The Library Artist
January 6, 2011 3:37 PM   Subscribe

"Book lovers, you can exhale. The printed, bound book has been given a stay of execution by an unlikely source: the design community."
posted by Scoop (59 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
“Some people will insist that they be in English, because they want them to look as if they could read the books,” Mr. Weinstock said. “Others don’t care what language the books are in as long as the bindings are beautiful”
I do not think this counts as a stay of execution. I think this has nothing to do with book lovers at all.

(I've always appreciated the way a wide variety of books looks on a shelf. The books are themselves different, after all (unless you're in a law library). On my ideal bookshelf each book is unique and incomparable; why shouldn't their bindings reflect this? …Pay no attention to the foot after foot of pulp SF on my shelves.)
posted by hattifattener at 3:51 PM on January 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

...helped by the outlandishly wealthy!

For his work, Mr. Wine charges from $80 to $350 a foot. The rare vellum is more pricey, at about $750 a foot; the Northern California library he did for the private equity manager cost about $80,000, he said.
posted by chavenet at 3:53 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

A 16,800-square-foot Shingle-style house on 42 acres in Water Mill, N.Y., comes with a $29.995-million price tag and a library Mr. Collé had built from French chalked quarter-sawn oak; with about 150 feet of shelf space, there is room for more than 1,000 books.

I think I just realized that my dream of owning a library containing every book I've ever read is unrealizable.
posted by IjonTichy at 3:54 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Reminds me of the first time I noticed that Half Price Books sold books by the foot. You could choose encyclopedias or law books or fiction, you could even choose overall color scheme, but otherwise they just gave you a shitload of books as decoration. Always seemed so bizarre and wrong and wannabe elite.
posted by kmz at 3:55 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Books that nobody intends to read are barely books at all.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:56 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

This isn't taking a sick dog and performing a miracle cure on it. This is taking a sick dog and putting a bee costume on it. And then removing the dog.
posted by gurple at 3:56 PM on January 6, 2011 [31 favorites]

I think it's fascinating to watch this process in action, of infinitely-reproducible books causing mass-produced books to be fetishized the same way that mass-produced books caused handmade books to be fetishized. When the singularity happens and we all upload our consciousnesses into machines, I have no doubt that the fashionable thing will be to walk around in artificial humanoid bodies, to be more "authentically human."
posted by Pants McCracky at 3:59 PM on January 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

Man, I got excited. Thought you were gonna tell me about a new eReader or something.
posted by nzero at 4:01 PM on January 6, 2011

No blowhard like a design blowhard.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:01 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm assuming they're printed in comic sans.
posted by Drastic at 4:03 PM on January 6, 2011

Or maybe we'll ostentatiously buy little pieces of physical real estate and maintain pithed meat-blobs there (we wouldn't ever deal with them, our sub-sentient AIs would). Just as many book-decorators just shear off the spines and glue them to a board to save space, we'll have people proudly displaying flayed clone-skins to demonstrate their connection to their ancestral physicality.
posted by hattifattener at 4:03 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ms. Mack added that she was working with a decorator to “refresh” her own Manhattan apartment, and was hoping to decorate lavishly with books. She wondered if she might stack her books and turn them into legs for a coffee table. “Then,” she said, “I can put my Kindle on top.”

I'd love to "refresh" my library with the shrunken heads of marketing executives.
posted by Kinbote at 4:04 PM on January 6, 2011 [24 favorites]

Anyone who names their kid Thatcher should be taken out an beaten with a copy of Dr. Spock.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:11 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

So, did anyone expect better from "the design community"?
posted by grobstein at 4:17 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

What the ... more than 1,000 books will fit on less than 80 linear feet of shelf space, which is perhaps just 6 standard (not floor-to-ceiling) bookcases. Not only does his library have twice that capacity, but my book-loving family easily had the same amount of shelf space as he did in our middle class three-bedroom house. This guy's home is literally ten times the size of that house. I've kept 1,000 books on cinder blocks and planks in an apartment, for goodness sake. Sure it took up a whole long wall, but only one.

Even assuming he has seven bedrooms and a ballroom and an extra staircase just for going down, a dedicated library should have *way* more capacity than that. Heck, figuring something roomy and expensive but not one of those two-story manor house jobs with ladders, say a 30' by 30' room with a 10' ceiling, with a little forethought (double-sided shelves extending into the room, say), you could *easily* fit 2,300 linear feet of shelf space and still have plenty of room for some comfy chairs and lamps and what have you. That's a library of more than 28,000 books.

