design: will e-readers kill the bookshelf?

bookshelf close up

I have always revered books as objects. Not only did I “publish” several great works before the tender age of ten (i.e. I had a few excellent, hard-working teachers who harnessed the power of lamination and did a masterful job of stapling), but I also spent countless hours arranging and re-arranging the books on my bookshelf. As in: Which ones will I face out today? Which ones will be displayed with their corresponding doll? Note that countless hours were spent DISPLAYING books, not actually reading them; hence my mother’s idea to entice me with books that came with dolls.

My love of reading wouldn’t actually kick in until high school. At this point (thanks to some more excellent teachers), I went hog-wild for this solitary, somewhat dorky hobby. Around this time, I was also thrilled to get eyeglasses: I was positively bookish, and proud of it. Since then, I’ve worked in bookstores, gotten happily lost in libraries and, when at other peoples’ houses, I’ve scoped their bookshelves with great interest. Just in case my love of books and reading isn’t coming through loud and clear to everyone in my life (and to those I’ve never met), I like to advertise this past-time on my car. Here is my one and only bumper sticker, which I have had for 10 years (courtesy of Browseabout Books, one of my favorite independent bookstores, in Rehoboth Beach, DE – in fact, this is one of the bookstores where I have had the honor to work):

Read sticker 2

This is all the long way of saying that when this crazy e-reader phenomenon hit, I nay-sayed, I scoffed, I soapboxed, I called myself a traditionalist.

Then I got one.

A nook.

Here is why I came over to the dark side: I knew I’d be coming out with a book this year (for more on this see the last several posts) and I wanted to see what all the hub-bub was about. The result? I discovered I liked the device VERY much. So sleek! So convenient! So nice to read in the dark-of-night whilst my better half slumbers! True traditionalist or not, I have bulldozed through more books since I got this thing in January than I ever have before.

E-readers do promote reading. They just don’t promote books – the kind with paper pages and titles etched artfully on their spines. Naturally, this makes me worry about The Bookshelf (not to mention The Bookstore and the The Library). And most relevant to this post, I wonder: what will become of home libraries? What about that singular thrill of snooping strolling through other people’s reading lives? What will happen to books as design elements? Even though my taste skews toward minimalism in most ways, the houses I love most are those filled with books.

Our library a.k.a. “book nook” is one of my favorite parts of our house:

library book nook

This single-shelf, wraparound configuration was inspired by a photography show we saw in New York City a few years ago: it featured 1,000 polaroids taken by Philip-Lorca diCorcia at the David Zwirner Gallery. The work was excellent, and we also appreciated how the photos were presented i.e. in one horizontal line around the whole space:


Rob got the shelves (nothing fancy) from Home Depot, had them cut to size, then installed them exactly at my eye level for ease of use. Custom height! No more bending down to find books, no more balancing on tip-toe. This system could only be more user-friendly if I’d taken the time to alphabetize.

purple loveseat

But the BEST part about this “library” – and I hate to brag here – is that we have our very own full-time librarian:

gnome librarian

He doesn’t actually shelve books, or do anything to organize them – he doesn’t know the dewey decimal system, nor does he shoosh visitors. He merely sits in his mini Saarinen Tulip chair and encourages quiet in his own way – by example. (We got this miniature chair and the gnome at the gift shop of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.)

In sum, I think this device has an excellent design:

the nook

And it even has what is called, “a library”:

nook library

But it doesn’t exactly contribute to any interior design. And for the impact it will have on my old friend, The Bookshelf, in the years to come…I can’t help but grieve.


How about you? E-reader? Old-school books?

Please note that The Homeowner’s Guide to Greatness can be purchased in both formats, wink.

Also note that I’ve been collecting photos of great bookshelves and home libraries on my Pinterest board called, “Bookish” for a while now, if you’d like to take a look. There are some very cool ideas here:

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25 replies

  1. I’m still in the camp of tech-resistance. One of those people clinging to my paper books and rummaging through the library booksale like there’s gold in one of those boxes.

