What’s wrong with this picture?

We all love a good library picture. And I am guessing I am not the only one who likes scanning pictures of bookshelves in magazines to see if there is anything interesting. Usually one can’t see many of the spines clearly but yet we no doubt see a few that we recognize by color/size/design even without being able to read the titles.

And then along comes this picture. I tore it out of a magazine quite a while ago so I don’t remember where it came from. You would think that with so many books visible I would have fun combing the stacks as it were. But it doesn’t take long to realize this is not a library worth browsing. At least not to me. In the first place the picture is staged, and poorly staged at that. Those piles do not look the least bit organic. In the second place, and this is the important part, there are so few books shown that I would even consider reading, that there might as well not be any books in the picture.

I can see a few that would keep me from getting entirely bored. The Sherlock Holmes boxed set in the foreground and the Jon Stewart book on the topo shelf.  In a pinch I might pick up the two Harry Potters in the collection. I would probably scan the Suze Ourman book because I love reading about saving money, but I sure wouldn’t pick up the Wally Lamb, Bridget Jones or Smilla’s Sense of Snow again. None of them warrant a re-read. And while Empire Falls is a good book, I was a little bored by it and didn’t finish it.  So after that, what are you left with? Tons of Patterson, Steele, Brown, Baldacci and Grisham.

Has this ever happened to you: you see a full boookcase and think “oh fun”. But as soon as you scratch the surface you realize it is all crap?

If you want a closer look at the boring books
click the picture to make it larger.

27 thoughts on “What’s wrong with this picture?

  1. Amy June 29, 2011 / 8:18 am

    How depressing! Now that you pointed that out I'll be scanning pictures more closely in the future!


  2. Susan in TX June 29, 2011 / 8:30 am

    I wonder if this is what one receives when one “buys books by the foot” at Half-Price books? Yes, this has to be a depressing picture. I guess the upside would be that if they lose power in the winter, they have plenty of kindling on hand. :)


  3. betsy June 29, 2011 / 8:47 am

    This looks like the Bellevue(Suburb of Nashville) Tennessee public library stacks. Books, that as the wag once said “Look like books written on a typewriter by a typewriter”.


  4. everybookandcranny June 29, 2011 / 9:28 am

    What's worse is when you have the same experience when visiting a bookstore. I recently went to an antique store that advertised “Over 1,000 used books” only when I got there and climbed the three flights of stairs to the attic room where the books were contained I discovered that they were ALL, yes ALL, trashy romance novels – the kind that my grandmother used to exchange with her neighbors by the garbage bag (appropriate mode of exchange anyway).


  5. rhapsodyinbooks June 29, 2011 / 9:35 am

    It sure does look beautiful though, at first glance! It looks “cozy.”


  6. ArchitectDesign™ June 29, 2011 / 10:03 am

    I find I do the same thing with library photos -scan the books. Thats where half of my amazon wish list came from afterall. You are so right with this collection though, I think they browse the grocery store checkout line for their reading list.


  7. Kinga June 29, 2011 / 10:29 am

    Agreed but what is even worse is being introduced by a friend to another person with the remark “The two of you love reading, so I'm sure you'll have plenty to talk about” and leaves you with this person. And then, very soon, you discover that they just looove the new Danielle Steel and isn't Grisham just the best and what about Martina Cole, isn't she fab. And you're stuck there at the party, not sure what to say, looking around to be rescued by anyone.

    Book snob? Moi? Surely not.


  8. harriet June 29, 2011 / 10:45 am

    I have had that experience, yes! But please let me speak up for Smilla's Feeling for Snow — it's an excellent book, really well written.


  9. Darlene June 29, 2011 / 11:36 am

    So true! And Kinga's comment made me laugh! Oh the times I have wanted to drag a customer back into the stacks when they approach the circulation desk bearing a romance paperback. “Try again!”

    I am constantly scanning the bookshelves in magazines for signs of books that I adore but you're right, Thomas, a lot of the time the image is a disappointing one.


  10. mary June 29, 2011 / 3:22 pm

    The person who picked the wild flowers most certainly wouldn't be reading most of those books.
    (Except I've just noticed Birdsong …)
    I also think you're very hard on Miss Smilla (though I much prefer the UK title, and I wonder if that would have affected my enjoyment of the book?) It's a long time since I've read it but I thought it was brilliant.


  11. Thomas at My Porch June 29, 2011 / 5:10 pm

    Amy: Sometimes I get out my magnifying glass.

    Susan: All those bright colors and shiny covers would make for a smokey fire.

    Betsy: Sad isn't it?

    EBAC: You are so right. That is so disappointing–and it tends to happen in vacation spots doesn't it?

    Rhapsody: Books are naturally photogenic.

    Stefan: They might all be Costco purchases.

    Kinga: Oh, you are so right. It is hard to even follow up with questions once their reading tastes emerge.

    Harriet: I actually did like Smilla. Didn't mean to put it down.

    Darlene: And isn't it funny sometimes when you scan the pictures how you can tell what certain books are even though you can't read the title?

