For those of us who get a kick out of spying on other people’s bookshelves, the last few weeks have offered an embarrassment of riches. Whole Twitter accounts have been set up for the sole purpose of scrutinising the titles that famous people choose to display in the background during their televised Skype calls. The point of the game is not to find out the books people are reading, but the books they want to be seen to be reading. Some people are more sporting than others, acknowledging the rules of the game and knowingly playing along.
During the flurry of George H.W. Bush’s death, funeral and canonisation, it was impossible to escape the photograph of George and Barbara Bush at their house in Maine, in their PJs, sitting up in bed surrounded by a mob of grandchildren. First published in 1987 in Life magazine, it’s a candid shot meant to show that, in their homey, comfy setting, the vice-president and his wife were just regular folks: doting grandparents, game for anything, unfazed at being awakened early (reportedly, 6 a.m.; ‘Poppy’ does look a tad dazed) by an invasion of grandkids, stuffed animals, and – oh! hi there! come on in! – a photographer. Behind the vice-presidential bed is a reassuringly messy bookcase, stuffed not only with photos, a clock, coffee mugs and various doodads and tchotchkes, but actual books. My fifth novel, Duet, is at the top of a stack of them, just above the veep’s head.
A press release from the British Council: British-based design studio Raw-Edges has been commissioned by the British Council to design a bespoke travelling bookcase to house one carefully selected work of fiction from each of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. The bookcase will also hold editions of Granta magazine. The highly inventive design means the books themselves take centre stage in the installation. The interactive nature of the bookcase also allows visitors to change the display by repositioning the books.
Doom and gloom doubled last week when the Economist announced not just the death of books, but proved it by the death of bookcases. In particular Billy, a classic IKEA item of furniture that has been available for thirty years, has five adjustable shelves, is cheap enough for students to give up the brick and plank solution to book storage (though I don't know why they would) and which even 'may be completed with BILLY height extension unit in the same width for added storage vertically'. Billy, the Economist said, was suffering a redesign that suggested a change of use: the shelves were being deepened from 11" to 15" in order to hold ornaments, framed photographs, trophies, plants, decorative boxes. Glass doors have also been added: through which to look at objets, rather than to give instant book access. IKEA, it seemed, was declaring the end of books as we know them, a sure marker that the ebook revolution was complete.