Form defeats function

Via Scott McLemee I found this page of extra-creative bookshelf designs. Some of them look okay, some of them look not so okay and some of them look like they were stolen from the set of the next Austin Powers movie. Not a one appears to have been designed by somebody who actually reads, values and keeps books.

When we shopped for a house about a decade ago, I was being given the tour of a nice little Cape Cod place by the real estate agent, who explained that the owners were academics who had installed custom-made bookshelves in their study behind the living room. “You can take them out without any problem,” the agent assured me. I exchanged quietly amused looks with a friend who’d tagged along for the tour, who knew I’d sooner pull my own teeth with a strand of barbed wire than remove a set of custom-made bookshelves.

We bought the Cape Cod and the bookshelves are still here, needless to say, and they’re perfectly sized. The top rows are the exact right height for Library of America-sized books, and the shelves below have increased amounts of headroom for bigger volumes. Unlike mass-produced shelves, these waste very little airspace.

I won’t say the bookshelves sold me on the house. It was more like discovering that the woman you love has memorized the better chapters of the Kama Sutra — i.e., it made an already good thing even better.

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