Don’t Judge a Book by Its Back Cover

Both my children, I've been pleased to discover, are something of design innovators. They have style. Not "Girl, you look good" kind of style, but more, "Wow, what an insane and interesting and ultimately pleasurable to look at outfit" sort of style.

This goes for their rooms as well. They've recently each gotten their own rooms, and they are industriously and passionately going about decorating them. The results are…surprising. Chestnut, when given a budget, went out and bought some art. In Chinatown. Art in the form of an 18-inch Ninja sculpture, that now stands poised on the top of her art station in the middle of the room. Diana also decided to put her money into art. She purchased a large, framed, paint-by-numbers scene of two deer at a mountain stream, done by someone in the 1970s by the look of it. "It's so beautiful and peaceful," she says.

And then there are the bookshelves. Here is what is interesting to me:

As I watched this take shape, I offered,  "Um, you know that those books are supposed to go in…"

"Yes, I know, Mommy, but this is how I want it."

And really, as someone who enjoys reading the back of the book, the side of the cereal box, and watching the previews more than the movie, I understand. Or at least I think I understand. It's just unusual is all. And hard to maintain, no doubt. It's like this all over the room, books arranged in the middle of shelves, showing the world their blurbs and synopses. At least, I think that's what the attraction is. I don't really know. And I don't want to press too hard. But seeing them there, all arranged over the insane and motley crew that makes up her library, it's really quite excellent. It conveys more than any ordinary arrangement ever could. So there you go. I'm not sure how the dewey decimal system would handle it, though.

On a separate note: is letting your child—even encouraging her to—read Kurt Vonnegut ill-advised? 

8 thoughts on “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Back Cover

  1. My Mom gave me her college copy of Cat’s Cradle to read when I was eleven years old and recovering from surgery. I loved it then, and even more when I read it in my teens. Reading Vonnegut books was really important to my early political/ethical development, and I’m so glad she gave me that headstart on it.


  2. Vonnegut is my all time favorite author! I really believe that because I discovered him at the right age, he had a significant influence on how I view the world. And I am better for it.
    I didn’t start reading Vonnegut until high school, but certainly think that I could have started sooner. Although, I don’t know that he would have had the same influence on me if I had been younger when I read him.
    Also, many of his books have adult themes that, despite the humor used to tell the story, I think could be disturbing to a younger reader. I would want to reread each before passing them along.


  3. The books on display look to me like examples of the type of book on that shelf — a label of a sort. Staff picks, perhaps.


  4. Pottery Barn went through a period last year or so where every room they showed in a catalogue had books arranged spine in so that all you saw on the shelves were rows and rows of pages. I was sort of horrified. But backwards may be comforting for her, a reassurance of how well she knows her collection, she doesn’t need the front to know which book it is. When I was in middle-school the arrangement of my books was so distinct I could pick out whatever I was looking for in the dark before I crawled back in bed with it. It’s nice to know that your books are arranged just for you and for your tastes.


  5. What comes out in this post is a love of your daughters that feels deep and true and beautiful. How lucky they are–and you, too.


  6. I love those backward books! I cringe in my mind when I see it, but it’s just because I’ve been completely convinced that when it comes to almost everything, there’s a right way to do it and about a thousand other ways. And if possible, you always choose the right way. I love it that she’s making it so clear that it doesn’t matter how all the other readers in the world choose to arrange their books–by author, size, color, genre, but always spines out–she arranges them in the way she likes. I hope she can keep applying that sensibility to everything she does!


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