    Mary: Ooh, I didn't mean to be mean to Miss Smilla. I truly did enjoy that book. I just meant that I won't read it again, which is true of most books I enjoy. I also loved Bridget Jones (in the British edition and waaaay before the movie, which I hated). The only one of the three that I really didn't like was I Know This Much is True. Maybe I erred in mentioning it in the same breath.


  12. Nan June 29, 2011 / 7:27 pm

    It looks so cluttery I wouldn't even bother looking closer. I hate books in such disarray.


  13. music-books-steve June 29, 2011 / 8:33 pm

    @Susan, I work at a HPB, and what you get in “books by the yard” are usually old encyclopedias, Reader's Digest Condensed Books, broken sets, etc. They are purchased by decorators, designers, house-stagers, and the like. The BBYs specifically avoid showing titles that could be in ANY way controversial.

    @Thomas. I have a fascination with the books that show up in pictures, in the displays at furniture stores, in the background of celebrity photos etc. I think my favorite was an elaborately staged picture in a Target ad (I think) of a singer on stage (at Mpls State theater I think). The music on the pianist's rack was a Mozart Piano Sonata. It never occurred to anyone at the shoot that it should be vocal music, or that anyone would have eyes sharp enough to recognize it.

    (BTW, my quick estimate of what the seller would receive if they brought the collection shown in this picture into our store to sell is about eight dollars.) Trash.


  14. C.B. James June 29, 2011 / 11:34 pm

    I do see Portnoy's Complaint by Phillip Roth, which is hysterical. Not much else though. It's kind of sad to see so many books and so few titles I'd be interested in. This often happens to me at Borders.


  15. Relish June 30, 2011 / 2:56 pm

    There's a charity book shop down the road that I got reeaalllyy excited about when I saw the sign '3 for £1'..only to discover that it was all Jilly Cooper and cheesy pirate novellas..boo


  16. Thomas at My Porch June 30, 2011 / 4:10 pm

    Nan: I certainly prefer tidy clutter.

    Steve: I love your assessment of the value of the books.

    CB: I haven't read Portnoy. Although I liked The Plot Against America, I found American Pastoral so tedious I gave up about 100 pages in. So I am not sure how I feel about Roth.

    Relish: I don't think I have every read a pirate novella.


  17. Karen K. June 30, 2011 / 4:50 pm

    I agree with you and Stefan, definitely Costco or Wal-Mart purchases!

    And that vase looks like it's about to topple over. Well, they look mostly like beach reads anyhow, so that's somehow appropriate.


  18. Melissa June 30, 2011 / 5:42 pm

    And who hides their book collection with a vase like that? (Assuming, you know, you want to hide one's book collection, which I'm assuming most of us do NOT.)

    I might pick up the Lisa Scottoline. I always feel guilty about not ever reading one of her books because she is from Philly, like me, and we're supposed to love her. (I'm sure she is great; I've just never read her.)

    Nice to “meet” you from the comment on my blog, BTW. Thank you!


  19. Thomas at My Porch July 1, 2011 / 10:04 am

    Karen: I was just in Safeway last night and there was a rack that looked like these shelves.

    Melissa: I have been lurking on your blog for a while. Finally chimed it.


  20. Coffee and a Book Chick July 1, 2011 / 7:42 pm

    Oh, so THIS is where bad books go to die! I knew there was a place for those dreadful Patterson books.


  21. gaskella July 2, 2011 / 9:14 am

    Browsing the book table at my daughter's school fete the other day, there was not one book I wanted to buy – so disappointing, especially when they were all £1 or less!


  22. Thomas at My Porch July 2, 2011 / 11:37 am

    Coffee: And these authors are so prolific that the shelves must fill up pretty quickly.

    Gaskella: I hate it when that happens.


  23. savidgereads July 2, 2011 / 1:38 pm

    Grrrr I thought I had commented on this marvellous post. I thought I had told you about my friend who on the death of her grandfather was most annoyed that 'his bookshelves were just full of boring manuels and Inspector Morse books' ha!


  24. susangraphicdesign July 2, 2011 / 4:59 pm

    I can't count how many times this has happened! Usually at a rental cabin or B&B or similar, and I'm always so disappointed. Of this, I'd probably pick up the Carl Hiassen — I always enjoy his thinly disguised indictment of Disney and other environmental marauders. I think part of the appeal of this particular bookshelf vignette is the haphazard stacks — looks inviting, somewhat like my well-loved collection.

    On a separate note, Thomas, I'm a recent follower and do enjoy your blog so much — I'm a DC native (although now a Californian) and avid reader. You've inspired me with new book ideas and I'll be picking up a Brookner this weekend to participate!!


  25. sarahsbooks July 7, 2011 / 9:31 am

    Bad books aside, I am transfixed by the hideousness of that giant vase.


  26. nishitak October 27, 2011 / 7:48 am

    Ouch! That guy has James Patterson in hard-cover!! Those kind of books are strictly “borrow from library when I can't find anything better” kind of books


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