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Worldwide Ace » A Novel Shelf Image

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A Novel Shelf Image

15 April, 2009 (17:43) | Social Commentary

bookshelf

A bookshelf can say a lot about a person. At the very basic level, the quality of the book—paperback or hardcover, well-kempt or well-read, old edition or new—can show how much someone reads. Beyond that, titles and authors indicate inclinations and habits, be it harlequin romances and trashy science fiction or high brow philosophy and the greats of literature.

The same is true of one’s movie collection or music collection, but they carry the same weight as books do. Books are an investment. They take time and skill just to absorb them. They spell out your interests and personality phases more than your music or movie collection. After all, it takes only 45 minutes to an hour to listen to an album and a mere hour or three to watch a movie. A book can be devoured in an afternoon or take a month or two, and every image it leaves imprinted in the mind was created by the mind, not some self-righteous artist or auteur.

On Tuesday, I got a bookshelf. It was ten bucks at Savers and in reasonable condition. I brought it home and stared at the empty shelves. In my closet sat more books than I could fit on a single bookshelf, and I hardly have the space for another in my room. I began to think about what I could do, what people would see when looking at this canvas covered with my personality and history. What was this bookshelf going to say about me?

Would my philosophy books make me look pretentious? Would my children’s books make me look simple minded? Would the two in conjunction make me look too image conscious? Would my sports books be scoffed at or my math and physics books seem geeky?

Trashy fantasy and Douglas Adams; odd scifi and pulp fiction; textbooks and yearbooks; comics and sex guides; my books are as motley as my music and film collections. They clash like country music and rap.

A friend of mine recently moved in with her boyfriend. At their housewarming dinner, he readily admitted keeping two bookshelves: one for books he reads and loves and the other for books he wants to show off. If only I had room for two bookshelves; I could fit all of my books (except for advance copies I got working at B&N), if only.

The truth is that image is a secondary consideration. First and foremost is utility. Books I’m reading or will read go out. Books I want access to in case of an argument or for a writing project go out. Books I love and will reread (Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett/Michael Chabon/Jonathan Lethem) go out. Comic books and guides go out.

After covering all those bases, there’s not much room left to tailor what my bookshelf says about me. I can add in some Asimov or Tolkein for kicks, or garnish a shelf with Hitchcock and Twain, but in the end, my bookshelf is far more utilitarian than I thought it would be.

In any case, my bookshelf is all me.

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  • TheOldBear

    Your to mind a recent essay by Jacob Weinberg, editor-in-chief of Slate, about the rise of electronic books and the Kindle. He writes:

    “The notion that physical books are ending their lifecycle is upsetting to people who hold them to be synonymous with literature. . . . But why should a civilization that reads electronically be any less literate than one that harvests trees to do so? And why should a transition away from the printed page lessen our appreciation and love for printed books? In a world where we do most of our serious reading on screens, books may again thrive as expressions of craft and design. Their decline as useful objects may allow them to flourish as design objects.”

    Apparently, that time may have already arrived in Southern California, where there is a serious business which specializes in helping you decorate with books.:

    “Similar to the way most people purchase drapery fabric by the yard, our collections are offered to fill a particular space. . . Rather than spoil the overall look of your bookcase by trying to fill it with paperbacks and/or ugly nick-knacks, allow us to help! Armed with the correct measurements, we can provide the exact number of books you need to complete your space.”

    And so it's reassuring to know that you are still a traditionalist when it comes to books. As I scan my own bookshelves, I see books which reflect the changing interests of my life: subjects that fascinated me in college; elements of my early career; research for specific projects; things which were of intense interest; experiences like travels and performing arts; and subjects which engage me today.

    You might say that our lives come with unique bibliographies. . . what we read for pleasure, what we read for knowledge, what we read for love.

  • TheOldBear

    Your commentary brings to mind a recent essay by Jacob Weinberg, editor-in-chief of Slate, about the rise of electronic books and the Kindle. He writes:

    “The notion that physical books are ending their lifecycle is upsetting to people who hold them to be synonymous with literature. . . . But why should a civilization that reads electronically be any less literate than one that harvests trees to do so? And why should a transition away from the printed page lessen our appreciation and love for printed books? In a world where we do most of our serious reading on screens, books may again thrive as expressions of craft and design. Their decline as useful objects may allow them to flourish as design objects.”

    Apparently, that time may have already arrived in Southern California, where there is a serious business which specializes in helping you decorate with books.:

    “Similar to the way most people purchase drapery fabric by the yard, our collections are offered to fill a particular space. . . Rather than spoil the overall look of your bookcase by trying to fill it with paperbacks and/or ugly nick-knacks, allow us to help! Armed with the correct measurements, we can provide the exact number of books you need to complete your space.”

    And so it's reassuring to know that you are still a traditionalist when it comes to books. As I scan my own bookshelves, I see books which reflect the changing interests of my life: subjects that fascinated me in college; elements of my early career; research for specific projects; things which were of intense interest; experiences like travels and performing arts; and subjects which engage me today.

    You might say that our lives come with unique bibliographies. . . what we read for pleasure, what we read for knowledge, what we read for love.