Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I love books.

Sure, I like to read them: mainly fiction and the occasional wonky history tome.  But my real love affair is with the physical items themselves.

The cover. The thumbed pages. The smell.

Not surprisingly, as a decorator, I love the way books can work into an interior design -- a subject which has been documented, blogged and shelter-magged to an almost criminal degree.  But I'm going to talk about it anyway.

Collections make for great design elements (I'm a huge collector myself), and although people rarely think of them that way, books are probably the most universally collected things in the world.  Everyone has a book collection, and every collection tells an intriguing story.  We have all perused the shelves of a new friend or lover with equal measures of guilt and dread -- like we are rifling through someone's underwear drawer, giddily horrified at what we might find.  (Who hasn't been on a perfectly adequate first date, seen a copy of The Fountainhead sitting on a gentleman's nightstand, and abruptly excused themselves? Nobody? Ok, then.)

Book snooping (or leavesdropping, as it shall henceforth be known) can be wicked fun, but there is something equally magical about the act of beholding one's own library, wandering back through all the literary destinations and detours that physically manifest themselves upon a shelf, bringing with them a host of memories and associations: travels, romances, losses, triumphs.

In short, you can tell a lot about a man by his books.

Which is why it irks me to every conceivable extreme when people "curate" their own books, amassing a collection of intellectual-seeming titles they have no intention of reading. The practice is tantamount to lying about one's age: it's tacky, graceless and usually transparent.  And it bothers me even more when designers do it for their clients.

As if, whilst flipping through this month's Architectural Digest, we will believe that some fratty stock broker in the Financial District is sitting around his shiny apartment poring over Proust just before he cracks open a bottle of single malt scotch and a limited edition Kara Walker monograph. 

Not to say that every unread book is a lie, and I have no particular beef with books-as-signifiers.  But you should at least be honest about what you're signifying.  I've always found that regardless of whether or not you've read every book in your library, each one should at least show an intention or an aspiration. To wit, that copy of Infinite Jest you've been "meaning to read" isn't really fooling anyone, but that book on bizarre fatal accidents tells me we'll get along just fine.

Admittedly, I've certainly done my share of fauxcasing. 

In high school, I was accused of leaving yellowed copies of On The Road and The Catcher in the Rye in the back seat of my ancient BMW just so passersby would think me terribly misunderstood.  As the detritus of too many late-night fast food runs began to pile up, I think everyone began to realize that I was just a slob who was woefully behind on his AP English homework.

Recently, I've had the privilege of merging my heterogeneous book collection with that of my boyfriend, filling our shelves to the brim with some of the most seemingly random selections imaginable -- and, through a procession of spines both cracked and virginal, interweaving the stories of two people.  An antique compendium of obscure childhood diseases (a Christmas gift from me, natch) sits next to a gory account of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster, which in turn abuts a series of books that my boyfriend labels as our "failed career attempts" section  (Law School Confidential; The Screenwriter's Handbook; On Being a Therapist). 

When I first saw Steven's books, I mistakenly (and judgmentally) assumed that a volume enthusiastically titled Shelley! was a biography of the romantic poet, and that Sade: A Biography was about the 90s soul chanteuse.  And now, every time I glimpse those two books amongst our finally-combined library, I can't help but grin -- simultaneously chagrined at how terribly wrong my first impression was, and blown away by how succinctly the love of my life can be summed up in two books: a juicy tell-all about Shelley Winters and a thoroughly unreadable biography of a lunatic Frenchman.


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