Reading rainbow?
November 16, 2004 7:21 PM   Subscribe

There is nothing wrong in this whole wide world. Artist Chris Cobb convinced Adobe Bookshop in San Francisco to allow him to reclassify 20,000 books based solely on their color. The result is like something out of a dream. Here are some pictures, and here's an interview with him.
posted by O9scar (39 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Neat. A bookstore where I used to work did this with Star Trek and Star Wars novels, mainly because it was easier than bothering to shelve them correctly.

Oh, yeah: and also because of contempt for Star Trek* and Star Wars novels.

*except for those two by Joe Haldeman.
posted by interrobang at 7:26 PM on November 16, 2004

This is awesome! I'm doing this with my books at home this weekend.
posted by josh at 7:29 PM on November 16, 2004

Kinda reminds me of the "Penguin Classics" section we had in a bookstore I used to work at. It was a solid wall of black spines with small white print. I expected to see Kubrickian monkeys dancing around it at any moment.
posted by jonmc at 7:29 PM on November 16, 2004

*except for those two by Joe Haldeman.

I kinda lost a lot of respect for him after the ridiculously deus ex machina (even by SF standards) ending of Forever Free, but whatever floats your boat...
posted by teferi at 7:37 PM on November 16, 2004

Holy shit! The chick in the third picture is a dead ringer for my ex. In fact, it may very well be her.
posted by majick at 7:43 PM on November 16, 2004

I kinda lost a lot of respect for him after the ridiculously deus ex machina (even by SF standards) ending of Forever Free, but whatever floats your boat...

Haldeman's only major plot problem is that all of his books are about world (or universal) peace. His characters obtain objects or knowledge that can either destroy everything, or can make it so that peace can be "enforced", if the characters are ethical enough. I like his prose, though, even in the one of the two Star Trek novels of his I've read.

He's said that he hated writing the second one.

Yeah, the end of "Forever Free" wasn't so great (though the buildup was), but "Forever Peace" was really good, and his short stories are uniformly amazing; "Guardian" and "The Coming" were pretty good, and his books--up to that Forever Free ending--are never bad, so...

Anyway, ordering books by color rules! I would do so myself, if I had any bookshelves. Unfortunately, all of mine are in carefully ordered by type piles around my living room.
posted by interrobang at 7:46 PM on November 16, 2004

O/T: If you're looking for the ONE good ST novel out there, read "How Much For Just the Planet?" by John Ford. Unless you have no sense of farce.

Sorry. I had to spread news of this one.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 8:06 PM on November 16, 2004

I have a friend who organizes her CDs by spine color. Looks very cool. She also chooses which gum to chew by color. Her favorite flavor is "smurf blue".
posted by dobbs at 8:09 PM on November 16, 2004

I organized my records autobiographically.
posted by graventy at 8:22 PM on November 16, 2004

Q: When did you originally think of the idea for this? What made you decide to do what you're going to do?
A: I wanted to make something that I didn't think would exist anywhere, and that nobody would ever make, that I couldn't go anywhere in the world and see it.

Gosh, he could have just come down to my buddy's house here in Austin. He's had his bookshelves arranged completely by color like this for at least a couple years. Looks pretty cool, too.
posted by majcher at 8:22 PM on November 16, 2004

I did this a while back, because I thought random colours looked messy; but I could never find anything. It would be very cool to do it in a large bookstore.
posted by carter at 8:39 PM on November 16, 2004

I don't get it.

I have a friend who organizes her CDs by spine color.

Me too. I used to do this, as most classical CDs were pretty uniform in color based on the label (DG yellow, EMI red, Sony red and white, etc.) until I found that having to find CDs by color was way too much work.
posted by gyc at 8:49 PM on November 16, 2004

That interview is priceless.

(softly) I don't know—I shouldn't talk about the Red Alert thing, huh?

Q: Why not?

A: It might sound too crazy.

I wish Chris Cobb lived in my neighborhood.
posted by Sellersburg/Speed at 9:04 PM on November 16, 2004

I organized my records autobiographically.

Psshht. Reverse autobiographical is the way to go.

Thanks for the link to the pics. I'd heard about this a bit back but never bothered to search for results. Neat stuff. I still won't break up my personal system of shelving though.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:14 PM on November 16, 2004

Crap, I wrote a story with this exact same premise. Now I stole his idea.
posted by Hildago at 9:30 PM on November 16, 2004

I am looking at my bookshelves at home, with their volumes arranged in alphabetical order (by author's surname) -- non-fiction on one side of the room, fiction on the other -- and the little voice in my head has only one thing to say:

You loser.
posted by bright cold day at 9:42 PM on November 16, 2004

I like the Blue.
posted by billsaysthis at 9:49 PM on November 16, 2004

hey, i went to this. adobe's a fun bookshop, as long as you're not looking for anything in particular. here's a few more pics
posted by jcruelty at 10:10 PM on November 16, 2004

While other art spaces have come and gone, Adobe continues to be a proving ground for young artists and musicians, such as up-and-coming harpist/singer Joanna Newsom...

