Decorating With Books
You can purchase books suitable for decorating from Book Décor.
By Michael Stillman
There was an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram a little while back that addresses books and book collecting in a way that makes me a bit uncomfortable. The issue involves the purpose of books, or books as sources of knowledge versus books as objects. It's a dichotomy that probably crosses the minds of most book collectors at some point, and I suspect most address it by believing, or perhaps convincing themselves, that their collecting serves both purposes.
Here is the issue more bluntly. Books were created to be read, to impart wisdom, knowledge, and information. However, collectors do not necessarily collect them for the intended purpose. They may never read the books they collect. They may have a passion for the physical object; spend millions of dollars to obtain it. Yet, that totally misses the intention of the author, who probably only received a few pennies for that book and ended up dying in poverty. The author wanted to impart something of great import to the book's owner, and now the owner, who spent more to obtain that book than the author made in his lifetime, doesn't even bother to read it!
I have books which I value though I have never read them. However, I have, at least, looked through them, skimmed their pages, enjoyed the illustrations. And, they are about topics with which I have a reasonable amount of familiarity, though I certainly don't know everything the author wrote. I have, sort of, managed to find a way to justify my interest in having the book without making the effort to read it. Naturally, with collectible books, I have the excuse of not wanting to cause the wear and tear that actually reading them would inflict. Through some twists in logic, I have somehow managed to justify my owning the book even in light of my, for the most part, ignoring the author's purpose.
So now, the Star-Telegram informs us of a type of collecting that essentially breaks all connections with the author's role in the book, the writing within. The book becomes object and nothing more. It is strictly a decoration, a piece of furniture, but with no utilitarian purpose. It cites an example where books were placed on a shelf backwards, spines in, fore-edges out, useless for identification, but neater and more uniform in appearance. Others pile them on tables (I guess to look learned), use them to raise table lamps higher, or create color schemes based on the books' colors. My favorite is a company called Book Decor. Rather than buying books the old fashioned way, by the title, you can buy them by the foot. Danish books go for $100 per foot, German ones $150 per foot, while French ones (everything French is expensive) will set you back $200 per foot. There's nothing about American books, which is sad, as I have many feet of them that I would part with for far less. Perhaps I need to sell mine in Europe. You can visit Book Decor by clicking the following link: www.bookdecor.com.
Decorating With Books
Now, I am appalled by this sort of collecting. But why should I be? I barely skim many of my books before sticking them on a shelf. Is the reason guilt? Is the problem that the person who buys books by the foot is not that different from me, and I find this acutely embarrassing? Maybe the problem is that the "by the foot" collector is not being "politically correct" by pretending their intention is to read the books.
Of course, there is a very respected category of collector who long ago threw out any pretenses of reading their books. These are the collectors of fine bindings and such; collectors of limited edition reprints of old books neither they, nor probably anyone else, would care to actually read any more. There are private presses which make their living by catering to this market. I never really understood the appeal of this type of book, but perhaps it is not that different from my type of collecting. Both treat the book as an object. It's just that I attempt to genuflect to the subject matter of the book a bit more vigorously. But, so what?
I think the problem lies in the nature of books, and this is what makes me uncomfortable with treating them strictly as objects. Books have an almost sacred purpose. They have been the means by which we have conveyed our knowledge, history, who we are, to our contemporaries and descendants. It is what is inside of them that matters, not the physical object.
As a comparison, I have a small collection of old bottles. I display them with no guilt of having never used, nor planned to use them for their intended purpose: holding liquid. Should the brewer look upon me with disdain? Of course not. Would I feel unhappy with someone displaying a collection of old television sets, that once brought their owners the news of the world, but that no longer functioned as intended? No. Yet I am uncomfortable with displaying books with no thought of ever using them for their intended purpose. I'm not sure whether I am inconsistent, elitist, or justified in this feeling. Perhaps the difference is displaying books seems to imply that one read them, while displaying old bottles does not imply that you drank the contents, or old TVs that you ever watched them. Maybe I have no business feeling this way about "books by the foot." But that doesn't stop me.
Editor's Note: This article has generated several comments in the "Letters to the Editor." Click the following link to see them: Click here.