The new Facebook wall is a bookshelf

Posted on by exant and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

A House to Look Smart In

The most interesting part of this article is the lack of an ironic and mocking tone. If I wrote that article it would read “look at these status-obsessed weirdos who buy books by the foot that they’ll never read.” And most other articles about the books-by-the-foot industry do exactly that.

What this article signifies then, is a shift in the perception of the books-by-the-foot industry, at least among the aspirational class that subscribes to the WSJ to get the iPad app. Notice the real purpose of curating your two-story architect-designed library: it isn’t just to impress guests or program your future Ivy Leaguer (both valid reasons, of course), people build these fire hazards to get away from electronics and to have real communication with their friends and family.

The problem wasn’t with the TV, Facebook, or your iPad.

The headline shows you everything you need to know about what the WSJ thinks of its readers, and the article’s comments show that the readers agree: it’s not your fault you and yours are uneducated, distracted and can’t keep it up, you just haven’t architected your Versailles-style library yet. But hey, someday! Until then, is there a good public domain e-reader app on the iPad? I want to read some Hemmingway and ignore my wife. 

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20 Responses to The new Facebook wall is a bookshelf

  1. There’s a bit of a trap in these kinds of stories. On the one hand the easy criticism to make is that these pseudo-intelletuals are using books as a status symbol only– the books are merely decorative. Fair enough. On the other hand is our own reactions to such a story, where we’re angry about the use of these books– as if the books have themselves some intrinsic value, which they don’t. The books are, in fact, decorative. No one who actually reads The Bros K reads it in a leatherbound edition.

    So the point of a leatherbound book (outside of monetary or heirloom value) is always decorative. We’re angry that these guys are using these books…. properly.

    The original point in this post is that the guys are only pretending to a level of literacy, and I’d mostly agree, though even wanting to be associated with “great books” probably puts you in a different category than wanting to be associated with, say…… “comic books.”

    If this doesn’t make sense, consider this: the books aren’t 1st editions– they are made today in faux-leather to simulate the old books. What do you think of this? If they were first editions, would you then let it slide because at least there’s some value in it as a collectible? But then again, the book is merely decorative.

    • Supastaru says:

      “the point of a leatherbound book (outside of monetary or heirloom value) is always decorative”

      I agree. That’s why in Paris, for example, there are restaurants which have entire walls filled with old leatherbound books.

    • qubitman says:

      This reminds me of how pissed off I was at that Times cover with the breastfeeding mom. “You’re better than this, Times, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

      I realized my perception of the dignity and quality of Times was imagined. You seem to be talking about the same kind of thing here, right?

    • Guy Fox says:

      There’s a trap to these kind of comments. On the one hand they take the venom out by shifting the focus from the media narrative and back to the ‘function’ of the objects. Fair enough. On the other hand, in deconstructing our emotional reaction to the narrative, they reconstruct the ideology and carelessness behind the ‘function’.

      Sure, these books are decorative, and in almost no case will they be first editions, so where do they come from? I haven’t checked, but I’d be astounded if they came from some artisanal basement workshop in Boston/Antwerp rather than some infested attic sweatshop in Dhaka/Pnhom Penh. Ask an artisan book binder what a foot of his work costs, and he’ll impale you on his metre stick. If you read the ingredients and pretend to know what ‘sodium benzoate’ is, does that make it okay to feed the monkey? And getting really profane, these things are about as useful as Swarovski/Remington Mint figurines, right? The difference is in what happens to them when you’re too old to move them yourself. You blow ten large on crystal figurines, and your heirs only have to worry about a moving box worth of stuff to put on ebay. With these books, you’re literally leaving a huge burden. You’re saddling them with a ton or two of airport art. If they were first editions, at least they’d potentially have investment value. It would be nothing to get the cats at Pimco hot and bothered, but an aesthete with no head for figures could do okay investing in stuff like wine and first edition Scottish Enlightenment.

      And the idea that even wanting to be associated with “great books” probably puts you in a different category than wanting to be associated with, say…… “comic books.” is pretty insidious. Wouldn’t it be better for this ‘connaisseur’s’ kids to learn from a guy with a genuine passion for Radioactive Man or model trains than a contrived fetish for leather (-bound books). It sounds like TLP’s been listening too much to the 1st class letter-writing advocate mentioned in the next post.

      exant has a point. The choice to curate these oversized faux bibliophile curio cabinets is a choice not to do other things. It’s a diversion. Can the aesthetic effect possibly compensate for the lost time and resources? If so, the curator is sad and Alone.

      • ThomasR says:

        I doubt that TLP’s point about wanting to be associated with “great books” vs comic books puts people in different categories was to say that one is better than the other. I read his comment simply as saying that the type of person who pretends to be literate and well read is probably not the same type of person who loves comic books.

        And I do think it could make a difference if the books were 1st editions. A person might collect 1st editions because he genuinely loves books, has read them previously, and just wants a nice copy of them for his own pleasure. It might be for the same reason as purchase the faux leather-bounds, but it might not.

    • CubaLibre says:

      Leatherbound books are: 1. leatherbound (decorative); 2. books (not decorative). My dad has a shelf of leatherbound books that he bought one at a time every month through some mail-order place, and you can bet he’s read them. You can also bet I read (some of) them when I was a kid, living in his house and hungry for literature. The first time I read the Iliad, the Lord of the Rings, Treasure Island, a smattering of Dickens, and many others, I read them out of those decorative leatherbound editions. It’s true they look nice on the shelf. But that’s not the only reason my dad bought them.

  2. Guy Fox says:

    FWIW, the same thing is happening with music. Many classical records now have titles that read like Buzzfeed articles: The 50 Most Essential Tchaikovsky Masterpieces; The Classical Encyclopedia: Vivaldi; Essential Chamber Music, etc. Here the message seems to be “We know you don’t have time to get to know what you like, but we’ll give you what you need to pass the test or cocktail party or whatever.” Another recent-ish trend is classical mood compilations: The 50 Darkest String Pieces of Classical Music; Classical Moods: Joy; The Ultimate Classical Royal Wedding Album. Here the message seems to be “We know the whole music thing is complicated, but we’ll tell you right on the cover what to expect in here. Nothing scary; just happy/sad/uplifting/relaxing music written by dead composers and played by some teenager’s synthesizer.” And it’s a safe bet that Rachmaninov couldn’t get a gig nowadays because he doesn’t look like David Garrett.

    While you could just say ‘So what? So classical has just become pop music, you elitist pr…”, it would be a false equivalence. For example, it’s impossible to dumb Ke$ha down. Nobody who hears one of her songs is going to think it’s saying much; the potential for self-deception is negligible. But if you just tick songs dutifully off a list (or just have them on a playlist visible in social media you never actually listen to), you’re reinforcing classical music as a differentiating characteristic, when it really means nothing to you. You’re reinforcing a brand you don’t even care about.
    [And you're making it harder and harder to find any Tchaikovsky aside from the Nutcracker soundtrack, jerk.]

  3. stucknessinmotion says:

    Hemingway is spelled with one ‘m’ and none of his works are public domain. You should probably have read an author before you invoke their name for a joke. Or before you write an article Bout books that don’t get read, for that matter.

  4. drop says:

    i wonder how many of them read “great authors” to their children.

    • drop says:

      Oops. Dammit.
      i was trying to respond to this quote from the article:

      “I hear a lot that homeowners want their children to be familiar with the great authors,” Mr. Wine says.

      i’ll go brush up on my HTML tags.

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