Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Art of Books

My love of pretty books and the shelves they sit on is well documented. This past year, I've started collecting the prettiest books in all the land: the Penguin Hardcover Classics, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.I will admit, there's something a bit tacky to me about buying a book for display purposes--a book is to be read, not looked at! But then I think, book publishers and bookstores need all the sales they can get, and they don't care if you're buying it to stick under a wobbly table leg. So if I can support an important industry and make my shelves a little classier, then there's no reason to feel guilty. And who knows--these are books to collect and save, and perhaps in 25 years I'll have a yen to read Cranford, or I'll have a son or daughter who is assigned Cranford in school (that seems more likely. Does anyone read Cranford for fun?).

So I've been slowing collecting these books, one at a time. I almost have the full first set, BUT I'm absolutely tortured by my inability to get Crime and Punishment and Madame Bovary. They are two of the most gorgeous designs, but because Penguin US doesn't own the rights to the translation, you can't buy them in America. I want to plan a trip to Canada or England just to get copies, but from what I can tell, they're sold out there too. Occassionally, a copy will pop up on Ebay, but for way too much money--$99 for a book with a $20 list price? Boo, no fair.

So 8 of the first series and 5 of the second are available right now, and another 7 will be released in September (although I did get Shakespeare's Sonnets and a Lover's Complaint this past weekend at Anthropologie, and Amazon has it only available for pre-order). Some kind soul put together this Amazon list for easy reference. The books are available online, at Anthropologie, and major bookstores (which you should support!).

Say that you disagree with my statement that buying books for display is a little tacky, and you think books should be displayed only. Anthropologie has the solution!
The Stacked Paperback Wallpaper, $198 for 18 square feet, is adorable but a bit claustrophobia-inducing. Can you imagine a whole room wallpapered in this? I'd have nightmares about all those stacks toppling down on me! My other misgiving is that many of the titles are in French, thus unrecognizable to me. It's like when you go to Ikea and all the fake books in those carefully designed bedrooms and living rooms are in Swedish. There are some familiar titles in this wallpaper--Lolita, Tropic of Capricorn, Looking for Mr. Goodbar. But if you want book-based art, wouldn't you prefer to have your favorite titles on display?

Which brings me to artist Jane Mount, who was recently featured on the National Post's book blog. Her website is called Ideal Bookshelf, and here's an example of her work:
In her own words:
"I paint "ideal bookshelves": people's favorites of all time, within a genre or from a particular period in their lives.

We show off our books on shelves like merit badges, because we're proud of the ideas we've ingested to make us who we are, and we hope to connect with others. I think this is endearing and charming. When I paint someone else's bookshelf and they have the same book I do, I feel inordinately joyful about it, and about them.

I'm also fascinated by the design of books spines. It's such a small place for a lot of information, with very little room for distinct characteristics, even though it's exactly what you use to identify books first. As someone who does a lot of design work, I enjoy the process of turning graphics into "art". And I love that a book is something created very personally and then mass-produced in order to affect many other people very personally. I group and paint them to turn them back into something very personal and intimate."

As someone who always scans the bookshelves when I enter a new room, it would be terribly convenient to have a person's favorites artfully displayed in a painting, so I could know up front whether the owner of said painting will be a friend. A 9x12 inch custom painting costs around $225--so perhaps it might be more cost effective to just get some nice floating shelves and display your favorites yourself.

Ok, not really. But close enough. Put your Harry Potter books on these and you can make Wingardium Leviosa jokes every day! The pictured shelves are $9.76 from Barnes and Noble, but you can get them at Home Depot, The Container Store, Amazon, etc.

And if you still have an appetite for those lovely objects we call books (and which we occasionally open up and read the less pretty insides of), check out the Bookshelf Porn tumblr. It's exactly what it sounds like.

1 comment:

shopwithm said...

I loooove the Penguin books, and have started collecting them as well. I found some on Amazon a while back, but they also carry them at Anthropologie in store.