Last year, it was ‘Lauren’ who came under fire for her approach to interior design, which included turning books around so their spines were not visible on a bookshelf to ‘keep the look neutral’.
This year, there is a new culprit, with an article in The Times introducing another interior look in which the covers are ripped off books ‘In order to create a more restful atmosphere in the library’.
Predictably, book lovers were outraged, describing the designers as ‘numbnuts’ and ‘monsters’, and the room as a crime scene.
Venting his outrage on Twitter, Jim Hanner (@jimhanner) wrote ‘Imagine how many toilet rolls you could buy for £40 and how much more uniform they would look on the shelves’
I think that Jim touches on the reason why book lovers are so annoyed by trends in which books are used as interior design features, but in a way that ignores the intrinsic and individual beauty of the book, instead trying to make it appear uniform. In taking away the book’s character, to be replaced by a ‘muted’ look, the book’s beauty is rejected in favour of a design aesthetic, and in this way devaluing the book. It might as well be a toilet roll.
These designers are not even pretending that the reason they have books is that they like reading (unlike any self respecting but time poor reader who hasn’t picked up anything apart from the the April 2015 issue of Woman’s Day in the dentist’s waiting room for the past six months, but whose copy of War and Peace is displayed prominently in their living room).
While I share the opinions of those who are enraged by the travesty of ripping the covers from books, don’t think this means that I don’t appreciate the aesthetics of bookcases. I write this as someone whose adores bookcases as interior design feature. My own bookcase is my favourite part of my house (the bath comes a close second), not just for its convenience in holding all my family’s books. It is both public and personal, offering insight into my family’s history and interests, and as a statement of our love of books. It holds so many memories, as well as the prospect of future reads. But I also think it looks good.
In other people’s houses, I also love to see books on display, and to wander along the shelves to see if there is something that I have also loved so we can reminisce about reading it. It doesn’t need to be literary fiction or a virtuous classic – we might laugh about our absolute lack of success using Tizzy Hall’s Save Our Sleep, or about our collection of Lonely Planet guides collected during our backpacking days.
I remember visiting a house formerly owned by late author Peter Temple, and falling in love with its entryway, which featured an arched bookcase. What a way to welcome guests.
The designers who have angered bibliophiles by facing books backwards or ripping off covers are right in that books add texture to a room; they are a personal touch and offer insight into those who live there. However, by removing their covers or facing them backwards, they are creating a fiction and removing any sense of authenticity from the library. They don’t understand that the beauty of the book is in the value of what lies within, not its the various shades of cream and beige of its pages.
In a way, the trend for arranging bookshelves in this way is akin to displaying fake indoor plants , which create an impression of greenery where there is only plastic. Just as is the case with coverless or spineless books, I find that there is something unsettling about fake plants, like they are some kind of trick. And while we’re at it, what about those huge fake lashes …
When a designer removes the individuality from a book by ripping off a cover or facing it backwards on a shelf, they are creating an aesthetic that is far more likely to enrage than calm.