Whatever he has, it's not a library and he's not serious.
posted by kyrademon at 4:31 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

So, did anyone expect better from "the design community"?

No kidding. Like, how about you design a usable ebook?
posted by DU at 4:39 PM on January 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

This is a grand old tradition. You have bee able to buy (or rent!) books by the foot for many many years now.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:46 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Occasionally I think back to the bit in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age where he talks about why one of the main characters, John Percival Hacksworth, continues to get a standard version of the newspaper, when he could have it customized perfectly to his needs like others do: because there's an element of status in reading the same prepared newspaper as a hundred thousand of your peers, all of whom are beyond setting their media displays to feeding them nothing but tits and explosions. Somewhere in that world, there's an ancient press that churns out a thousand copies of the New York Times every day, for delivery to those who can afford such an exotic luxury.

I figured that was the way books would go too, as a vaguely nostalgic plaything for people with lots of money, and it sounds like that's coming true. I just didn't imagine those who bought books wouldn't even bother to READ them anymore.
posted by chrominance at 4:48 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

"See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too--didn't cut the pages"

This also reminds me of a story from a friend. He was visiting someone's house, and commented on how empty the built-in book-cases were. The design was stark, lots of empty white spaces, so this friend-of-a-friend filled the book cases with more white: volumes of older cooking magazines, now bound together in plain, white covers. There wasn't much else the friend read.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:49 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is not design. It is decoration. It is also profoundly dismaying.
posted by adamrice at 4:49 PM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

"I can custom make any kind of library!"

Oh, ferfucksake, so can the rest of us. It's easy.

1. Find books you love. This preliminary step can should be done at a library.

2. Purchase copies of your own. For the most fun, hit up used bookstores and thrift shops, as that way you get other peoples' annotations and dedications and interesting things left in the books, plus you can find all kinds of neat older editions.

3. Read them until they begin to lose structural integrity. Tape and rubber bands add CHARACTER.

4. Stuff them onto any available surface, cover with tchotchkes and bits of important mail that you put there so you won't forget and why is the dog's flea comb over here and what the hell why is there an anole egg inside a shot glass sitting on top of the Kipling, and ha ha ha do you like Kipling I don't know I've never kippled.

5. Repeat until you no longer know where the hell you put your high school diploma, pet's county registration, or that electricity bill, and you have to open large books carefully for fear of pressed flowers falling out.

(Bonus: Hollow one out and make a booksafe. That's super-fun.)
posted by cmyk at 4:52 PM on January 6, 2011 [31 favorites]

Some rich people have always been posers - this is just a (very transparent) way to pose as an intellectual. It seems incredibly weird to me, because I think of bookshelves as an aesthetic issue, and the major reason I love the look of books is because of my connection to books. I have a vague sense that there's something morally corrupt about setting up such "libraries," but I suppose that's crazy. They're just blocks of tree pulp.

And I can't imagine this sort of thing is remotely new - rich people have surely bought libraries all down throughout history as a way of showing off. I did one have a conversation with someone (a physicist) who had bought a house that came with a full library of civil war history, and he just buckled down and read his way through the entire thing - and, I believe, ended up writing a book on it - and then sold the library with the house when he moved out. But that sort of person isn't very common.
posted by you're a kitty! at 4:55 PM on January 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I thought this was going to be more along the lines of the string dream book (previously) which does actually make owning a physical book desirable and involve some design in aesthetics.
You could just wrap some leather or pretty pictures around the narrow edge of some book-sized blocks of wood and get the same effect.
Also, anyone looking at your "library" would have an instant, more truthful, insight into your intellect and values.
posted by Raunchy 60s Humour at 4:57 PM on January 6, 2011

Somewhere in that world, there's an ancient press that churns out a thousand copies of the New York Times every day, for delivery to those who can afford such an exotic luxury.

Right now there a professional calligraphers you can hire to hand calligraph all your invitations and place cards, because printed invitations are so gauche. There will always be a small but lucrative market for making certain people feel like gilded age robber barons
posted by Ad hominem at 4:59 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like watching the evolution of books, and I love design, but for some reason oh fuck it

posted by everichon at 5:04 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am 100% sure that how some very rich people choose to fetishize the book as an object and status symbol will have fuck all to do with how the printed word fairs in the long run.
posted by grapesaresour at 5:16 PM on January 6, 2011

Pulp friction.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:21 PM on January 6, 2011

Vertical printed the hardback I am presently reading of Osamu Tezuka's Ayako on shit paper with shit ink then perfect bound the block (I AM NOT KIDDING) and shit taped it into a shit binding with a shit cardboard cover with shit printing.