    However? I distinctly remember saying this about the ipod: I don’t need that. And then the iphone: I don’t need that. So, I imagine a sad day in the future when I cave to the ipad…

    • Yup, it is the way of the world – I said the same thing about the ipod – now we don’t even have a cd player anywhere in the house! I suppose there will be a day (possibly not far off) when you can get more books on e-readers than you can in stores (maybe it’s already happening – it’s much cheaper from an author/publisher’s standpoint.) And the trees: I guess e-readers do save trees and that’s a good thing.

      But: reading a classic on your “new” fabulous porch? Old school book. 🙂

  2. Since my teenage daughter can go thru a 400 page book in just over 2 hours, I have often suggested that she get an e-reader so that she doesn’t have to take three books with her every time we leave the house for the day. She tells me she likes the feel and the smell of books. She likes the comfort of them in her room. (I meanwhile, worry she’ll die from suffocation when the piles inevitably avalanches onto her.) But, truly, I feel the same way as her. With my face always in my laptop or smartphone, books are an escape from technology. And I used to get such joy from borrowing and sharing books with girlfriends. Now, they say, “oh sorry its on my reader”. How does one even select an e-book? You can’t judge an e-book by its cover? (We all know that the graphics of a book sells it!) And a world without bookstores or libraries! Don’t want to even think about it.

    • A teenager who loves books! I know a lot of teens but haven’t met any like THAT recently. How refreshing. Well, I guess she’s a cool kid because she has a cool mom. 🙂

  3. I just think of the ancient libraries at Alexandria ( and Baghdad (, which were destroyed and the great literature and knowledge of those cultures were lost. I get concerned that we are building a more fragile version of these ancient libraries by having everything in digital formats. Yes, there is the speed and ease of reading on our laptops or on our e-readers, but if the majority of our texts are virtual then a crash of our electrical infrastructure could destroy everything in a flash….books are good, at least as a real world backup.

  4. i love your wrap-around book nook! and the librarian of course. makes me want to pull up one of your chairs and just read all day! i still haven’t gone to the dark side myself, but i do believe it’s inevitable….there’s nothing like a good book, no matter which format
    ps i love that you rearranged your childhood collection of books with dolls. i must admit a few of my porcelain ladies sat on books the color of their dresses in my childhood home, too.

  5. Our living room a.k.a. the shrine to IKEA EKBY wall shelves are very similar to your book nook (which I absolutely love b/c I love floating wall shelves with books). Every book on it has significance to me because I used to work with a lot of authors and we once did a special on whether or the e-reader would replace books. And the consensus among die hard book enthusiasts and collectors was that there’s something irrevocably irreplaceable about paper and hard cover books.

    Their scent. How they feel on your skin. Their texture. How it feels to tear through the pages a beloved book with your hands. They’re sexy. When we think of images of a wall or library of books there’s a huge romanticism about it. I don’t find anything nostalgic or romantic about an e-reader (as of right now that is).

    While e-readers are practical for on the go commuters, travelers etc.(I wouldn’t want to use mine on a beach for fear of it getting ruined) I can’t see books being replaced – their print editions are going to be limited due to the popularity of e-readers and the whole eco friendly aspect of saving paper – but that will only make hardcover and print editions that much more valuable over time.

    • Great points! (I did read my nook on the beach recently and I have to say it was a bit difficult to see and I did get some sand inside the power port thing, oops.)

      I do hope you’re right – hopefully books are here to stay – and maybe the e-reader WILL cause print versions to increase in value. And hopefully generations to come will revere books in the same way we do….?

  6. Great post. I’m a real book person myself, nothing beats a physical book in my hands, filling up every available bit of space in my house. Now granted I do have an e-reader, got a Kindle two and a half years ago, use it on occasion but honestly don’t like it. No matter what happens in the world by bookshelves are here to stay and I will always go for print books over e-books any day.

  7. Love your book shelves, the books looks so pretty all displayed against the white …. many of those covers are looking very familiar.
    I feel like people who truly love books and love to read will always buy the real thing. I can’t imagine our home without the shelves and shelves of books just waiting to be read again and again, flashing their artsy covers at us, waiting to be picked and touched, turned, sniffed, and enjoyed. Book sniffing is very popular at our house… especially when Richie brings home an oldie but a goodie from an estate sale.

