Tim is snowed in on the east coast and has been cruising the Internet, bailing stuff over to me in Montana. The above struck a chord right off. Not so much for Tim who gets rid of books once he’s read them. He reads all the time. It’s just that he believes in the virtual electronic world enough to trust it, the same way as the Cinematheque boys do. Though some of them love books, too, and pack a few around with them. Tim gave one of them his Kindle.
Myself, I have shelves and shelves of books, both those I saved to read when I had time and those I read and loved enough or valued enough to want to go back again. But I don’t treat them “well,” since I mark them up and fill them with sticky notes.
The idea of the website of the url at the top of this post is simple and something that other websites have done to some degree, just not taking it to video and interview status. Each vid on this site is an interview with an author, asking them to explain their books. These are modern authors, mostly young people in apartments. In fact, I was bemused by their interiors: very Crate & Barrel, very Sonoma-Williams (or is it Williams-Sonoma), very Ikea.
The rooms all had hardwood floors, squashy sofas (not sectionals), empty pale walls, folded cellular shades, no evidence of television (probably in the bedroom) and no piles of paper or filing cabinets. The father had two huge plastic bins of toys behind the sofa. They appear to work on laptops set on nearly empty tables. Their book shelves were much alike: wall-covering built-in regular sections (1’ X 2’) with enough room for a cat on top of the books or behind the books. The occasional object. Very interior decoration.
One man and one woman had grouped the books they read for research in these sections, though the number of books didn’t always fit into the same space. Too few wasn’t a problem since an object or cat could fill the space. Too many meant some figuring. In general I was shocked that there were so few. No one had books sidewise on top or in front. One had boxes of books in the basement.
One said she arranged her books for the aesthetics of them, how they went together by height and color. A man said he was relentlessly alphabetical regardless of everything else. But his wife was not, so her books were all crammed in every-which-way on the bottom last shelf. One woman had arranged hers according to their personal significance: much beloved and meaningful books were in the bedroom so she could guard them there. She was the only one who admitted to having kept truly old books, although there was one man who had read one of his books nearly to pieces. In fact, the author was insulted when he was asked to sign it, which was dim of him.
Several women sheepishly admitted that they kept a few books hidden, either where the framing of the bookcase covered them or tucked in behind other books. They were big picture books about how to be more beautiful, which they thought was an unworthy impulse, even though one of them worked at Glamour magazine. In fact, these people probably all know each other and are what we in Montana would consider Manhattan insiders.
Their own books were trendy, gimmicky, pop, little more than expanded magazines. The website is a way for them to promote their own books -- they are all VERY good at this promotion stuff.
One of the most interesting had written a graphic book, trying to account for one of those runaway dads so many people seem to have these days. A narcissist, he was elusive enough that even as a child this writer had drawn cartoons about moments she was trying to decipher. One of the recurring elements was a cuckoo clock from which a bird popped out to make comments, not always “cuckoo.” Maybe “uh-oh!” The writer had saved her childish (but talented) cartoons which were the source material for her published book. When her little dog decided he liked the early drawings well enough to sit on them, she had to caution him that they were archival.
She showed us some of her graphic novel collection which made me want to run out straightaway and buy them all. In the bookstores they have to keep graphic novels behind the cash register because otherwise people steal them. More than other books. I used to try to get Blackfeet kids to do graphic novels. (Are you reading this, Marvin Blackweasel?) That was the essence of the iconographic tales painted on buffalo robes and tipi liners.
Another interesting woman had written a book about keeping chickens and had live ones herself, so we got to see them. All the photography is well-done, clear and close enough to really inspect those wild topknots and glittering eyes. There aren’t many writers on the site -- I assume there will be more -- but they are witty and funny and lovable, even though they’re mostly so young. I don’t know about you, but I’m out of patience with both the endless catalogs and recommendations that I get, and not entirely happy with Charlie Rose and his guests, all of them aging before our eyes, no matter how significant they are.
The down side of these author’s books is that if I want to read a magazine, I’d rather read a REAL magazine and then throw it away. These books that are timely and topical can get stale fast and then what do you do with them? The libraries are already throwing out books so they can make room for computers. Powells is getting mighty resistant to “ordinary” books. My cousin in Portland said she carried in two grocery sacks of cherry-picked books and was offered only a few dollars. Like, TWO.
It would make more sense for these books to be electronic with a nice cheerful interview on vid with the author. When its sell-by date had been reached, it could just be deleted. But that sweeps away the whole premise of this website, which is that books are objects. Particularly these with their glossy bright dustcovers, the pride of their writers, collected alongside the books they actually bought. They are the most exciting things -- THINGS -- in these cool, pastel rooms.