You know what, if this is how a niche press treats a book that they sell for a premium to people who actually want to buy on paper because the material deserves to be printed .... fuck books.
Seriously, just fuck them. Fuck books, fuck physical distribution completely. If I can't get a quality physical copy then I don't want one anymore. I'll take digital because I know it's not going to fucking fall apart, yellowed and rotten, in three years or the third time I read it, which ever comes first.

shuddering sob
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:28 PM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Speaking as a person who makes a living doing web development: the "design community" is filled with idiots.

Thank you for your time.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:40 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

The white vellum guy was kind of interesting in a fetishy collector sort of way, but the reclad Danielle Steele books got to me in a way that's hard to describe. I actually feel sorry for the bestsellers forced to endure being a part of this macabre farce.

I will say that the design community seems to be doing a pretty good job supporting the production of some very nice volumes (for internal consumption) in reasonable numbers, so that's a positive...
posted by Casimir at 5:41 PM on January 6, 2011

Like, ya know, all those books in his library. He frontin with all them books, but if you pull one down off the shelf, none of the pages have ever been opened. He got all them books, and he hasn't read nearly one of them. Gatsby, he was who he was, and he did what he did. And cuz he wasn't willing to get real with the story, that shit caught up to him.
posted by Hlewagast at 5:44 PM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

For this client was after more than pretty bindings: he wanted the option of being able to read his books.

It's a thought that always runs through my mind whenever I see some established private library in an old timey house-cum-museum like say, the Morgan, or the Frick - all those nice books behind caged glass will never ever again be read by anyone. No reason they would be. Look closely at the spines and you see things like the complete works of Trollope, titles for which reading copies are easily available elsewhere and people who use the library services at the Morgan or the Frick generally do not come for what's on these shelve. So - attractive, but dead.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:54 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, living libraries are messy, with dog-eared corners and bookmarks hanging out of half the books. Tape on some of the spines where you dropped them down the stairs, and crayon on some others where your little cousin got to them. Weird-shaped books that don't really fit on the shelf and old wirebound notebooks your granddad wrote. A stack of CDs on a CD-R spindle that don't really fit in, but hell. The shelf of library loaners you borrowed years back and never got around to returning and just paid the "lost book" penalty. A stack of newspapers your mom gave you that have your picture in them from honor roll in elementary school. Video game boxes from when you were a kid that have flash cards in English and French in them. Dust. A few nice-looking editions of classics you don't care about and have never read, given by acquaintances and professors and relatives.

If you're famous enough, the estate will tidy or trash all of the messy books before they open the museum, and remove the bookmarks, and put the dust covers back on, and replace the taped spines and crayon-covered books with new copies, and stand the weird-shaped books up on top of your desk, and lose the notebooks by accident, and toss the CDs, and donate the library books, and recycle the newspapers (which will have rotted by then, anyway) and the video game boxes.

You will become The Complete Shakespeare and The Wealth of Nations and a brand new copy of Jude the Obscure.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:18 PM on January 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

As someone who has rubbed shoulders with a wide variety of booksellers all his life, let me tell you that these vellum vultures have always been around. There is nothing so disheartening to a book lover than someone buying a fine binding for... the fine binding.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 6:21 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Books? Fuck that. I read...errr...display scrolls, bitches.
posted by Keith Talent at 6:48 PM on January 6, 2011

I was interested in this FPP. I've heard some designers complain about e-books killing typography and book design, since the content is just stripped into a one-size-fits-all digital case.

I'm not really disappointed that it turned out to be about the decorative habits of rich people, but the cry of "DESIGN IS STOOOPID!" is just really disheartening.

A book is made up of the content of its words and the context of how those words are displayed. Most people care primarily about the former, but some people care about the latter.
posted by girih knot at 6:55 PM on January 6, 2011

You know what would make a great coffee table book? A coffee table book about coffee tables.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:02 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:11 PM on January 6, 2011

This is not really new. When I was housepainting twenty years ago, I worked in tacky McMansions owned by corporate executives with "libraries" full of books bought by the yard like this. They always wanted the walls painted a manly Hunter Green and the room would be full of leather chairs and shiny brass light fixtures. I'm sure that they envisioned themselves to be little junior Carnegies or Fricks while they were sitting there smoking cigars in their little book-lined study in their overpriced shack on Chablis Court or some such.
posted by octothorpe at 7:16 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I need for pretty books to become the vinyl words of inspiration of the 21st century, so I can get more pretty books (that I actually want to read) cheaply. I don't really care that the folks driving the trend have no soul; I just like pretty books.

