It was bound to happen. With the publication and storage of books in paperless formats, those who like to decorate their homes with books, or actually have a “library,” are in trouble. Does one place one’s I-Pad in the center of an otherwise bare bookshelf? Or perhaps create a photo of the attractive shelf display on the screen and blow it up?
I opened this month’s Good Housekeeping magazine’s quarterly decorating supplement with some anticipation, as there was a feature titled “By the Book,” purporting to show old-style library design ideas. Its preview tease: “The look of a library whispers old-world charm: the endless rows of volumes, the comfy spots to curl up in, an old clock or globe tucked on the shelf.” Then I turned the page. There was a lovely picture of a wall of books, fronted by a chaise longue and a sideboard topped with decanters and glassware. The caption told me I could buy that lovely wall background for only $70 a roll (of trompe l’oeil wallpaper). On the next page, there was a set of beautifully bound books by Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, casually arranged on an end-table: “novels reworked into stylish boxes to stash clutter.” In the entire article, full of enticing photos, I counted exactly one real book, placed on the chaise longue but unopened. At least I think it was a real book.
I suppose this decorating idea is just a modern take on the old world aristocrat’s library full of beautiful leather bound volumes with uncut pages. And a lot cheaper! But how does the young poor relative sneak in at night and educate herself? Or how can the lost will be slipped among the pages? (I guess that can go in the clutter box.)
As a purveyor of old books, I have had my share of experiences with those who view books as ornaments. I have had several requests for leather bound books, no matter what the subject matter, to fill shelves at home, or as table decorations. I sold a complete set of book club leather bound classics for their value as décor. I once had a young couple poring over every hardbound book on my shelves. When I asked if I could help them find what they were looking for, it was “books with pretty jackets for our bookshelves.” At least these people wanted real books. And it does show that the book jacket can help sell the book, even if it will never be read.
Several years ago I carried a book called Decorating With Books by House Beautiful magazine. It was a large and somewhat expensive book and sold slowly, so I did not reorder when sold out. Inspired by the faux wallpaper this week, I found that it was still in print and ordered more copies. It soothed my ruffled feathers a bit. In addition to various styles of shelving with carefully arranged volumes interspersed with knick-knacks, it shows books piled on top of shelving units, stacked on coffee and end tables, and on the floor. One caption: “Anyone for whom bookcases seem overly structured can choose to stack books on tabletops, cupboards and even the floor….In this workspace, neat piles…form a tower in a nook beside the window.” Most soothing is the fact that the pictures are all of real books.
My perusal of Good Housekeeping and House Beautiful is really just escape into fantasy. The reality of decorating with books in my house is creating four stacks of equal height from the overflow of the shelves, putting a lamp on top, and calling it an end table. Finding discreet places to hide the spillover, once the closets are full, is a challenge beyond any decorator.
Decorating With Books was published in 2006, although the new edition is from 2011. A lot has changed in the publishing world in even these few years, but I hope the trend of substituting wallpaper for shelving is temporary. Even those who seek out books for their physical (and three dimensional) beauty rather than their content express some sense of their worth. Will publishers still design beautiful covers if they will only be seen on an icon on a tiny screen? Will we live with nostalgic faux décor of “libraries” and view the real objects in museums? On the positive side, those of us who sell used books should see an uptick in business as these rare objects are sought out.
And now my own “teasers” for upcoming posts. My friend Pam Contractor, a free-lance editor and mystery fan, will be filling in for me for the next two weeks, as I attend an out of town wedding and then help host a town-wide event in Flemington, highlighting new findings in the Lindbergh kidnapping case. Pam is a discerning and insightful reader, and I think you will enjoy her observations. She and I plan to do a “back and forth” on some aspects of the mystery genre in blog posts later this year.
The next time I post here, it will be from Bouchercon. I’m sure there will much to report!