Don Lemon Organizes His Books by Color

“I was doing it before Zoom bookshelves were a thing,” says the CNN host and author of “This Is the Fire.” “Interior designers eat your hearts out.”

What books are on your night stand?

“The Fire Next Time,” by James Baldwin; “Giovanni’s Room,” by James Baldwin; “Four Hundred Souls,” edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain; “It’s Up to Us,” by John Kasich; and “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World,” by Fareed Zakaria.

What’s the last great book you read?

“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Isabel Wilkerson. I’m not sure how much I even need to say about this book. This is the first book since Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” to broaden my knowledge on racism in America — and how America is both influenced by and has influenced racism the world over. By approaching the subject through casteism she expands the lens and graciously gives us a new perspective and perhaps a more fitting definition to tackle America’s original sin.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

I watched a ton of classic movies during quarantine. But there was one that stood out so much that I had to go read the book. “East of Eden,” by John Steinbeck.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

The ideal reading experience is a Sunday afternoon in fall or winter with PJs, fur-lined slippers, a roaring wood-burning fireplace, WBGO Jazz 88 playing quietly in the background with a good book in hand and the Sunday New York Times in reach.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

I’m not sure no one has heard of it, but I’d have to say it’s “Power vs. Force,” by David R. Hawkins. You’d have to read it to understand my love for it. The books of his that follow are “Transcending the Levels of Consciousness” and “The Eye of the I.” I suggest everyone read them.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

I admire a number of people. But I don’t want to name them because I’m afraid of leaving someone out. I’ll just say this — I honestly feel like great writers never die. The proof of that is when new audiences find the work, pick it up and carry it into the next generations, the next decades, even the next centuries. Just look at James Baldwin, who is being rediscovered 50 years after he was a living revolutionary. Black people revered Baldwin when he was alive and never forgot him nor his work. He’s not new to us. White audiences are just discovering him. It is fantastic that he has as much influence now as then. That speaks to his talent and genius. I’ll say it again, good writers, critics, journalists, poets never die.

What book, if any, most influenced your decision to become a journalist?

I’d have to say “Invisible Man,” by Ralph Ellison, influenced my decision because I wanted to be seen and wanted people to hear the truth from someone who looks like me.

Do you count any books as guilty pleasures? Or comfort reads?

Both. Any of my self-help and new-agey books are guilty pleasures to me. They’re like instant sermons. However, I do have comfort reads: anything by Jamaica Kincaid. “The Autobiography of My Mother” is just beyond. “At Bottom of the River” is spiritual. Her writing reminds me of home in Louisiana and the mighty Mississippi River that dominated my childhood.

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

“The Fire Next Time” brought me closer to my fiancé. He read it and really began to talk to me about the book and race. It’s a beautiful thing.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

I learned from “Four Hundred Souls” that my ancestors arrived here on a slave ship before the Mayflower. Just because I went to a Black Catholic elementary and middle school, which drilled Black history into us, I thought I knew more about our history than most. Alas, I was wrong.

Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

I wish more authors would weave full and true American history into their work. There’s an awful lot that was left out, fabricated and embellished to favor certain people and diminish others. That’s really where “the conversation” around racism should start — at the beginning.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

I just love good writing. The way some people put words on the page can be as beautiful as Aretha, Whitney or Judy’s voices, as haunting as Coltrane’s sax, as riveting as Cicely or Bette onscreen.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

Although I recently read a classic for the first time, I usually shy away from them. Been there, done that in college or at the movies.

How do you organize your books?

I do organize my books, but not alphabetically or by subject. I like to create interesting shapes and colors on the shelves. I was doing it before Zoom bookshelves were a thing. Interior designers eat your hearts out.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I think people would be surprised to find so many new-agey books on my shelf. I also keep trinkets and gifts there like signed footballs from N.F.L. quarterbacks and the fire engine red Michael Jackson “This Is It” picture book box set complete with white glove. His estate sent it to me after I covered his funeral and the controversy surrounding his death.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

People send me books all the time. I really can’t remember.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

The only novels I remember reading as a child were “Moby-Dick” and “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” I went to Catholic school. We read the Bible a lot. The first book I ever read was a “Dick and Jane” primer. “See Dick run. Run Dick run.”

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

My reading tastes haven’t really changed. I love good writing no matter the subject. I just don’t get to read as much anymore as I did before anchoring a two-hour daily show. There’s just not enough time.

What book would you recommend for America’s current political moment?

I don’t mean to be self-promoting but I’d have to say my book, “This Is the Fire.” That’s why I wrote it.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Obvious answer: Baldwin, Morrison and Capote.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

I hate to say this, but Harry Potter for all of the above. It really sucks, too, because there are often Harry Potter clues in New York Times crossword puzzles. I never know the answers.

How do you decide what to read next? Is it reviews, word-of-mouth, books by friends, books for research? Does it depend on mood or do you plot in advance?

I get a lot of recommendations from friends. Reviews don’t matter so much to me. If I like it I like it.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

I feel like I should read a lot more Whitman. Maybe when I retire or actually get to take more than one week off at a time.

What do you plan to read next?

“All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson. A friend recommended it as we were talking by phone just before I began answering these questions.

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