Link of Literacy: Bookshelf Porn

August 26, 2010

While I’ve lived in a variety of apartments over the last seven years, they are united in that for all of them the predominating factor has been the careful placement of a bookshelf. Be they an eight-foot scrap wood behemoth constructed by a crazy ex-librarian, a smoothly polished IKEA GREVBÄCK unit or a series of modular plastic shelves, a bookshelf – in my estimation – is what makes an apartment an apartment. It’s a sign a place is lived in, a checklist of what its resident cares about and what they’ve occupied their minds with.

For those who share my appreciation – and for those who enjoyed my Librophiliac Love Letter link from last year – you can bask in the literate glory that is Bookshelf Porn. The site collects a collage of bookshelf images, running the gamut of shelves and collections. Some merely arrange stacks of books into interesting and colorful formations, some of them are piled so high it’s clear that the owner has been there for years and some of them bear an aesthetic that looks as if the building has been constructed around the shelves.

Anyone can take a picture of their bookshelf of course – or just stop by the local store with a digital camera – but the photos at Bookshelf Porn are ones that trigger the right appreciative switch on my head. Partly it’s the variety, the artistic use of light and shadow several of the photos take, but mostly it’s the overwhelming sense of completion that always comes to me when I’m wandering through a library and which these photos manage to capture for one eternal second.

Inserted into this post are just a few of the very fine images that have been submitted to Bookshelf Porn, which I hope you’ll use as an entry point to their site. Peruse through them and pick yourself out a new desktop background, sign up for their Twitter feed to know when a new shelf is featured, or let them inspire you to drop a good chunk of your next paycheck on building your own.

Les Chappell is currently weighing the merits of moving from his existing apartment simply because there is no room to place a second shelf. Suggestions for how to make the most use of existing space are welcomed at, or through Twitter at


Link of Literacy: TV Girl

November 19, 2009

In the last few years I’ve grown more and more appreciative of television – helped chiefly by its maturation as a storytelling platform. Witness “The Wire,” best viewed as a five-part novel on a city’s life and conflicts, told with such character depth and intertwined storylines it could give some of the great Russians a run for their money. Or “Deadwood,” which creates a community amongst disjointed individuals who realize they don’t fit in anywhere else; or “Breaking Bad,” arguably the next big step in television storytelling by painting a chemistry teacher/drug dealer’s path to Hell (the special kind reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater).

So I have a great deal of interest in the narrative of television writing, but it’s not something I can see myself placing much focus on in this blog as books are our first focus (though some shows, like “Dexter,” are in the queue for proper analysis). There are many people who do make this their focus though, and a new source for such study has popped up in Tarah Scalzo’s “TV Girl.” Tarah, a fellow alumni of the Daily Cardinal’s arts columnist fraternity as the author of “The Taraminator” movie column in 2006-2007, has turned her attention to TV shows in a blog that adheres to the tagline “Television is literature.”

It’s a fairly brief affair so far with only four posts – three on Christmas episodes (part of a Top 10 list I assume) and one on the decline of “House” as a TV show (which I wholeheartedly agree with) – but it’s off to a good start. The writing reflects the crucial entertainment blogger attribute of both knowing and caring about your subject matter, and the writing is engaging without the semi-frequent dips of pretension the Onion’s A.V. Club is guilty of.

So if you’re a professional TV viewer (thanks to my Portland drinking partner Kevin for that phrase) I endorse paying attention to it in upcoming months. There’s always more than one way to tell a story after all.

Links of Literacy: Books as Art

September 25, 2009

I’m one of the first defenders of books from an aesthetic standpoint – not in terms of their content, but in terms of their appearance. A well-stocked bookshelf goes a long way toward making an apartment presentable, especially if it’s fortunate enough to be full of leather-bound first editions trimmed in gold (mahogany smell is optional but strongly encouraged). Even if the titles haven’t been cracked, the image alone speaks to the attention that one spends on their collection, both in terms of caring for the books and the investment you’re willing to make.

But for some people, leaving the books on a shelf to admire isn’t enough – the physical form of a book has a potential the publishers likely never even imagined. Whether it’s expanding on the general symbolism of what the book represents, a visual twist on the titles or simply using it as a base for incredibly detailed origami, there are a lot of artists working today who are doing wonderful things with the medium. A twinge does come up at the fact that a book had to go under the knife and have its readability destroyed, but I think most authors would be pleasantly surprised to see their works rendered in this new light.

Having amassed a collection of links from various literary sites, Twitter feeds and randomly posted links, I decided to gather a few of my favorite examples of using books as the raw materials for art. Links and pictures are provided below, and I strongly encourage you to take a look and appreciate just how clever some people get with the contents of their shelf.

