A couple weeks ago there was a bit of an online brouhaha when television personality Lauren Conrad—who apparently has a little YouTube channel set up as a how-to for arts-and-crafts projects—posted one such project in which she cut the spines off books and glued them onto a box. So she had a box she could put on her bookshelf that looked like books. Only it was a box.
I know, I know. It puzzles me too. :)
The book-loving community, not to put too fine a point on it, lost its collective mind. Ms. Conrad was pilloried. The YouTube video is down now. (You can find it if you look hard; I did.)
The thing is, there are plenty of fine artists out there making a living creating beautiful works of art out of old books (I even wrote a blog post about that); witness the mysterious artwork left in libraries across Edinburgh last year. Last fall I purchased a set of handmade Christmas ornaments, randomly decoupaged with strips cut from a French novel. They are lovely—they are art—and I don’t feel a single pang of guilt that a book gave its life up for them.
No, I think what bothered me about the Lauren Conrad video (and I should add I come from a publishing background) was the falseness of it. Why create an illusion of books on your shelf when you could have the real thing? I grew up in a home (and raised the Boy in a home) modeled on the Anna Quindlen school of thought: “I would be most happy if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” *
We love books for what they carry within them, not for what they’re made of. The story is the thing; the physical book or ereader or tablet or phone is merely the delivery device. When you fetishize the physical properties of an object, you devalue its contents. When you freak out over the ‘destruction’ of books, you are not elevating books. You are reducing the intangible magic of stories to the ink, pulp, and glue that deliver them to you.
I generally keep my books. Those I don’t need or want I donate to Goodwill. But as Shinksky points out,
Books that do not sell are often destroyed or recycled. Now how do you feel about bookish crafts as an alternative? Sure, I realize that a book that has been recycled into another object can no longer be read, but not every book needs to be saved and re-read. Not every book CAN be saved.
It’s a great, thoughtful post and the comments are too. You should read it.
* From a column she wrote for the New York Times, “Enough Bookshelves,” 7 August 1991.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”