyed around hundreds of thousands of words together. My own works I’m too squeamish about commenting on.
Favorite line, passage or poem: Because I’m still basking from my Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup, I chose to read William Faulkner’s poetic impressions of attending his first hockey game in 1955.
James Hughes reads "An Innocent At Rinkside", William Faulkner's "poetic impressions" of attending a hockey game at Madison Square Garden, penned for Sports Illustrated in 1955. James keeps a print-out of the piece inside his copy of the Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner. We visited James' library on June 26th, 2013, the week that the Blackhawks won The Stanley Cup. We'll never forget James' excitement, or the way the entire city became electrified and ecstatic after the victory.