Get Lit

Three Aspenites, Three Personal Libraries

Think print is dead? These avid local readers share the stories behind their expansive collections of beloved books.

By Allison Pattillo Photography by Karl Wolfgang May 30, 2019 Published in the Summer 2019 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Martin Oswald

Martin Oswald 
Chef and restaurateur

In addition to running Pyramid Bistro (located in Explore Booksellers, no less), planning a new restaurant in Snowmass Base Village called Mix6, and promoting nutritious eating, Oswald has long overseen the catering for Jazz Aspen Snowmass’s VIP concertgoers. For inspiration, he turns to his library of several hundred cookbooks. 

“For the JAS Labor Day event, I basically lock myself in a room with all of my cookbooks, new and old, to prime myself for writing 60 recipes to make up three completely different and original menus,” says Oswald, who uses published recipes as guides to unearth creative flavor combos. 

He organizes his cookbooks within three categories. The first: books written by or for working chefs and other food industry pros; these generally include recipes with multi-step preparation and detailed ingredient lists. The home-cook category titles feature dishes with less complicated ingredients, spice profiles, and procedures. Oswald’s third category, technical and specialty books, covers single topics like mushrooms, baking, and nutrition. 

Raised in Austria in a setting he calls “paradise,” with a robust vegetable garden and orchards, Oswald likes to explore culinary traditions from around the globe while maintaining his penchant for fresh foods. The first book he purchased for himself was a German cookbook called Nature Kitchen. Now, the healthful meals he serves at Pyramid Bistro are guided by the nutritionally dense principles in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live.

As for the plethora of recipes available online, Oswald prefers to do what he’s done since he began cooking almost 40 years ago—crack open a book. “On the internet, you aren’t sure how many times a recipe has been tested,” he explains. “In a book, you know they have been tested multiple times, plus you are able to learn about the chef and understand the theory behind the recipes—that’s what makes books so powerful.”

If you were hypothetically holed up in a mountain cabin, which three books would you bring?
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Hans Rosling: “It’s good to remind ourselves of the positives.”

Personal History, Katharine Graham: “What she went through is unbelievable; this is one of the more powerful books I’ve read.”

How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, Dr. Michael Greger: “It has so much science and information in it—it’s a book you can read over and over.”


Heidi Zuckerman

Heidi Zuckerman 
CEO and director, Aspen Art Museum 

You might expect Zuckerman’s office walls to be adorned with art. Instead, they’re lined with books—an assortment of titles about fine and decorative art, art theory, and artists that rivals those of major metropolitan libraries. She lights up as her fingers pass over the volumes while relaying stories about when she got specific ones, or where she was in her life or career at the time, adding, “Books, like art, keep you company.”

The collection spans Zuckerman’s time in undergrad and grad schools, as well as studying at Christie’s in London and working at the Berkeley Art Museum. It includes catalogs from exhibitions she’s seen, resource books, and books she’s contributed to or written herself. (Zuckerman authored The Rainbow Hour and Conversations with Artists, with another book due out this fall.) Recently cataloged, the library serves as an invaluable resource to the staff at the Aspen Art Museum. And it provides Zuckerman with plenty of inspiration for her work. “For anyone who’s ever read anything I’ve written, you can completely tell what I’m reading, watching, and listening to, because those ideas infiltrate what I’m thinking about, and I write from a very personal perspective.”

An avid reader since childhood, Zuckerman opts to dive into fiction when she reads for pleasure and has been in the same local book club for 13 years. “I’ve always loved stories,” she says. “That’s part of why I love art, too, because I feel like art tells stories. And I think that one of the things that makes me good at my job is that I’m a good storyteller. Books are a natural companion in that whole process.” 

Also on Zuckerman’s shelves: her childhood copy of Alice in Wonderland. It’s an early edition, complete with leather spine, marbleized paper, and tipped-in color illustrations protected by tissue paper. Now that’s one title you could call a work of art.

 Zuckerman’s Mountain Cabin Reads
The Last Gentleman, Walker Percy: “I love Southern fiction—it’s my first and longest love.” 

When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron: “While this isn’t fiction, diversity is important, and I’ve been reading a lot of Pema Chodron the past few years.”

History of Art, H. W. Janson: “It covers fine and decorative art, which I find very thought-provoking.”


Kitty Boone

Kitty Boone 
Vice president, public programs, Aspen Institute, and executive director, Aspen Ideas Festival 

Growing up as the youngest of five in a literary household, Boone was required to read a book before she could see its movie adaptation with her family—that meant she was tackling tomes like Ben-Hur and Gone with the Wind at 10 years old. She also competed in summer-long family reading competitions. While she could never best her older siblings, she did become an avid reader. “Books expose you to a richness of ideas and a world of creativity,” she says. “Reading teaches you to write, expand your vocabulary, and learn how to make arguments.” 

Boone’s varied library includes a cherished collection of children’s books, made up of titles that her mother read as a child, plus ones that Boone read when young and that her own two children, now grown, enjoyed. “I have treasured older books and new books, spanning from a historic volume of Charles Dickens and an early edition [circa early 1900s] of A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter, to the Harry Potter series and The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo. My hope is that one day my grandchildren will read these wonderful stories.”

The library extends throughout the house, and Boone arranges her books by category. In addition to the children’s literature section, shelves are dedicated to novels, the environment, history, business, contemporary society, and more. 

What Boone reads is critical to the in-depth research involved in shaping content for the Aspen Ideas Festival, including the various program tracks. For example, last year’s track on animals was inspired by a book she read about the genius of birds. 

“Even in our digital world, I look at books every single day,” says Boone, who admits that she recently started listening to works on Audible, too. “They allow authors to grow an idea and go deep into discussions, making them so much more than a quick sound bite.” 

Boone’s Mountain Cabin Reads
Any book by Agatha Christie: “It’s such fun escape literature.”

The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben: “It’s on my bedside table and seems very appropriate for a cabin surrounded by forest.”  

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones: “I might opt for a novelist I haven’t read, and this book was a finalist for the Aspen Words Literary Prize.” 




Filed under
Show Comments