To be a bibliophile without a quality bookshelf is a difficult, irritating situation. We have been having one but not only is it aesthetically unpleasant, more seriously it cannot remotely accommodate the small collection we have thus far accreted. So the books were [still are in certain places] grouped in piles and bibliocumuli that haunt our main living-room table, a dining table of sorts, my desk and the low, long coffee-table that sits at the foot of my bed. [Contrary to a marginal sub-demographic of popular belief, cumulus is not only the name of a cloud formation.] Nothing very wrong with this arrangement except that it has/had a certain air of untidiness and looks like a prodrome of a book-underappreciation-syndrome. It is just an unsatisfactory situation in terms of space, order and material objects. The book objects when lying around so loosely loose the flair and functionality they have when massed densely in alphabetical order, ready to be picked off the shelf by the discerning reader. Books in the modern home must be enlisted in terms of style and function.
“Rather than stressing the literariness of particular titles or the pleasures of reading them, Lippincott enjoined his colleagues to consider how built-in bookshelves could facilitate the mass accumulation of books largely on the basis of their formal characteristics and their capacity as a whole to add flare to modern home décor” – The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control (Ted Striphas) – Highlight Loc. 623-24
Then, one unsuspecting day, during a visit to Migros’ Do-it-yourself center I saw a spinning shelf that enticed me. I imagined it standing stylishly in one corner of our living room, stacked with quality literature, slowly spinning at the command of my somnambulant hands: Auster, Bellow, Frisch, Freud, Gaddis, … emanating their literary pizzazz in all directions as the shelf spins, attracting the passing reader with names that ring a hidden bell of letters, cover spines and titles that promise the profound pleasures of literature, even invite the casual illiterate to come over and get a touch of their totemic powers. Bolano. Gaddis. LeGuin. Wallace.
Even if I don’t like it, even if I try to cognitively suppress and re-arrange it, I have a standard homo sapiens sapiens’ material craving, selective perhaps but just-as-damn-well. The cold, Paleolithic berry-gatherer’s stuff-centered streak: books, low-cut socks and now a budding appetite for [future] book shelves. Hell, the occasional New Balance sneakers. Ok, fine, yes, throw the book at me, DVDs [but only rented].
These are the four basic thingies that add to my powers as a material being. By extending them, I somehow extend my self, gain more control over space and time. Invisible socks make my feet seem like super-human scent-free members of my body. Books extend my stockpile of arguments, facts, writing strategies and story material while providing lavish amounts of personal enjoyment. The sneakers advance my quest for the auto-ideal, self-signifying stride and proclaim me in public space as a conscientious consumer. The shelves… I’m not there yet, I don’t have the rotating one, their powers retain a modicum of mystery; I must find out.
What distinguished middlebrow goods from other cultural goods was their unique blend of commerce and culture, their linking of mass-produced consumer goods to possibilities for learning and social advancement – hitherto the provenance of high cultural forms and institutions. – The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control (Ted Striphas) – Highlight Loc. 1013-15
Coincidentally or fatefully or providentially one Saturday afternoon I called my buddy R. Who just so happened to be en route to an undesignated Swedish interior adorner. Their yellow and blue branches are difficult not to liken to metastases as they mushroom all over the map. Like all successful modern establishments of consumerism they blissfully blend enjoyment and guilt.
By virtue of some ill-understood name-brand-voodoo they manage to sell crappy, over-prized, imitation-canvas anti-art to aesthetically malnourished or desperate or disoriented consumers. Hung on the wall of a living room, any one “work” looks like a suppurating, gaping hole in the soul.
This retailer names its furniture the way citizens name their offspring. It is, however, impossible to resist: Norden, Klippan, Bjurstan, Vaete, Nyfors, Pjaetteryd, Ludde and so forth. Bjurstan. This reminds of a character in End Zone, the character was about his name, Nalgene Azamanian. Or something something. If people can have names… By naming we make all things into what they can cognitively be, more precisely, a means of communication or a secret language. DeLillo puts this better than us other earthlings:
Each play must have a name. The naming of plays is important. All teams run the same plays. But each team uses an entirely different system of naming. Coaches stay up well into the night in order to name plays. They heat and reheat coffee on an old burner. No play begins until its name is called. – End Zone (Don DeLillo) – Highlight Loc. 1430-32
As I mentioned, R was headed in the direction of the blue and yellow venue of furniture retail where they hilariously name things. Riding a brainwave I couldn’t help remembering that there such a coveted shelf [non-spinning] would be available in a very payable price-range.
[…] may connote and sometimes even provide for leisureliness, erudition, and a modicum of distance from the exigencies of daily life. That said, one mustn’t lose sight of the fact that they’ve long been tied to people’s immediate economic realities. – The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control (Ted Striphas) – Highlight Loc. 332-33
The question leapt off my tongue in a heartbeat. Now my buddy is much more serious about the consumerist sub-persona of his personality profile than I am. He had me go on the Swede’s website, check out the different shelves on offer, consider which color best matched the room I had in mind and finally text him the product number. I am serious, I don’t have the mind for these things, I’d have just asked him to please get me one of those, what’s-her-name, at one hundred or less while he, fortunately, is methodic about it. Living room color discrepancy can be much more disastrous than one is able to consider or imagine.
Two or three hours later we lugged the wooden behemoth up the stairwell. Money changed hands. Another two days later, contrary to my trepidation, we successfully assembled the pressed sawdust movable. It’s terribly hard to understand the economic benefits of pulverizing and then compacting wood over just cutting it up. Still another two or so days later I crammed it with paperbacks, tomes, anthologies, novellas, hardbacks and the like. Alphabetically! [Which was a pain but made me unreasonably proud.] And par consequence the following contra-, juxta-, supra- and intrapositions ensued – – –