when i fired up the ol' laptop yesterday morning, i hadn't planned to hate on tina fey; turning on the half of saturday night live we'd recorded the night before derailed me. i'd intended to criticize something even more objectively innocuous - that is, overstyled bookshelves. i loathe them, especially when they're arranged...god, it hurts just to say it...by color.

now, i'll be the first to admit that our shelves could use some styling. our lone bookcase is jammed, and the good stuff is squeezed between weird publisher's freebies and things we've been too lazy to throw away.* books aside, i don't even like half of the tchotchkes we're rocking here:

the (top half of the) bookcase

one can get stuck at the other end of the spectrum. i acknowlege this - but that's not the end we're here to hate.

back to arranging by color. would you be anxious to eat with someone who arranged his pantry that way? i wouldn't make sweeping assumptions about someone's literacy based on the color thing, but i would assume (until i had reason to think otherwise) that their books' appearance was more important than their contents. that they might be the sort of people who get books by the foot at the strand.**

i'm not saying one should ignore books' physical properties altogether. lord knows i love the smell of old leather and binding, the monstrous weight of oversized art books, and - yes - the visual impact of covers. these colorful cookbooks strike that last note nicely: they're already grouped by content, so arranging for visual impact doesn't compromise anything. the celebrated "rainbow bookshelf," though - [meatloaf] no, no, no, i won't do that. [/meatloaf]

again, i'm probably overreacting. what do you think when you do the shelf scan (and you know you do) at someone else's place? what do yours look like, and why?

*i haven't been able to get rid of books since college, when the bookstore wanted to buy our expensive textbooks back for pennies on the dollar (oh hell no). i always think of that when i hear frank black's "headache" ("this wrinkle in time / can't give it no credit..."). then i think of how my mother is still storing 75% of my books at her tiny house in davis, and how i am a worthless daughter.

**books by the foot are wildly useful if you're creating a stage or film set, mind you. for personal collections, though? why would you let someone else have the fun of building your hoard?


uncle paul said...

Well, you know grad school; the shelf scan is our primate greeting. One is curious about how things are organized; one is also curious about material that doesn't fit the person's stated research area and might therefore indicate an actual personality.

The rainbow shelf has left me unmanned. I don't shrink at aestheticizing objects for colorful display (say these fellows, but not the books, man! The absence of black, brown, dun, or otherwise undistinguished colors also leads me to believe that the books were purchased with an eye toward their place in the rainbow coalition, rather than being a creative rearrangement of an existing collection.

These pictures have encouraged me to get in touch with America about the lengths to which the lady and I have carried things... http://www.metameat.net/pathology/

enjelani said...

for some reason my first response was to remember this:


and he doesn't even have color-coordinated bookshelves. but that's the kind of alarm that it set off.

lauren said...

i should not care about such things, paul, but i love variegated green so very much that your loeb classical library texts bring a tear to my eye. and the pop of latin red!

i won't even talk about what i would do to have that much book-room.

i was wondering about the lack of unpretty there, too, and where it would fall on the visual spectrum: ROYGBIVnorton?

uncle paul said...

Hey, I care about such things - love of the objects, and not my pitiful knowledge of Greek, has a lot to do with all those Loebs sneaking into the house. They've been published in the same format since like 1917, and time wears at them in different ways.

Speaking of the Greeks, I want to know what happens on the inside of "Action Philosophers!" Whose ass does Plato kick?

jacob said...

"*i haven't been able to get rid of books since college..."

that's a lie - those chuck klosterman books (shudder) you dropkicked to me made very nice kindling in my fireplace. of course, that last statement is also a lie - i sold them in state college to a used book store. to the eternal shame of the penn state undergraduate population, they were (re)sold within a week.

lauren said...

@paul: the plato details are hazy, though i do recall he coined the phrase "PLATO SMASH!" - and that socrates got the crap kicked out of him prior to the hemlock ("dialect this, mofo!"). i do know that action philosophers! #1 is the only wrestling-themed issue: #2 is 'The "All Sex Special", featuring Ayn Rand, Thomas Jefferson, & Saint Augustine,' and so on.

@jacob: i can give them away, i just can't bargain them away. if you want to read and/or sell, say, my autographed copy of pamela anderson's novel, i will happily inflict that on you as well.

uncle paul said...

Wow. I guess out of those three I would have to pick Jefferson, since at the point when Augustine was presumably good in bed he wasn't yet a philosopher.

jen said...

i contribute to the discussion with a link to my dream bookshelf: http://www.geekologie.com/2008/02/i_really_really_want_bad_books.php

re: lau's **: i agree wholeheartedly - books by the foot are fine for stage and film sets (ahem, having made those very purchases myself), but at home, the fun of the hoard is, in part, my own snobbery: i've actually read all of the books on my shelves. they are like little paperback merit badges, awards for each bite of knowledge i've absorbed. there's a special shelf for the books-to-be-read and reference books that only get dipped into but not fully digested. those books aren't allowed to play with the other books.

and that craigslist roommate post HAS to be fake. i've been reading craigslist housing postings a lot lately, tho, and they do scare me.

wabes said...

i may be putting myself in to doghouse for this, but i know at least one booky boy who has a very extensive organized-by-color bookshelf..and he is decidedly not a books-by-the-foot kind of person. i think it has to do more with combining colors and spatial memory than it does with fashion or color coordination -- at least, as a spatial memory/books-by-author organizer, it made some sense to me. and i don't think it's ROYGBIV bookshelf - so it didn't jump out and bite me when i visited last summer. perhaps just a happy medium between not knowing where the books are, and going to the trouble of alphabetizing them? the "gah!" reaction from some people definitely produces a quirky smile, though...might just be for the irony.

tom said...

Concur in part, dissent in part with Jen -- I love the idea of Books By The Foot. Yes, if you are going to spend $400 for books that are all leathery and look nice, you are a moron (or, as noted earlier, a theater production type and certainly not a moron). But somebody completely at random takes eight or ten classics (of which you maybe read two in high school, and three in college) and you pay him $80. And these are things that you would necessarily search out, but somebody just gives them to you and says, "yo, dummy -- read this." That's awesome.

lauren said...


But somebody completely at random takes eight or ten classics (of which you maybe read two in high school, and three in college) and you pay him $80. And these are things that you would necessarily search out, but somebody just gives them to you and says, "yo, dummy -- read this." That's awesome.

actually, that's CIV - which, when we were undergrads, broke down to about $85/hr. coincidence? ;)

i see what you mean about the reading list aspect, but it would be far cheaper to, say, go online, grab one of the zillions of the "100 best books in the universe ever" lists, and then go wild at the library / local used bookstore / alibris.com. there's a bit more grunt work involved, and obviously that's antithetical to the spirit of books by the foot, but it lessens the likelihood of you ending up with classics you hate. if i paid the strand $80 and ended up with a dozen hawthornes and hemingways, for instance, i'd be livid. maybe the middle ground would be to go to a reputable used bookstore, find a kind-looking employee, and ask them to pick x number of classic books for you? people asked that of me when i worked at the The Little SF Bookstore That Could all the time, and i was happy to oblige.

tom said...

actually, that's CIV...

[sound of tea being spurted onto office wall]