Wait, what?

Jesus, I went to high school with her. Her brother Peter (who I also went to high school with) played the drums in Pocket for Corduroy. I was on the other side of a clique from her, and now she's all sorts of blowing up.


I shoulda been a musician. There's no fame in being an aging undergrad.

I just listened to the music video on, and it sounds amazing. Very Bjorky and ethereal, but I'm sold. Props to my homegirl.
posted by Coda at 10:21 PM on November 16, 2004

I did this with my CDs a few years ago too. Lookup actually worked surprisingly well for those CDs with coloured spines, since I could generally visualize the colour of the CD I was looking for. The problem, of course, was the large numbers of black and white CDs. Maybe I should have alphabetized them, but that somehow seemed against the spirit of the project.
posted by jeffj at 10:32 PM on November 16, 2004

This seems like a kind of obvious idea to me, but only because i'm a jaded corporate bookstore whore who's had to endure years of people wandering up and querying me as to the location of "a small green book..i think it's sci-fi.." I've had several discussions with fellow employees, and our other ideas (apart from the rainbow) would be to organize them all by title alphabetically or by size.

That said, his rearrangings are beautiful and magical, and now i don't feel like such a martha stewart for having orchestrated the cds on display in my room into varying shades of brown.

Oh...and i really like joanna newsom ever since i saw her open for devendra banhart, but now i've set my milk-eyed mender cd aside in favor of their godmother Vashti Bunyan, whose clear bell of a voice makes everything in my life o.k. again. But i still like ms.newsome and her strange last unicorn fetish, and we talk about her a lot around here.
posted by redsparkler at 12:23 AM on November 17, 2004

My wife does this with her closet. I must admit, it looks pretty neat. Mine wouldn't be too exciting though. Ooh! White-khaki-brown-blue-black!
posted by zsazsa at 6:06 AM on November 17, 2004

I have a friend whose ex-girlfriend kept her many, many books organized by color. Absofuckinglutely ridiculous. "Discipline and Punish? Oh, yeah, that's over in black." GAH.

I am looking at my bookshelves at home, with their volumes arranged in alphabetical order (by author's surname) -- non-fiction on one side of the room, fiction on the other -- and the little voice in my head has only one thing to say: You loser.
Ours are Library of Congress. SUCK IT! Woo+!
posted by mimi at 6:12 AM on November 17, 2004

I organize my mp3s this way.
posted by sudama at 6:18 AM on November 17, 2004

Gosh, he could have just come down to my buddy's house here in Austin. He's had his bookshelves arranged completely by color like this for at least a couple years. Looks pretty cool, too.

Go to any antiquarian bookstore and they'll have a story about people buying up lots of rare books at a go based on color.
posted by kenko at 6:27 AM on November 17, 2004

If I did this at home, it would not be long before I found myself buying books based on their color. "Yeah, I want to read this, but does it come in a green?"

I run the binding department for a decently sized academic library. The best gift you can give to a loyal minion is the ability to select the color of a newly bound serial. They get really into it, examining the shelf to see what color is already there (usually black as our commercial bindery tends to the Henry Ford approach to color choice) for matches and clashes. People get really into the color of their books once they have moved from information vessels to shelf decoration.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:21 AM on November 17, 2004

Organizing your own books by colour could work if you have a great visual memory - they're your books, and all you have to do is summon up the image to say, "I need a yellow book". I may let my right brain take over and shelve my 14 boxes of books this way when my dad finally finishes the bookshelves he's making for me.
posted by orange swan at 8:25 AM on November 17, 2004

This was done ten years ago as a senior prank in a high school library. They were nice kids...they put them all back later.
posted by kozad at 9:04 AM on November 17, 2004

I do this. Peter does this. I like it because it allows for really interesting juxtapositions of books that make me think about all sorts of crazy new things. Plus that's how I remember them anyways.
posted by jessamyn at 9:43 AM on November 17, 2004

There's a Salvation Army thrift store near me that does this with their T-shirts. (I really should go back and take a picture with a decent camera.)
posted by Vidiot at 9:54 AM on November 17, 2004

Yes, by all means let's judge a book by its cover, reduce it to the color of its spine, and dismiss its content as irrelevant.

