In Defense of Books as Interior Design in Three Points

This blog, much like the apartment around which said blog revolves, sprang entirely from the mind of my girlfriend. The beautiful things in our apartment, she’s found. Their aesthetically pleasing arrangement, all her. As a man literally one apartment removed from a share-house full of barely civilized bachelors, my skill in arranging a home is limited to efficient beer bong storage. My contribution to this blog, much like my contribution to our living space, is limited to specific, simple things where I won’t hurt myself.

Simply put: Babe built our house, I arranged the books.

When we moved into our apartment, I had very little to my name that was useful for an apartment full of bill paying adults. Besides some lamps, pop culture ephemera, and a bed I’ve had since college (sorry anyone using the guest room!), the only things I owned and actually valued were about 35 cardboard boxes full of books.

As the now former friends of mine that helped moved all those books up the stairs will tell you: “These things are f#$&ing heavy!”[1] and the early July Boston heat did not help. This snippet of move-in day highlight the essential issues that came with owning a lot of reading material in a city where a certain level of rootless apartment living is the norm: 1. Books take up space, 2. Books weigh a ton, and 3. Seriously, just get a Kindle already. To these issues, there’s no easy solution. We had a lot of friends to help us that we subsequently bribed with food and drinks. With any luck, we’ll repeat this process next time we move. What wasn’t difficult at all, was deciding whether or not moving all these books up three flights of stairs was worth it. The answer is yes, here’s why:

1.You are what you read.

In “Fight Club” (both book and film) by Chuck Palahniuk, the character Tyler Durden says to an assembled group of disaffected young white men “You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.” While this might be an adequate mantra for a certain breed of wanna-be rebellious corporate drones trying to make it to five o’clock every day, there are some problems with taking this quote literally.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a society where the jobs we do, things we eat and culture we consume define us as people. Finance jobs remove your soul, junk food makes you fat, and giving up on physical books blocks of millions of chances to enrich your life and brain through reading.

Pick up a book, any book and read it. Fiction or non, “literature” (pronounced with an upper-class Brit accent) or pulp, science or science fiction. What you choose to read should be a point of pride because in some small way the things you read have defined the person you’ve become. There’s a reason certain books sticks around. Books of every genre have things to teach us. J. Robert Oppenheimer didn’t quote the Bhagavad Gita to impress is English teachers and Led Zepplin didn’t reference Tolkien all those times for the benefit of their groupies. They did it because those books stuck with them. Those stories and the characters in them, meant something to those people. Those stories were inadvertently brought along for the ride, whether that ride involved kick-ass guitar riffs or potentially world ending nuclear ordinance. Like the vitamins in your bones, the books on your shelf keep a record of who you are. What’s inspired you. What you believe in. They’re a part of what’s made you “you,” and they should be displayed with pride.

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“You are not your job”…but you are your books.

2. Aesthetics: The Visual Power of Bookshelves

This section isn’t going to start off with a literary quote and it won’t contain any references to nuclear scientists. Quite simply, a shelf full of books look awesome. A full bookshelf speaks to something deep in our cultural memory. It implies sophistication and worldliness. Be they leather bound classics or yellowed pulp fantasy novels, each book is a potential conversation peace. A curio that grabs the attention of a dinner guest with the added benefit of being something you might one day pick up on a rainy day once you’re all caught up on Hulu’s many fine binge watching options.

As proof of this, I present Exhibits A through D: A series of photos taken by the lady of the house displaying the bookshelf that currently stands in our living room. How cool does that thing look?

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If I could, I’d totally add that light from the suitcase in “Pulp Fiction” to this picture.

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3. Reading Chic for Less

In the age of mass media, declining book sales seem to imply that physical books don’t have a place in our culture anymore. Binging Netflix shows take less effort after work than reading a book, YouTube videos are free, and if you really must read like some kind of nerd, then a Kindle takes up a lot less space.

All these arguments make sense. Life is tough and work is statistically taking up more and more of our time. The urge to shut one’s brain off after spending the best eight hours of the day at work is tempting. You can get a few drinks out for the price of a new book. However, the decline of physical bookstores offers a unique chance to acquire your very own library for cheap. Most thrift stores have a ton of books beyond just the moldy Harlequin romances one usually expects to find there. People tend to cherish the books they buy, even the ones they don’t read. When those books are donated to cut down on clutter, you can reap the benefits and come away with a bag full of prime beach reading.

There’s a world full of stories out there. The perfect fictional or non-fictional adventure is sitting on a shelf at a local thrift shop waiting to be experienced. Anyone of any age can find their life improved by reading, provided you find the right book. There’s no better (or cheaper) time than now to go out and find that book.

Jeff

P.S.: If you are interested in seeing the list of all of our blog posts please click here

[1] My buddy Max.

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