They look really spiffy next to that chocolate-stained copy of "Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing," let me tell you.
posted by SMPA at 7:27 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is the first time I've ever heard of books being sold by the foot. I think of my library - consisting of a few hundred books that I lovingly purchased, or was given, or inherited, and to see them as just pulp & paper industry by-products stacked on a shelf and sold by the foot... Well, that entire concept just makes me feel kind of nauseous.
posted by empatterson at 7:37 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a designer. Here is a design tip to rule your life by:

Do not mimick the people you admire. Be like the people you admire.

If you admire the plucky adventurers and explorers of the 18th century, then theming yourself steampunk for example, is mimicking them. To be like them, you would instead use the best equipment and clothing you could afford that your modern world can offer you.

If you admire David Bowie's generation of musician, but were born in the 80s, having a similar passion as them for vinyl is not being like them - they loved vinyl because it was intrinsically tied to them reaching for the future (and shaping it). Vinyl does no such thing for you, instead you are looking to the past - the opposite activity of the people you admire.

If you admire people whose homes are filled with books, then try to be like them - read a muh'fuckin book!, mimicking their homes just makes a mockery of your own intellect. You'll impress people whose esteem counts for little, and horrify the people you'd like to impress.

In short, this designer believes that an essential element of good design is to be true to your inspiration - and don't confuse what "being true" to it actually means!

(There are legitimate reasons to enjoy steampunk/vinyl/books/whatever, but you want to be careful about crossing the streams, over-extending those reasons to justify impulses of mimicry)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:53 PM on January 6, 2011 [17 favorites]

I do kinda like hotels ordering books on certain subjects to fill their rooms with. I'd love to wind up in Vegas and be able to crack open a rat pack bio or two between the buffets.
posted by Jilder at 7:56 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

You don't bring an emergency cache of books with you to a hotel?
posted by cmyk at 8:31 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

What the ... more than 1,000 books will fit on less than 80 linear feet of shelf space

We must have radically different books. I don't get anywhere near that many books per linear foot.
posted by Justinian at 8:55 PM on January 6, 2011

I'm in a torrid love affair with my Nook Color, but this is almost as depressing as the time the Times took on doormen. Can you still call it missing the forest for the trees if the trees have already been ground into pulp and wrapped in garish $80-a-foot paper?
posted by oinopaponton at 9:15 PM on January 6, 2011

I take an emergency stack of books with me everywhere. They're all colour co-ordinated to match my luggage, so it's usually swedish medical books wrapped in black linen.
posted by Jilder at 9:20 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

designers are wankers.
posted by quoquo at 9:44 PM on January 6, 2011

The white vellum guy was kind of interesting in a fetishy collector sort of way

Yeah, I initially thought this was going to be about people rebinding their existing libraries (y'know, of books they actually had read and wanted to have copies of) in some uniform and aesthetically pleasing way, which would have been an interesting thing. Not exactly my scene, you dig, but interesting in that "here's something some rich people are doing" way.

Building fake libraries so you can seem literate just seems like the equivalent of stuffing your wallet with fake ATM receipts to impress girls at a bar.
posted by hattifattener at 10:01 PM on January 6, 2011

I love this:
“But the people I work for don’t want books just as backdrop or theater, which they did 20 years ago. Now they want books they actually might read.”
Not books that they want to read, mind, just books that, theoretically, they could read. This is so notable that it comes up twice in the article (the above quotation is the second occurrence; the first is "For this client was after more than pretty bindings: he wanted the option of being able to read his books."), and that it's presented as a mark of, what, increased sophistication of the clients as against their bygone counterparts? Increased literariness? (Well, why not; I guess the potentially literary are more literary, in a useless sense, than the illiterate.)

It seems to me that the clients who didn't care what the books were as long as they presented a good front were more sophisticated; of them one might believe that they knew what they were about and didn't bother with trying to fool themselves into the bargain.

(Let me incorporate by reference Flann O'Brien's idea for a book-handling service, and why not? Once you start caring (abstractly) about the matter of the books, and not just that they look nice, you open the gate to caring (abstractly) more about the matter—and then it'll be important that the books have the form of books owned by someone who cares about the matter, namely, read, thumbed through, etc.)

