The place we keep our treasured books varies from reader to writer, providing inspiration and research, but who knew bookshelves were such an aesthetic trend?
According to Madison Malone Kircher in her New York Times article of Jan 16, 2024, social media platforms have been having a field day with people who own a huge number of books and how they “stage” them. The term “bookshelf wealth” is bandied about, too.
Here’s a direct quote: “If you’ve ever seen a Nancy Meyers movie, the look might ring a bell. Warm and welcoming. Polished, but not stuffy. A bronze lamp here. A vintage vase there (with fresh-cut flowers, of course). Perhaps there is a cozy seating area near the floor-to-ceiling display, with an overstuffed couch topped with tasteful throw pillows.”
What happened to buying books to READ by authors you admire or will come to enjoy, or for learning about something new, or for delving into someone’s life? (Big sigh) If my shelves are sprinkled with family and friend and dog photos, it’s because those are the things I want near me when I work, not because of their price tag. They’re inspiration for me, all of those gorgeous words I’ve read and admired.
My three walls of bookshelves do not include the additional rack of those waiting to be reviewed by the side of my desk, nor the towering stacks in our bedroom, waiting for my insomniac reading. What they do have is the one thing I’d set my heart on when we built our house: a ladder from the Putnam Rolling Ladder Company in New York, which I convinced my husband was essential for reaching the tops of the nine-foot shelves we were building into the library nook where our desk sits in the middle. Yes, I share a desk with my husband, an antique oak partner’s desk from the 1920s. The ladder is below:
Another thing my bookshelves show: all of the book spines are facing OUT so I can read the titles/authors and actually find the book I’m looking for. Practicality aside, this is a lovely part of a book’s cover. I cannot understand the new fashion of placing books with the pages out with no way to ascertain which book one is looking at. I recently emailed an HGTV designer whose projects I admire except for her habit of placing books with their spines against the wall. I asked why that was a trend, as it negated any useful searching for actual reading. I actually received a reply from a production assistant, who explained that when she asked said designer, she said they were worried about ‘copyright infringement’ if they displayed a book spine out without the authors’ permission. (I’m thinking these are books bought at estate sales in lots and they don’t want viewers seeing a mixed bag of titles, but I may be wrong.)Trinity College, Dublin: note the books face out!
Still, that excuse sounds hokey to me. What author would object to seeing his or her book on a television shows’ shelves, if they could even be distinguished at that distance? I thanked the PA for her answer but told her I knew plenty of authors who would gladly send a copy of their book to be displayed properly.She didn’t take me up on it…
And that makes me think that people who like this look backwards look (sorry if I’m mistaken) are not reading those books, keeping them to savor and re-read, or perhaps loan to a reading friend, but using them as a trendy sign of acquisition, that dreaded “bookwealth.”
I‘m dotty about books and papers, I’m the first to admit. I love a good pen and nice stationary and pretty notecards. I inhale the scent of a shelf of vintage books, the old inks and paper covers curled and maybe slightly moldy. The idea of spending time in a used bookstore thrills me, scouring for treasure.
A few years ago, one of my writing group members and myself visited Powell’s in Portland, OR, the world’s largest independent bookstore. Heavenly. We separated and met in the main lobby hours later, staggering under our filled bags, hardly sated. When I lived in New York, I’d lumber out of a visit to The Strand with multiple book bags chock full of those that simply couldn’t be left behind. Plus a few journals or notebooks, or maybe a cute pair of Alice in Wonderland socks, just because. And don’t get me started on pens. Both Michele Dorsey and Susan Breen have blogged here about these items with good reason. We are smitten.
I find that photos of large and gorgeous libraries all over the world intrigue me, too, and frequently post them on my Facebook page. They go onto a bucket list in case I’m ever in that part of the world. Who wouldn’t want to visit the libraries in great cities, to simply look on in awe and take a deep breath of all of that goodness? One of my favorite places to stop by when I’m back in NY is the Morgan Library, above, for that aesthetic pleasure of being surrounded by all of those books in that gorgeous setting. And yes, I freely admit I almost swooned many years ago when taking the oath to read in the Bodleian Library’s Radcliffe Camera, above, surrounded by original broadsheets of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. It’s a sickness of sorts to love books the way I do. I suspect I am not alone in this . . .
Our bookshelves are all oak and there are lot of them. After twenty years in this house, I recently did a nice cleanout and donated and gave away carton upon carton of books to our library and to reading friends in other states who would then donate them to their library. I kept my most favorite authors near me, but as my husband said, really I just made room for all the new ones I’d soon be adding in.
He’s right. I recently decided all of that oak needed to be broken up, so I’ve been using swatches of peel and stick wallpaper in different designs to line just the back shelves. You can’t see a lot of the paper because they’re covered with, well, books. But when a bit of color peeks above a stack, I smile. It’s my way of personalizing all of that wood that supports the tangible thing I love most.
Readers, do you have a favorite library to visit? And what are your thoughts on the way books are placed on shelves? Be honest!