If a library is a mirror of a personality, then a photograph of a shelf is a sort of selfie. In that spirit we bring you the shelfie: a series of self-portraits with books. We’re kicking off the series with Valerio Massimo Visintin, the (ever icognito) gastronomic critic for the Corriere della Sera, author of the guide Pappa Milano, the novel L’ombra del cuoco e the unforgettable , Osti sull’orlo di una crisi di nervi. – How long have you been accumulating cook books? Do you remember the first one you bought? I would be lying were I to tell you that I am a true cook book collector. There are, however, a couple of books on my shelves that I deem fundamental, even beyond their specific gastronomic interest. In no particular order they are: Le ricette regionali italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda, a precious encyclopedic study of traditional italian cooking and the Contaminuti by Elena Spagnol, a rare example of irony and literary delicacy applied to bare bones gastronomical didacticism. – How many books make up your personal gastronomical library? I receive many gastronomical books, but I’m a man with an advanced case of disorganization. I tend to forget them in the more remote corners of my study where they flourish rather like plants. It would be difficult to hazard a figure. – Do you collect books in more than one language? I speak, read and write in a single idiom, something about which I am moderately ashamed. – Where do you keep your books and how are they organized? Do you have a system for ferreting out the single tome quickly or does that tend to become a scavenger hunt? The books that I love are lined up on the four green shelves in front of me and their order is precarious, but functional. Others, to which I am even more intimately attached, crowd my desk in piles rather like towers. The rest is a sort of featureless sea. – Would you define yourself as a serial accumulator or do you, from time to time, eliminate books of less interest to you? How do you imagine your library in 20 years from now? I accumulate from laziness. When the towers of tomes reach a sort of danger level, I weed or give books away without regret. I think it’s a symptom of middle age: one becomes more attached to memories and loses interest in objects. In 20 years perhaps I will have morphed into a book. – Are you interested in culinary APPs and/or e-books? Do you think the time will come when you will abandon paper for digital media? I like books on paper, though I don’t fetishize them. They offer, I think a different point of view with respect to e-books. Touch shortens distance, allows one to absorb, induces reading that is more profound and alienating from one’s surroundings. This is the real advantage of narrative. For books intended for study or consultation, for how-to books or recipe collections (to remain on-message) the situation is the opposite. The practicality of the electronic trumps the allure of a volume made of paper and glue. – Are you possessive about your books? Do you lend them? I am terribly possessive about the books I love and never lend them even if implored or threatened. In the best case scenario, I buy another copy (if the book is still in print) and make a gift of it. – Do you ever make gifts of cook books? I recycle the ones people give me (but that should remain just between the two of us…). – Do you write in your books? Do you add notes to recipes you’ve tried, insert comments about the text or criticisms of the author? Never. I was brought up to respect books as though they were an inheritance that should remain untouched. I’ve remained consistently true to that imprinting, however, I do tend to stuff books with lots of little paper bookmarks. – Do cook books ever make it to your bedside table? Where do you prefer to read them? I read cookbooks in the kitchen. On my bedside table I tend to keep reading material that does not stimulate the appetite. Otherwise, how would I ever get any sleep? – Is there a particular cookbook you would like to possess, but have never been able to find? The precious recipe collection of the extraordinary chef Vincenzo Prezzo (utterly un-findable, given that he’s a person of my own invention, a symbol of a particular kind of gastronomic derailment characteristic of haute cuisine). – In the case of a disaster in which you could only save five titles from your gastronomic library, what would you choose? Why? Sorry, but I can’t arrive at five titles. Beyond the two already cited at the outset of this interview (Le ricette regionali italiane and the Contaminuti), I would save Artusi (La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiare bene) and the little notebook of handwritten recipes left by my mother. The latter won’t be found on my dusty shelves as it has been lovingly conserved by my sister. Its physical location is not really the issue: in my heart, I’ll always have it with me.