The era of Zoom, the video conferencing tool, has made most of its users aware of the look of their workspace. Many choose to display tasteful pottery, perhaps fresh flowers and often a few artfully arranged books.
I admit to arranging magazines tastefully on my coffee table when I have company. However, the practice of organizing books to improve your public image has reached a whole new level. A recent Guardian article (cleverly titled “Shelf Promotion”) reveals actress Ashley Tisdale sent her husband to a bookstore to get 400 random books for a filmed tour of her home. And actress/entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow has hired a curator to provide £600 for a home renovation.
Interior designers now regularly advise clients on their book selections, choosing not only by content, but also by color. According to the Guardian, Juniper Books sells classic literature sets with custom jackets that allow customers to purchase a full Jane Austen set “in a Pantone chip color that matches the rest of the room.” I am speechless. My crowded and disorganized shelves will clearly never get me into House Beautiful.
But In the spirit of guiding those who desire curatorial advice for designing their libraries to impress others, I offer the following suggestions.
For those who want to impress with their “close to nature” credibility: “Braiding Sweetgrass” (Robin Wall Kimmerer); “The Land Atlas of California” (Obi Kaufmann); “Tending the Wild” (Kat Anderson); “Wanderlust” (Rebecca Solnit); “The hidden life of trees” (Peter Wholleben); and, for a local touch, “Journey to Mount Tamalpais” (Etel Adnan).
“Braiding Sweetgrass” is the best-selling book at Point Reyes Books, a store specializing in nature and environmental books. You might want to add “The Overstory” by Richard Powers, a fiction that deals powerfully with the destruction of our forests.
For Silicon Valley Superstar Aspirants: “You’re Badass To Make Money: Master The Wealth Mindset” (Jen Sincero); “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman” (Yvon Chouinard); “Steve Jobs” (Walter Isaacson); “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” (John Carreyrou); and “Zero to One” (Peter Thiel). “Bad Blood,” the story of discredited Theranos co-founder Elizabeth Holmes, is the “how not to” guide to startup success.
For globetrotters: “On the Road” (Jack Kerouac); “The Alchemist” (Paulo Coelho); “In a town burned by the sun” (Bill Bryson); “The Geography of Happiness” (Eric Weiner); “The Art of Traveling” (Alain de Botton); “In the Land of Lost Frontiers: A Journey on the Silk Road” (Kate Harris); and “Wandering” (Rolf Potts). I would hide the travel guides because people might think you are a tourist rather than a seasoned traveler.
If you want to establish your literary chops: “War and Peace” (Leo Tolstoy); “The Bluest Eye” (Toni Morrison); “A Tale of Two Cities” (Charles Dickens); “Catch-22” (Joseph Heller); “Sing, without burial, sing” (Jesmyn Ward); “Ulysses” (James Joyce); “The Invisible Man” (Ralph Ellison); “100 years of solitude” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez); “Pride and Prejudice” (Jane Austen); “Moby-Dick” (Herman Melville); “Coming Home” (Yaa Gyasi); “Shuggie Bain” (Douglas Stuart); and “Vintage Munro” (Alice Munro). I would suggest mixing the more contemporary books with the old classics to suggest that while you are open to new authors, you keep coming back to the classics again and again.
To show your sensitive and poetic side: “Leaves of Grass” (Walt Whitman); “Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver”; “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” (Pablo Neruda); “The Hill We Climb” (Amanda Gorman); “The Complete Sonnets” (William Shakespeare); “The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes”, “John Donne: Poems” and “Songs of Innocence and Experience” (William Blake); “Selected Poetry” (John Keats); “Chosen Poetry” (Edna St. Vincent Millay); “The Complete Poetry” (Maya Angelou); and “The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats”. It’s unclear if Gorman’s poetry will stand the test of time, but the inclusion of President Biden’s inaugural poet puts you in the know.
Of course, you can skip the whole book-buying process if you just opt for a jam-packed virtual bookshelf Zoom background. “You are guaranteed to look smarter,” promises a website offering such services.
If you decide to use real books, however, I’d be happy to consult with you, for a fee. I just can’t promise to match your wallpaper.