Decorating With Books
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.