You all know that old saying, the one about not judging a book by its cover, right? Well, I happened across some online French Revolution-era reproductions of books, with plain covers, that struck me as rather interesting.
The description of this product runs as follows:
Grand Tomes (Set of 3)
During the French Revolution, reading was forbidden in order to prevent the spread of rebellious stories about the monarchy. During that time, printers produced couverture muette or “mute books” – books with blank covers – to avoid detection. Paying homage to those historic 18th-century tomes, these exquisite books are entirely crafted by hand, from the torn paper and simple cover boards to the naturally stained linen bindings and timeworn labels. The only difference? The pages within are blank.
What’s so interesting to me about these “muted books” is the strategic reversal: an historical artifact that once protected dangerous content by means of an unsignified cover now, instead, has utterly blank content and a plain cover that speaks loudly of antiquity, culture, and learning — at least to those who place them around their living rooms or dens.
But despite the curious reversal, all anyone does with these books is hope that people judge them by their covers: whether disguising once dangerous ideas or putting one over on our guests.
During last year’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life revival on Netflix, I kept hearing viewers basking in acknowledgment of a reference lost on me. In the scene, a wealthy and recently-widowed WASP declutters her mansion while wearing uncharacteristically casual clothes. The woman is in crisis and ready to make a change. She marshals some hired help to move large objects in her mansion while she scrutinizes the smaller items.
At one point she says, “If it brings you joy, you keep it. If it doesn’t, out it goes.”
Now I finally get it… Continue reading “Tidying Up Books and other Cultural Essentialisms”
The book, among humanity’s most wide-reaching and long lasting technological innovations, has adversely impacted the human species in ways its creators could have never imagined. Continue reading “People Are Way Too Obsessed With Their Books”
I have a book problem. Having built a whole wall of bookshelves recently, and filled much of that space with books we already owned, perhaps I should say that I have a bookshelf problem. My family and I enjoy collecting books, often searching at thrift stores for treasures that others have discarded. We have found a range of works, including works by nineteenth and early twentieth century authors whom we deeply appreciate but would never have found browsing at Barnes and Noble or perusing the suggestions on Amazon. These book-buying endeavors reinforced our experiences browsing bookstores in India and Singapore that also led us to gems not commonly available or even known in the United States. Continue reading “Are You Really Free to Read?”