Like the rest of us, all the reporters currently appearing on T.V. are working from home. I have my favorite reporters, celebrity hosts, and interviewers.

Not only do I listen to what they’re saying, I’m also checking out hair, makeup, clothing, jewelry and the décor in their homes. It seems that most have decided that a bookcase is the acceptable, generic background, perhaps because they are reporting from their offices where their books are relegated. Except for Gail King who invites us into her family room with bright persimmon walls, yellow and orange patterned furniture and lots of art on the only wall exposed to the public. One is tilted slightly and that bothers me. Didn’t anyone on the other side of the camera notice?

I study it all and it seems that everyone has framed photos and no one has heard of photo tape that goes on the back of each corner to keep the frames in place. I am now an expert on the minutia of bookcases that reveal a lot about the speaker.

There are bookcases and there are BOOKCASES, as in the British Museum Library where the shelves are covered with cowhide or steel as they are in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.  Bookcases or shelves are used in private homes, offices, book stores and, of course libraries. They can be any size from table height to those reaching from floor to ceiling and taking up an entire wall, or room, in which case the room is called “the library”, a term I’ve always found pretentious. Well-known and innovative residential architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen’s signature in every house he designs is a wall-to-wall, ceiling to floor bookcase of modular squares. It makes a definite statement around which all the furnishings are carefully selected. In fact each piece of furniture in his minimal design of the interiors is deliberately chosen so as not to compete with the wall of books. In this case, every title, every color, every typeface, every size, everything about a book must fit into the overall design – a meticulous project to consider. I love this idea for warming up and personalizing a modern home.

According to Wikipedia, private libraries appeared during the late Roman republic, outfitted for show by illiterate owners who scarcely read their titles in the course of a lifetime. Something like an amateur cook, displaying all the latest cookbooks in the kitchen. What I’ve discovered about ordinary, educated people like those who appear on the news stations is that bookcases are not treated as an interesting, decorative addition to a room. They are mostly messy and haphazard, indicating functional rather than a design statement. The TV men and women of the scientific world tend to fall into this category. Almost everyone, however, has made a stab at minimal styling and perhaps to seem real, by adding those family photographs

If you’re looking for a project while social distancing, arranging books is a creative endeavor. I just finished sorting the bookcases in my office. The books on those shelves are, for the most part, related to my work. They create my reference library, along with the books I’ve written, just because I have nowhere else to keep them. Once a book is added to a bookcase, it seems to have earned its sacred place for eternity, unless you are a compulsive declutterer. It is very hard to get rid of books, especially outdated hardbacks.  A narrow shelf runs around a tiny den in my house. It holds books that represent the stages of my life from college days with Ram Dass, Brautigan, E.B. White, Ayn Rand, Ferber, through to current novels I found worth saving and return to often.

From my scant inspection of reporter’s bookshelves, arranging books in an artistic manner is not high on anyone’s to-do list.  The scientific community as a whole has unimpressive bookcases with books that minimally fill them. Having a blank wall would be far less distracting. The women who are style conscious, like Oprah, reveal little, and what does show is usually artwork. Authors who write about the subject at hand, the virus or politics, have several of their books front and center with spines clearly visible. A bit obvious, but I can’t blame blatant self-promotion. I’ve done it myself. 

Tom Steyer, like several politicians have bookcases that are sparse and messy and filled mostly with trade paperbacks of all sizes. Mayor Lance Bottoms of Atlanta has a styled bookcase with lots of framed photos and mostly hardcover books. Gene Robinson, reporter for the Washington Post, has a view of the Capital building behind him. But wouldn’t it be fun to see him in front of Five Brothers in his neighborhood in Key West?

There are many books on construction and arrangement of bookcases. One is “On Books and the Housing of Them.” Another “The Book On The Bookshelf” discusses the shelving of books in some detail. “Living With Books” deals with accommodating books at home. BTW, thanks for all the emails about sheets. It seems the jury is still out.