22 March 2012

Put it on the Shelf

Only so many things you can do with a book. Read it. Stack it. Lose it behind the couch. Eat it, if you’ve read it four times and you’re all alone on that desert island.

C’mon... industrial glue and recycled soy inks can’t hurt you. Can they?

But if you’re not ready to eat your books, you are going to have to shelve them. This is not as simple as it may appear. Designers and architects have been working on this. You can see some of their inventive designs to display and hold paper books at the British blog called Bookshelf, “the home of interesting bookshelves, bookcases and things that look like them since 2007.”

I get a new design every morning in my email box. Shelves designed to look like other things. Shelves that fill an entire wall, an entire room, an entire house. Shelves made of paper, plastic, fish scales, whatever. Some of these designs are laughable – as in they’ll make you laugh out loud but no one will ever build them – and other designs are purely beautiful and useful. Still other designs fall somewhere between the extremes of beauty and foolishness.

All this design intelligence is being collected in a new book that will appear in May, titled, necessarily but prosaically,Bookshelf. I haven’t seen the finished book, few have so far, but I can review it because I’ve been staring at the designs for a while now.

The book is edited by Alex Johnson who writes for The London Independent, is a webmaster for other design sites, and wrote the book Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution.

A few early reviews are in. Elle Decoration magazine noted "La folle passion du journaliste anglais Alex Johnson." The mad passion of English journalist Alex Johnson. Those mad Englishmen, noonday sun and all.

More recently Bookshelf blog presented The Tree bookcase by Roberto Corazza. His creation resembles a tree in outline form, if you hollowed out an oak and tacked it to the wall. It’s painted bright blue, and might hold a couple dozen books. More likely you’d place a few books in your blue tree, then stare intently at them. It is lovely.

Already this year there have been a great number of designs presented on the Bookshelf blog. The shelves named Juliette, for no clear reason, consist of a free-standing staircase that leans up against the wall, with books on each step. Another design will contain living plants as well as books. Watch out for stains if you over water.

One highly useful construction consists of wooden bookshelves erected at Union Station in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Friends of the Worcester Public Library hope people take advantage of the downtime to read a book from The Give and Take, a bookshelf of free titles for people to peruse and even take with them.”

The very first design on the blog was one of those things that seems to be more design object than practical book holder; more Slinky than shelf. It is a concoction of stainless steel coils that look like letters of the alphabet, corkscrewed in such a way they can be stretched apart and books inserted between the letters. It’s a work of art – it can scrape burnt grease off a fry pan – and, it’s from Milan, Italy!

Oh, it goes on. Stacked tea cups that somehow hold books. White-painted limbs of a tree gracefully supporting a row of books. A bookshelf that spells the word READ. There are designs for virtual, IPhone-style books – you know, the kind of bookshelves made of recycled electrons that exist only in your pocket device. Another set of shelves resemble clouds, and these are tacked over the headboard, apparently, of Alex Johnson’s bed.

The This-is-Not-A-Bookshelf appears to be constructed recycled painted boards nailed together in the form of the letter A. The maker, Lewis Wadsworth, writes “It’s not an oddly painted bookshelf made of scrap lumber. It’s not.” Well, that’s what he says, anyway.

Back in the days of clay tablets, did designers plot ways to keep the things upright and intact? Did the scrolls of ancient Rome reside on prosaic shelves like you see in the movies, or did the Romans invent scrollshelves?

In the Middle Ages, when an individual book might take years to create and illustrate, and with heavy binding, chain and lock weigh quite a few pounds – did these books have special shelving?

The colorful history of tablet, scroll and book shelves. Is there a colorful history? Wouldn’t we like to know!


Bookshelf by Alex Johnson. Thames & Hudson hard cover $24.95. ISBN 0500516146. Available May, 2012.

Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution by Alex Johnson. Frances Lincoln paperback $29.95. ISBN 071123082X.


alex johnson said...

Tony, that's really very kind of you. I'm glad you like the blog - I may be a little biased, but I think the book has come out very well and I'm proud of it. I think you'll enjoy it too.

Tony said...


Not only do I thank you for the kind words thanking me for being kind, which is kind of nice, all the way round, but also I am astounded you even found and read what I wrote... I forgot to alert you to this.... that is an astounding use of the Googlenet, I must say.

I have a copy of the book reserved....

Best, Tony

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