  • The work of Robert The is a fantastic reshaping of books, chopping them up in elaborate shapes to create guns and crustaceans and even a hangman’s noose. There’s a lot of symbolism tied up in each of these (the noose is made up of a dictionary, Bibles are turned into the links of chains, an encyclopedia heads up a broom) and it’s art that really makes you think when you look at it. And of course, the fact that he’s a graduate of my alma mater the University of Wisconsin doesn’t hurt.  There’s also a great essay/interview here that discusses his work from a critical perspective, with two other interesting artists below.

McLuhan braque01

  • Nicholas Galanin is another artist who works in the same sort of style – cutting and reshaping books to form sculpture – but his What Have We Become? set puts a whole new face on the subject. The cutting of heads and profiles shows a great deal of care on the artist’s part, and creates some rather unsettling reliefs that look worlds better than any bust or African mask.

what-have-we-become what-have-we-become2

  • Brian Dettmer’s art cuts a little bit deeper – literally – as he chops into the books to construct his series of “Book Autopsies,” odd works that evoke a mix of M.C. Escher and window boxes I saw in the Chicago Art Institute’s modern art wing one year. Visually complex and inventive, many of these are books begging to be leafed through to see how the effect carries out – thought I’d never dare to do so.

briandettmer2 briandettmer5

  • For a prime example of visual storytelling, look no further than these pieces by Su Blackwell, marvelously fragile dioramas that construct scenes from “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan” among others. She says in her artist’s statement that she creates works that “reflect on the precariousness of the world we inhabit and the fragility of our life, dreams and ambitions,” and the almost etheral nature of the scenes she has chosen only adds to the effect.

Through_the_Looking_Glass The_Lake_and_The_Boat

  • Lastly, while not exactly art in the sense as the previous creations, this line of Don’t Judge Me “book safes” by Busted Typewriter ranks highly as one of the most creative uses for old books I’ve ever seen. You can also purchase them straight off of Etsy if you feel so inclined.


Anyone else know of an artist working in the field that I’ve missed? Post the link below so everyone else can bask in their splendor.

Link of Literacy: Awful Library Books

July 21, 2009

The most prevalent trait I’ve noticed about the older used bookstores – beyond the fact that I think I want to be buried under one if my time comes before I can be uploaded into a HAL 9000-like consciousness – is that they’re usually full of books that no sane person would likely have an interest in reading. You know the ones I’m talking about – the torn dust jackets, yellowed pages, cover designs that are nauseatingly old-fashioned with retro fonts. These are the books that you marvel ever got published, and which exist more as historical curiosities than actual literature.

And for the past few months, these books have been cataloged online throught the efforts of Awful Library Books. Started in April by Michigan librarians Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner, the site lists the older titles that public libraries still have in stock and which likely haven’t been checked out since the Ford administration.

This is a great site for two reasons. First of all, the breadth of titles they come up with are hilariously out of date, and in some cases shockingly un-PC. They evoke some sort of Brady Bunch-esque idealized view of their readers, and I’m sure if you were to open them up the language would be equally outdated. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example of some titles:

dealwithparents1 starpower

those-amazing-leeches craftsforretarded

Don’t exactly look like the titles that’ll fly off the shelves, do they?

And that leads me to my other observation on this site – the books covered are silly and clearly for a past generation, but there’s something to be said for their nostalgia/camp factor. At some point, someone not only thought that producing these books was a good idea, but there was an audience of people who bought the titles and discussed them in the same context I and other critics discuss books. It makes me wonder how twenty years from now some of the glossy political books or mass-market paperbacks will be viewed by the enlightened next-generation Kindlebots.

It’s important to appreciate one’s literary past, no matter how strange, and ALB is a site that has that quality to spare. In their posts, Kelly and Hibner both are clearly very fond of their research material, and their judgment on culling the books from shelves is tempered with their gentle mocking of the subject matter. They’re not as cynical as I’d likely be, but in our world of shrinking literacy a little affection is a welcome quality.

So, I encourage all of you with a fondness for absurd titles – check this site out, and if you happen to have a particular title on the shelf send it their way at

Link: The Espresso Book Machine

June 24, 2009

Espresso-book-machine-Esp-007I had originally hoped to get a column to you today, but after writing for a few hours it became very apparent that what I’d written for you wasn’t up to my usual standards. Instead, as filler while you wait for next week’s column, please enjoy these links to the Espresso Book Machine by On Demand Books – a remarkable little gadget that could very well add another edge to small presses.

Find some images here, a news article lauding its potential here and some footage of the device in action here.

Link: Librophiliac Love Letter

June 17, 2009

If my last column filled you with any sort of rage, then may I cheerfully offer you this (also via Neil Gaiman’s blog) to mellow you out: a collection of pictures of the world’s grandest libraries, courtesy of Curious Expeditions.

Here’s a couple of samples to whet your appetite:

I luoghi della memoria scritta. Le Biblioteche italiane tra tute

Biblioteca Angelica, Rome, Italy


Herzog August Library, Wolfenbüttel, Germany


Bibliothéque Nationale de France, Paris, France

More relaxing than any herbal bath in my estimation.