Books: the idea, cont’d: As catalog prop

Posted by Rob Walker on April 5, 2010
Posted Under: The Designed Life,Things/Thinking

Via Jezebel, click for more.

In a thoughtful comment to a December 2009 post on Significant Objects (in which I noted examples of art made from books, and ruminated on the possibilities of “upcycling with words”), Jim Rosenau mentioned a Nicholson Baker New Yorker essay called “Books As Furniture.” I finally got around to tracking that down and reading it this weekend, and I must thank Mr. Rosenau. The piece, from 1995, is amazing.

It’s in the New Yorker archive, here, but I guess you have to be a subscriber to access it. It’s going to take me more than one post to deal with all the great observations in this essay (are you out there RAOJ?) but by chance there’s opening to get started today.

In a nutshell, Baker starts noticing the books used as props in home decor catalogs, and looks into it. And, you know, he does that Nicholson Baker thing, of learning a shocking amount, conveying it to us with one insight after another, and basically just making the whole experience a reading pleasure. More specifics in the days ahead, but in the short term I happened to become aware by coincidence just today that Jezebel (a site I visit rarely, not that there’s anything wrong with it) has a kind of recurring feature that involves …  scrutinizing catalogs. The image at the top of this post, for instance, is from an Anthropologie catalog.

You’ll notice, of course, the books, looking quite pleasing there with all the other stuff on that just-so shelf. But those aren’t props (or at least not just props) like the books that Baker noticed in various catalogs: Anthropologie evidently actually sells ’em:

Anthropologie book selection. Click for more.

And let’s face it: They look great.

More on Baker’s 1995 piece as this series continues.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page. Tags: ,

Reader Comments

I am taking this with me to Death Valley for some serious attention. Some years ago Baker wrote another piece for the New Yorker that amazed me, about libraries. Anyway, looking forward to your posts on this piece.

Written By Susan on April 6th, 2010 @ 11:19 am

The books aren’t just props but actual full editions – the covers were designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, a senior cover designer at Penguin Books here in the UK:

The Books’ ISBN numbers to help track them down, are listed on her FAQ page. These are definitely on my must-buy list :)

Written By minxlj on April 19th, 2010 @ 7:39 am

Thanks. The post actually says that already: “But those aren’t props (or at least not just props) like the books that Baker noticed in various catalogs: Anthropologie evidently actually sells ‘em.”

Written By Rob Walker on April 19th, 2010 @ 8:37 am

Ikea uses books as props throughout their stores. Interestingly, in the US stores I’ve visited they are all in Swedish. As an American who speaks Swedish I’ve always wanted to buy some of them, especially since it’s really difficult to get Swedish books in the US.

Written By Ed on April 22nd, 2010 @ 3:22 pm