Looking Like a Reader

A side order of French fries in an Antwerp restaurant was priced at €14 last week. I don’t know how much a pint of milk costs, but I do know that the price of Prada loafers has gone up by over €60 since February. We must brace for dire straits, and it’s time to look for more affordable accessories: I’m happy to report that books have just become very fashionable.

I knew of celebrity nail stylists, but had never heard of celebrity book stylists until the actress broke the internet by announcing her husband had bought 400 random books to fill the empty bookshelf for an Architectural Digest on-camera tour of her house. Books as decor is not a new thing, of course. But Tisdale’s confessions paraded forward a myriad of book stylists who spilled tea about the shelves of Adele (whose shelf includes classics such as The Mosaics of Rome), Gwyneth and the likes. Much like with any personal shopper, you can hire someone to make your home appear smart and interesting. Who knew!

A celebrity bookshelf stylist explained in an article, how many of her clients simply hand over €1300 and ask to transform an empty shelf into a brainy backdrop, but with that money “you can buy 20 attractive coffee-table books, but it’s not enough to fill a wall. The compromise is often a stack of two or three books, with a vase or knick-knack on top.” I took a short moment to reflect on the out-of-hands tsundoku -situation in my apartment since many years, including the multiple editions of many of my favourites, such as four of Shelley’s Frankenstein, each absolutely necessary. (Does everyone else also have most books in a hardback version for domestic reading and in a paperback edition for traveling?)

We got used to poring over people’s homes and notably people’s bookshelves during the pandemic. Now that we’re stepping out again, what we (meaning celebrities) carry on us is becoming important again. Having one’s hands full of the ubiquitous phone is already very meh, but a book, never!

Enter the book stylist, who is not so much for buying stuff for your apartment, but rather gets paid to select the right books to have with you when stepping out, or, chilling on your yacht, unaware of paparazzi, like Kendall Jenner below. The New York Times has an excellent article that unearths the secrets of such trade (and includes a couple of interesting bookish addresses to follow).

Kendall Jenner in 2019, (re)posing with Chelsea Hodson’s essay collection “Tonight I’m Someone Else”. Photo: @Backgrid.

Having grown up in the privileged Northern hemisphere with nine years of compulsory (and free) elementary school, I don’t know any adults who would not be able to read. I do know lots of adults who can barely write, though, and this is because they don’t read. What is not a moot is the fact that one cannot become a good (actually even a half-decent) writer without reading a lot. Listening to audiobooks is not reading. Neither is “waiting for the movie version to come out“.

Is being (or attempting to appear) smart becoming en vogue after years of applauding and celebrating idiocy? Is this the return of the book? What we don’t know, of course, is whether all these influencers actually read whatever books their stylists have shoved under their arm before they step out, but arguably this wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, either:
First, “it’s a great way for people to accessorize,” says Jenna Hipp, who, with her husband, Josh Spencer, puts together libraries for other people that can range in price from $500 to $200,000″. Second, “the bottom line for publishers is not ‘Did your book get read?’ It’s ‘Did your book sell?’ And famous readers sell books.” (Quotes from the NYT article.)

So even if trendiness, a concept formerly associated with fashion and entertainment, is now creeping into the world of literature, snobs like me will give it an accepting, only ever so slightly condescending nod: It’s still reading actual books.
The following novels will make you appear both trendy and smart, as curated by Instagram’s favourite, on trend book community Belletrist in their latest post:

  • Hanya Yanagihara: To Paradise
  • Lisa Taddeo: Animal
  • Lynn Stager-Strong: Want
  • Heather O’Neill: When We Lost Our Heads
  • Sheila Heti: Pure Colour
  • Rachel Cusk: Second Place
  • Tove Ditlevsen: The Copenhagen Trilogy
  • Julia Armfield: Our Wives Under The Sea
  • Toshikazu Kawaguchi: Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Each of the editions chosen for the post also look visually very pleasing, so cross the old “don’t judge a book by its cover” off your list, for now it’s all about the cover.

Marilyn Monroe.

Buying books and avoiding people are my favourite, and only hobbies. If I can, and I usually can, I buy my reading in physical bookstores: as with everything else (food, clothes), I prefer to see what I’m getting. In addition, bookstores are pleasant to visit. I’ve never been to one that would blast Christina Aguilera’s Lady Marmalade on full volume. (This happened in a non-book store lately, but to make up for it they did have a sign “Basement: MEN/KIDS/BABIES” which I though was very considerate, as I wish to see none of them around whenever I’m forced to run errands in peopley places).
I only very rarely buy books online. Amazon is out of the question – if the owner can shoot a dick-shaped rocket into the orbit for shits and giggles, he hardly needs my (or your) money.

Sarah Jessica Parker attending an unspecified sporting event.

It’s the International Day of the Book today, so have a good one. Maybe go out for extortionately expensive fries and flaunt your favourite paperback. You’re worth it.

Photo credit: Marilyn Monroe in Griffith Park, Los Angeles in 1950 by Clark.

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