Anyone who likes this idea should just go sit by a river and play with pretty colored rocks and leave books to the literate.

[This is dumb.]
posted by rushmc at 10:09 AM on November 17, 2004

Our books are organized by what ever shelf was closest when the box was opened after moving three years ago. It's lazy and haphazard, but it's actually helped my visual memory a bit: "I remember seeing the Gurdjieff book the last time I was looking for Eric Overmeyer's plays which were somewhere on the third shelf of the fourth case near that chunk of Italo Calvino that managed to end up in one place..." Truly, some authors' works are all back together now, but it's still largely unorganized.

Aw, c'mon rush, it's a whimsical art project, not an act of disrespect towards books, unlike what kenko describes up here. And as another former bookstore employee, I can attest to the fact that we've probably all joked about doing this at some point and been a bit curious to see what it would look like.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:24 AM on November 17, 2004

Huh, rush?

Two really simple things, neither of which devalues the books at all: one, the book store looks gorgeous with the books like that. Two, as jessamyn said, this would actually be quite useful for many people (such as myself), because when I want to grab a book from the shelf, I usually don't think, "Okay, it was by Orringer, Judith" -- I think, "It's hardbound with a dark green spine with a white stripe on it."

Or was your post just double-reverse sarcasm that completely went over my head?
posted by rafter at 10:25 AM on November 17, 2004

Not to take this too far or anything, but in response to Rushmc's post, i think there's a possibility that this is exactly what the "artist" is implying. There's a specific sort of ignorance (or better, naiveity) portrayed by people in a bookstore when they allude to the relevency of a book being held in its colour or size. The title is "There Is Nothing Wrong In This Whole Wide World", and in a world that lacked our need for information and distillation through subject categories and the dewey decimal system or whatever, we could do such a simple thing as arrange books by colour. In a world where everything was ok, books could rest on their laurels and just exist for beauty's sake, and be sorted accordingly.

(I don't think you can put the same negative weight on the same idea in a person's home, as collections are usually considerably less thant 2o,ooo, and arranging by subject seems less obvious or neccessary in a personal library. My books are organized by size and then importance, with specific authors' works generally grouped together.)
posted by redsparkler at 11:41 AM on November 17, 2004

One thing that no one has mentioned so far: this reclassification will only last for one week. Yeah, it'd be a pretty stupid idea if the bookstore were to be organized like this full time, but it's a great idea for a temporary art installation.

Here's what seems to be Chris Cobb's webpage about the event. SFist wrote about this on Monday. I have a set of pics up on Flickr; I took the photos on Saturday, which was the day before the art launch.
posted by bjennings at 3:30 PM on November 17, 2004

My bookshelves tend to get arranged ergonomically. I just put things on the shelf as I go along, but this ends up meaning that frequently used books can be found at about eye level, because that's the easiest place to put them if I'm in a hurry, or if I'm lazy.
posted by Hildago at 4:56 PM on November 17, 2004

This is one of my favorite bookstores. I'm there all the time. This is a bookstore that is run and frequented by people who love books. Usually, the clerk is sitting there discussing some rare eastern european novel with some other poeple, permanent fixtures it seems, who I think are mostly either Literature grad students or homeless people or both. I've gotten involved in conversations there on all sorts of topics ranging from Fiction under the Napoleonic regime to Walter Benjamin to Oulipo to the relevancy of the Classics. I think last time I was there I bought something even i thought was obscure and the clerk dryly remarked "Ah. Re-reading the classics?"

This is the most organized this place has ever been. Usually the floor is littered with boxes, new acquisitions, which they dont bother to unpack. Us bookfiends sift through them and buy most books there before they every get put on any shelf. Thats how this place is organized. They are central to the surrounding arts community and stage regular arts function and showings.

Anyways all of this was just to back up my statement that rushmc's knee-jerk comment is pretty lame.
posted by vacapinta at 7:57 PM on November 17, 2004

Nice, thoughtful comment, redsparkler.

Nothing you wrote there strikes me as relevant, vacapinta, but to each his own.
posted by rushmc at 12:44 AM on November 18, 2004

I checked this out in person last night. Rather coincidentally, I visited Adobe Books a few weeks ago for the first time. There's a distinction between a "bohemian aesthetic" and "smelling like cat piss". This book store embodied the latter. I couldn't touch a book without thinking it had in some way been defiled by animal or man.

My theory: the last time the store had been cleaned was some time in the mid 80s. An artist approaches them with an idea for an art piece. The owner sees it as an opportunity to clean up the store and accepts the offer.

Anyway, the store is now clean and relaxing. Art can result in good things.
posted by quadog at 12:35 PM on November 18, 2004

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