    I do admit that I bought the kindle version of your book. It is only the 2nd e-book I’ve ever bought but I just COULDN’T WAIT to read it. It was an instant thrill to watch the pages download in seconds and immediately read what I knew would be funny and enjoyable. It was fun to have it on my phone too and just whip out the book and make friends laugh by reading excerpts or have a companion while I waited in the dentist office. I can see it possibly allowing me to read more because I’m sometimes lazy and don’t feel like leaving the house.
    The other book I downloaded was a book that I would never want anyone to know I read!!! HA HA HA HAH! (hanging head in shame!) My husband would be horrified to have “that book” on the shelves of our home. He’s a book snob, indeed!

    Seriously, I think the e-readers are fun but I doubt it will ever take the place of books at our house. My husband reads 4-5 books a week and there are constantly stacks of books here and there as he finishes them.
    I love to see those stacks! We will forever buy books but most definitely grab an e-book now and then.

    And obviously I enjoying writing books on other people’s blogs…. Sorry.

    • Yes! The book stacks can create a whole new interior landscape – they make very nice drink holders and plant stands 🙂

      Wow, your husband is a power reader: he must have won some serious reading contests in grade school!

      I LOVE that you bought the book on the Kindle – was fun to have such immediate feedback!! A lot of my friends are still waiting for it to arrive. 🙂

      I have to say that my e-reader has helped me with my bookgroup – I was in this weird loop that went something like: I should get this book from the library, but maybe I’ll want to own this one, but the parking is so bad by that barnes and noble, but I do have a gift certificate. I’d stay in that space until about a week before our bookgroup meeting then finally get the book and wouldn’t have time to finish reading it, or I’d be cramming like a college kid for the big exam. Now, I go home that night, order it, and have it read well in advance, like a good girl. 🙂

      Sniffing books: I can’t decide if that practice of yours is like sniffing glue or like stopping to smell the flowers. I suspect a little of both. ha!

      • Well my husband is an English teacher and head of the department… he’s a literature freak! He loves books and plows through them. Whenever he’s got a book to read… I cease to exist. He enters another world and I just wait for him to reappear! HA HA!
        The book sniffing is definitely a “high”! Thanks for the lovely reply.. you got some action on this topic, J.

  8. As a teacher, we are pushing for our kids to download their individual textbooks onto their phones, iPads, netbooks, etc. From a personal stand point I like the idea of being able to consolidate my materials in one place because I like order and clutter control. As much as I like vintage books and literature in general, we can’t hold onto the past just because I think it’s cooler. Plus, there have been books published for the last century and before… there is a ton of material out there to read!

    • I am curious what’s going on in the schools these days, it’s really a whole new era, I am sure. When I think of all the books we lugged in our backpacks, all those years…we’ll, my back is still sore. The consolidation aspect of e-readers, etc, is truly remarkable. I have to say, as much as I love my books, I have cursed them and their extra heavy boxes every single time I have moved.

      Downloading several books before going on vacation is the best example of this. Another benefit: you can hold your e-reader and say (or sing) things like, “I’ve got the whole world in my hands….”

  9. I LOVE the feeling of holding a book and turning the pages, but there is no denying the convenience of an e-reader. I went to the dark side a year ago and bought a Kindle, but I find myself swtiching back and forth between real books and e-books.

    I love your home library. It looks like a wonderful place to sit and read with a cup of tea.

    • Thanks Paprika! You are cordially invited for a cup of tea and a reading sesh anytime you would like (please invite Hummus and Falafel as well!)

      It’s weird: I haven’t read a real book since I got this thing. That’s how I was with snowboarding too: once I tried it, I never went back to skiing. So I think that is very diplomatic too keep a foot in both worlds 🙂

  10. Bookshelves or libraries are a great way to utilize wall space. Hallways and corners can be transformed into reading areas and the books on display add to the decor. Even if your book collection becomes downsized as you purchase e-books, you can mix up the shelves with decorative items to add to the ambiance of your reading area.

  11. Your house is so cool. 🙂 I love that book shelf idea.

    No nook for me. No kindle. Not yet. But I never say never about such things!

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