Janus on the shelves

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The idea of an aspirational home library and a conversation between Kris and Khloe Kardashian prompt Ruth Graham to ask a few questions:

Is it acceptable to treat books as decor, a representation of one's aesthetic aspirations rather than one's intellectual biography? What is the normal approach to displaying books in one's home?

"An informal survey of 50 friends and Slate colleagues suggests," she writes, "disappointingly for the cause of grand pronouncements, that everyone is different and moderation is key:"

I'm semi-organized, with separate bookcases for fiction and non-fiction; non-fiction is further grouped loosely by subject matter. On a few shelves, I've stacked coffee-table books horizontally with knick-knacks on top, a trick I picked up working at a home-decor magazine. I aim for a loose kind of honesty in what I keep around, too: I long ago banished my college copies of Kant and Hegel. But I do keep cooler, smarter books at eye-level, and I shunt the trashy and random up toward the ceiling.

Some survey-takers took this squeamishness so far that they were incredulous at the very concept of "displaying" books. "Do people really keep books to display them?" one colleague asked. "A private library is a promise to yourself, not a premise about your personhood." But I say that's purist nonsense. Books have always played both roles. They are not just stories and information, they are badges of identity and, yes, ornamentation. A book on a shelf faces inward and outward at the same time.

As such, they can be both reminders of the past and motivators of the future.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on October 27, 2016 8:30 AM.

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