Wednesday, March 2, 2011

living in libraries

Yesterday while trolling down the aisles of our local grocer, I discovered a treasure. It was the only one of it's kind left on the shelf, and for $1.70, there was no way I could afford to leave it there. Now it resides on our coffee table. The verdict? Best $1.70 I spent yesterday. I know you must be wondering the identity of said mystery object and don't fret, I will tell you.

It's a tissue box.

Yes, it's true, I've always been a sucker for a well designed tissue box. You can observe for yourself how nice it looks in our home. It's got that great book
spine design that I've noticed is becoming quite prevalent lately, a trend whose train I will shamelessly jump on.

I first began to notice this around Christmas, when I gave my lovely housemate and snail mail enthusiast Shannon a box of Penguin Publishing house's Postcards from Penguin, in which there are 100 postcards featuring vintage Penguin book covers. One of the cards that really caught my eye sports a stack of some particularly flashy old book spines.

Penguin, it seems, has really been cashing in on this. Postcards aren't the only items being printed with their book stacks. They are also hawking novelty wrapping paper and journals, both of which I could be easily tempted to endanger my bank account over.

A6 notebook from ShopUntil

Penguin Spines Wrapping Paper from ShinyShack

You don't even need an actual library these days to fill your house with books. You don't need to run to Ikea for that MDF shelving system you can't pronounce the name of (who knows how to use an umlaut these days?) All you need is wallpaper.

Stacked Paperback Wallpaper from Anthropologie

It's true. Designer Tracy Kendall has made it possible for you to tome it up anywhere you like...or at least anywhere your landlord will allow.
When I saw that tissue box, it made me wonder: why are we so into this? Why
do we suddenly want to be surrounded by books? Is it because soon we won't have them anymore? Are we printing them on every surface imaginable because they are a dying relic? The Amazon Kindle has made a killing already, and other reading gadgets, like Barnes and Noble's Nook, already can pull up thousands of books (even those from your public library!) for your convenience. I think our culture is being confronted with letting go of an object that is more than just a thing. The book is a symbol of knowledge, learning, and the possibility for people to understand each other across time and cultures. By that definition the Book is something epic, something we won't get over easily.
I recall an exhibit I saw in Cincinnati last fall by one of my favorite artists, Anne Hamilton, called Reading. There were several different experiential aspects to the exhibition, but just one that really stuck with me. Hamilton had cut up old paperback books and stacked them in ways that were beautiful and detailed and compelling.

Hamilton's Book Weight
In her statement the artist describes reading "as [an experience] that might leave the reader forever changed, but leave no material trace"(Hamilton 2010). It's true that the book itself is just a vessel for it's words, so maybe the object itself isn't important. But when I look at these things printed with book spines I am reminded of the Royal Tenenbaums and how you can almost smell that old musty book scent just watching that movie. How Ritchie and Margot camp out in the Museum of Natural History and read books by flashlight under the benches. And I think of how, my freshman year of college, I would ride my bike across town to the public library every friday before dinner and pile a bunch of books in my basket to take back to my dorm, more than I would ever read. I hope I'm not the only one out there. Didn't any of you ever retreat into those wise old walls of books? But being in there felt safe, like there were familiar things and people in an otherwise unfamiliar place.
Maybe a Kindle can conjure up those same feelings, but I remain skeptical. As for the wallpaper, tissue boxes, and other book-printed paraphernalia, I say an emphatic yes please! Just don't let them take away the actual books; let them make it feel more like living in that old, familiar library.


  1. Yes Hilary I wanted to be the first one to post something and I'm glad I could be. For support reasons and all : )... I do remember as a kid riding my bike to the library or begging my Mother to drive me if it was too dark. I loved the library and always wanted a library in my house.(Like the one in Beauty and the Beast, the one the Beast gives to Belle as a present?) Anyways then grabbing as many books as my library card would allow and taking them home reading a page from each, looking at all the pictures maybe drawing some. Then getting ready for the next stack of books. Good times

  2. ANN HAMILTON! so wise. And such compelling art. I look forward one day to actually experiencing one of her installations. I can say for sure I've been forever changed by books.... with no material trace.

    Love the book wallpaper. Would go very nice with a Kindle ;) I know a couple of people who LOVE their Kindles, both of whom are people who appreciate the material aspects of books, but it does lessen the weight they must carry when heading to the coffee shop to read. I think i will always prefer actual books...even though they weigh down my purse. Builds muscle... and character. Still, give me book-spine printed anything anytime!