When it comes to the books on my shelves, I’ve read them

With word out that TV pundits are buying books by the yard, I thought I’d better confirm my book bona fides.

If I’d kept all the books I’ve bought over the years, I guesstimate that I would have two or three thousand books. I didn’t keep them, though. Books are expensive and difficult to move, and I’ve moved often. With each move, I’ve reluctantly shed hundreds of books.

Still, despite all the shedding, I still have a lot of books. Not all are books of which I’m necessarily proud. Longtime readers know that I have a passion for junk novels. I find them relaxing. This is a picture of my main bookshelf, all forty linear feet of it.

In another room, I have a whole selection of children’s books, from my and my children’s younger years, which I’m saving for hypothetical grandchildren. (I also still reread some of them, especially the Narnia books, which are what pass for religious contemplation in my life.) Downstairs, I have all my cookbooks and knitting books. My mother, to my great regret, disposed of all of my father’s books without asking me whether I might like some of those. He had some wonderful, eclectic books that he’d found in thrift stores over the years. They are irrecoverable.

I mention this — the reality of my book collection — because Politico revealed the big secret in D.C. about all those impressive bookshelves behind the talking heads, sequestered in their homes, but making their TV appearances via Zoom: The collections are fake.

While interior decorators once bought books by the foot to make an aesthetic statement for people who don’t read, the D.C. in-crowd now realizes that, if audiences are going to see inside their homes — it’s imperative that they look well-read. It’s especially imperative that nobody sees how vapid or minimal their reading material is. And so they buy curated books by the yard:

Books by the Foot, a service run by the Maryland-based bookseller Wonder Book, has become a go-to curator of Washington bookshelves, offering precisely what its name sounds like it does. As retro as a shelf of books might seem in an era of flat-panel screens, Books by the Foot has thrived through Democratic and Republican administrations, including that of the book-averse Donald Trump. And this year, the company has seen a twist: When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Books by the Foot had to adapt to a downturn in office- and hotel-decor business—and an uptick in home-office Zoom backdrops for the talking-head class.

The Wonder Book staff doesn’t pry too much into which objective a particular client is after. If an order were to come in for, say, 12 feet of books about politics, specifically with a progressive or liberal tilt—as one did in August—Wonder Book’s manager, Jessica Bowman, would simply send one of her more politics-savvy staffers to the enormous box labeled “Politically Incorrect” (the name of Books by the Foot’s politics package) to select about 120 books by authors like Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Al Franken and Bob Woodward. The books would then be “staged,” or arranged with the same care a florist might extend to a bouquet of flowers, on a library cart; double-checked by a second staffer; and then shipped off to the residence or commercial space where they would eventually be shelved and displayed (or shelved and taken down to read).

(And yes, I caught that little dig at Trump. The article’s author, Ashley Fetters, is a reporter for the WaPo, so I think it’s in her contract that, no matter what she writes about, she has to throw in an anti-Trump insult. In this case, she cannot possible accuse Trump of buying books by the foot because she has no evidence. But there’s the dig. If she were writing about people who cultivate roses, she’d throw in some sentence such as, “Because roses smell good, no one has thought to name one after Donald Trump.” There is no bottom to the banal hatred that characterizes the anti-Trump “journalism” class.)

I don’t mind admitting to my vapid reading material because (a) it’s not my entire collection and (b) if there’s one thing about which I have no insecurity, it’s my mental furniture. I have a lot going on upstairs. People may strongly disagree with my conclusions, but they really can’t argue that my mental file cabinets are poorly stocked.

Of late, I’ve stopped buy paper books and switched to ebooks. My Kindle App currently shows over 1,000 ebooks. Unlike my old-fashioned books, I haven’t read all of these. I hunt around for opportunities to get free or supercheap ebooks and then buy them because I might read them. As often as not, I discover that they’re worth less than I paid for them. A lot of people self-publish who really shouldn’t.

My current preference for ebooks is age-related. My vision, never good, is getting more difficult with the years. I’m definitely safe to drive (I always feel I should assure people of that), but small print often defeats me, even with my incredibly hi-tech progressive lenses. I also find the back lighting on my iPad really helpful. I always worry that, one day, Kindle will just delete all my books, despite the fact that I paid for them. It’s done that before. A publisher pulled a book, and I got a refund, but the book was still gone. You can’t do that with the paper books.

Am I boasting with this post? Definitely. But I also want to make the point that, when you read what I write, you are getting the outpourings of an informed mind. My books aren’t just for show. My opinions are my own and they’re based upon 56 years of compulsive reading, starting with the Dick and Jane books (which I loved).