Books: The Idea: Not here anymore!

Posted by Rob Walker on June 28, 2010
Posted Under: The Designed Life

Click to continue the series in its new home.

Back in April I posted a couple of items about a fantastic 1995 Nicholson Baker New Yorker piece about books used as props in catalogs. And on April 23 I promised “one more post” on the subject, “next week.”  I forgot to do so — and not one of you reminded me! Sheesh. No wonder this series has moved.

Anyway I found the draft of that “lost post” this weekend, quickly updated and finished it, and here it is:

This site’s occasional series on the idea of the book has included several instances of things (a necklace, a ring, etc.) made to look like books. That 1995 Baker piece, as it happens,  mentioned similar stuff from back then:

Not only is the book the prop of commonest resort in the world of mail order, but objects that resemble books – non-book items that carry bookishly antiquarian detailing – are suddenly popular…. Catalogues now offer book-patterned ties, book brooches, and settes covered in tromp-l’oiel-bookshelf fabric.

He gives other examples: a table whose base is “a fake stack” of leather-bound books, a “book-shaped box of candy bars,” book coasters, a magnifying glass with “faux bookspine handle,” and even a “Faux Book Cassette Holder,” to disguise the evidence of your middlebrow listening habits with a suggestion of more respectable reading ones.

On an aesthetic note, Baker suggests all this leather-bound book signifying might be replaced, or at least complemented, with visual suggestions of Penguin paperbacks and the like: “Our working notion of what books look like is on the verge of becoming frozen in a brownish fantasy phase that may estrange us from, and therefore weaken our resolve to read, the books we actually own.”

A fascinating point, probably even more salient now that the proposition of ebooks squeezing away physical ones is so widely discussed. Many argue that such judgments are premature — but surely there’s a good case to be made that our idea of what a physical book is may well cease to evolve soon, if it hasn’t already.

Anyway, this series is continuing, but not here. Please visit to follow along, if you like.

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

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