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Arguing Over Culture Is Often Futile

Froma Harrop on

Not a month goes by, it seems, when the country doesn't have some minor cultural trend to spar over. These "debates" can be fun or not. But in almost every case, fights over these passing fixations are futile.

OK. Let's get specific. There's that recent skirmish over something called "bookshelf wealth."

Never heard of it? Well, Architectural Digest called bookshelf wealth "2024's First Major Design Trend." TikTok is all over it.

What is bookshelf wealth? It is arranging your bookshelf in a visually pleasing manner. For fancy people, that means amassing a "curated" collection of books placed just so. The intention is to advertise one's brainy interests.

A related TikTok phrase is "dark academia." It refers to a subculture that venerates reading and writing." Typical decor includes overstuffed couches, sculpture and walls painted a murky midnight blue.

Needless to say, there's been considerable blowback by people who are serious readers or claim to be. Books to them are holy objects with value far beyond the decorative. A yellowing paperback of "The Sound and the Fury" deserves more veneration than a ceramic horse.

 

Some TikTok influencers address this objection, or try. "These aren't display books," one insists in a not convincing way. "These are books that have actually been curated and read." If she says so.

Some widely circulating videos on bookshelf wealth show shelves laden with vases, candlesticks and black-and-white art photography -- interspersed with a few book spines. "Embrace odd numbers," the instructions say. And "keep your shelves feeling as intentional as possible."

One critic responded: "Bookshelf wealth doesn't mean you have books. It means you have built-ins." As proof that she reads, the woman supplied pictures of books piled on her floor.

Libraries have become hoo-ha designations in upscale new houses. They imply that the owners don't spend all their free time frozen before the monster screen in the "media room." They also do quiet contemplation

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