This is pretty rich too:
As it happens, the-book-as-relic was forecasted by marketers. Ann Mack, director of trend-spotting for JWT New York, the marketing and advertising agency, noted in her trend report for the coming year that “objectifying objects,” she said, “would be a trend to watch.”
I remember, in the days of my youth—I was youthful only fifteen years ago—there would regularly be ads in the NYT Book Review for the same antiquarian bookseller. A full-page ad a week, practically, something I assume didn't come cheap, with notable or new acquisitions listed, with their descriptions and prices—though sometimes the price was only available on request. (The occasion of my learning the dictum: if you have to ask, you can't afford it.)

I understand that trade in rare books for sometimes astounding prices predates even my youth. I guess the books in question in the article aren't the typical stuff for antiquarian booksellers, but that this sort of transition should take place is hardly surprising. (Hardly surprising but not for that reason uninteresting, which means it would have been nice to have an article about, I don't know, the ways certain kinds of objects are treated given digital replacements for them that wasn't one fatuous description of services for the idle rich after another. But that wouldn't have been published in the Times, I guess.)
posted by kenko at 10:45 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

the shrunken heads of marketing executives.

No need to resort to redundancy there.
posted by Twang at 10:50 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

The printed book has not been sentenced to execution.

That is all I have to say.
posted by Skygazer at 1:16 AM on January 7, 2011

Justinian -- I just went and took some sample measurements. I get an average of 12 books per foot for all-paperbacks, 11 per foot for a mix of paperbacks and hardcover, and 10 books per foot for all-hardcover. So, I will admit my "80 linear feet per thousand books" is perhaps only accurate for a mostly paperback collection. But even assuming a library of only hardcovers (which I suppose is likely in the example case, given what the article is talking about), then (a) *Well* over 1,000 books should fit onto 150 linear feet, and (b) Having only 150 linear feet of shelf space in an entire dedicated library room in a more than 16,000 sqare foot house is still pathetic.
posted by kyrademon at 5:07 AM on January 7, 2011

A much better idea is what I thought this article was going to be about, which is some internet site where people post dust jackets templates for printing at home on 8.5 x14 or 11x17 paper.

In college, we used refer to our two-semester E-M theory course as "Black Magic" (I don't even remember what the course was actually called).

I want to make a cover for that textbook that is distressed and with burnt edges that is entirely black with nothing on the cover but Maxwell's equations.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:46 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

“But who has 4,000 books?”
(raises hand sheepishly, barely visible behind stacks)
posted by doctornemo at 7:16 AM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I actually view people wanting to seem intellectual as a positive. Even if they're completely douchebagful about it, I'd prefer that they pose as intellectuals than glorify being idiots. The glorification of idiocy does no one any favors.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:07 AM on January 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

I was thinking it might be nice to have a whole set of Nooks or Kindles or whatever, each one with a different type of books, for convenience -- one with mysteries, one with non-fiction, one with anthologies, and so on. You would have a lot of overlap, but that would be fine, and people in the household could each grab a book without issue.

Of course, then I'd need a place to put all those eBooks, with chargers, and nice covers for all of 'em so they wouldn't be scratched and so I could stand 'em on edge. So I could still have a bookcase full of books -- it would just be small. A single shelf, even. And while I used to think eBooks were sacrilege, I changed my mind after I got a Nook (and the software to remove the DRM so that I can keep and share the books amongst my family in perpetuity.) I now look at it the same way I look at keeping an MP3 collection on a computer instead of all the individual CDs.

Although, if you walk into my house, you'll find there are still some paper books that aren't going anywhere, just like there are still some record albums on a shelf near the record player. Some things I won't give up, and I enjoy having them. I don't think they need to be mutually exclusive.

and it gives me an excuse to build outlets and chargers into my bookcase
posted by davejay at 11:13 AM on January 7, 2011

Just last night I spend an absorbing evening moving books around on my bookshelves and re-organizing them by the principle "stuff below this line is ok for my kid to grab and look at, stuff above it can wait till he's older." And then some by author, some by theme, and as always, mass markets stacked two deep because I have no more room for another bookshelf.

We old people love our little hobbies.

I am sure I will get an e-reader of some kind eventually, and will love all its little bells and whistles and zooming and whatnot. But I can't help but feel a little worried about not having physical copies of at least some of my favorites, especially given Amazon's little exercise in e-censorship a while back.
posted by emjaybee at 2:48 PM on January 7, 2011

I actually view people wanting to seem intellectual as a positive. Even if they're completely douchebagful about it, I'd prefer that they pose as intellectuals than glorify being idiots. The glorification of idiocy does no one any favors.

It's not like those are the only two choices. I'd rather people be up front about what they really are than to pose as anything they are not.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:59 PM on January 8, 2011

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