Mid-Atlantic Popular &
American Culture Association

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Judging Books by Their Covers: Fetishizing the Book-Object


The story of domestic book display and collection in the western world is remarkably straightforward and simple. Revered for not only their content, but their bindings, books were stored at home in cases and personal libraries. Following the invention of moveable type, book production increased, costs decreased, and book ownership gained popularity, and as such, domestic holdings swelled. Yet the story remained the same: books were placed on shelves, their mere existence serving as the decorative highlight of the room. Reflective of individual intellectual tastes and opinions, a person’s literary collection has the ability to reveal aspects of personality, acting as a window to the soul. The nostalgia of a book also provides a sense of warmth in a space, something even the modernists of the early twentieth century could not avoid. Viewed as one of very few acceptable forms of ornament, books have and continue to be the honorable object on a shelf.

However, in the first decades of the twenty-first century, book display has transformed into something entirely new. Touted as the decorative item of choice, books are morphing from intellectual medium into objectified design device. From coffee table book, to color-coded book organization and books shelved spine-in, to tomes used as actual pieces of furniture, the book is losing its place as status identifier through erudition and is instead a moniker of social status through tastemaker design choices. While these design tropes appear to dominate design and lifestyle blogs and magazines, the reception among the public and professional designers has resisted against trends that objectify and fetishize the noble book.

Presentation type: 
Scheduled on: 
Thursday, November 8, 9:30 am to 10:45 am

Session information

Interiors and Objects

Thursday, November 8, 9:30 am to 10:45 am (Boardroom)

Marilyn F. Friedman will have a book signing Thursday afternoon at 2:30 in the Versailles exhibit room.

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