Fore-Edge Play - Is Turning Your Books Around Backwards Art?
- by Michael Stillman
A better way to display your books?
Backward facing books? Apparently, it has become the rage, or outrage. It all depends upon your point of view. The trend, at least among the trendy, is to place your books backwards on a bookshelf. Fore edges are finally getting their due. The spine goes to the back, where it cannot be seen, while the fore edge is exposed.
Why? Evidently, it has something to do with art. Exactly what is hard for some of us to understand. However, "why" is a question that should never be asked when it comes to art. It implies there is a rational answer. Art is not accountable to reason. This is fortunate, because if reason were applied here, it would clearly say this is a dumb idea. Seriously, how are you supposed to find a book this way?
The explanation for the beauty in viewing books backwards is that it provides a more consistent, neutral appearance. The spines can be all sorts of different, clashing colors, and have such unattractive features as words on them. Unless the fore edge has been colored, or worse yet, features a fore-edge painting, putting books on a shelf backwards will present a consistent, neutral, off-white look. It will match your neutral, off-white walls that real estate agents say buyers desire in a house. Of course, this begs the question why have these books in the first place? Why not just have more neutral wall instead of a neutral bookshelf? Perhaps the answer is this enables you to store old books you will never read again without taking up closet space. Or maybe this is another reminder that we shouldn't be asking "why" questions when it comes to art.
This trend is somewhat reminiscent of another trend that appears still to be going strong - buying books by the foot. This is where you buy a bunch of old books that no one wants to read to fill your bookshelf. Usually, they will be based on a theme. Often, that theme will be color. You buy only red books or blue books, which is a bit more daring than the typical colorless fore edge. Alternatively, you might buy them based on subject matter. You can fill your bookshelf with physics books, which implies you are erudite, someone with a passion for the same type of learning as Einstein. Others will buy books based on size, providing a uniformity of appearance similar to a row of off-white edges.
While artistic expression is a matter of taste, and there is no right or wrong when it comes to taste, it does say something about the person. For example, what if you start a new trend with paintings, where you turn the paintings on your walls around? Perhaps that will show you are on the cutting edge of artistic appreciation, but I'm more likely to interpret that as an expression of what you think of your paintings. They suck. Or, how about if you turn those family photographs we all have on our walls around? Does that say something about your artistic taste, or about what you think of your family? Try it and see what your spouse or children say. So, doesn't turning your books around say something similar about your feelings toward your books? Just wondering.