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Literary embellishment

Posted by Christopher Shea  April 14, 2009 11:05 AM

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The Vintage Club look

Evolutionary psychology suggests that a big personal library is not unlike the plumage of a peacock -- a signal of one's fitness as a mate, in this case mental fitness. Darwinian theory also says that in cases where true signals of fitness exist for a species, you'll find fakers. Enter Books by the Foot, an online service that lets anyone with shelf space and a credit card create a literary display that will impress -- at least until your visitors start asking too many nosy questions.

A study full of modern cloth hardbacks is an affordable option, running only $6.99 per linear foot (Books by the Foot prices the way Home Depot does), while the Vintage Club Look is a more daunting $49.99. You can even choose books that won't fit in your shelves -- the Oversize/Coffeetable collection -- and of course you can specify color scheme.

The wisdom of purchasing multiple shelves' worth of Readers Digest Condensed Books seems dubious, however: If you're not going to read them in the first place, why not plump for the full versions? This may explain why they're on sale now for $9.99, marked down from $29.99.

Books by the Foot is hardly just for poseurs: It markets to owners of rental units and lodges and other "clients too busy to build their own libraries." Still, the literary quotations that adorn the Web site ("A room without books is like a body without a soul" -- Cicero) take on vaguely creepy overtones when you realize that these are Potemkin libraries we're talking about.

The company is advertising in the New Yorker, which makes you wonder what its proprietors think about that magazine's subscribers.

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2 comments so far...
  1. I think I might buy a "foot" just to read them.

    Posted by Stephanie April 14, 09 04:28 PM
  1. From "BooksbytheFoot" ? Wonder Book
    Neat article. Thanks!
    New Yorker ad is aimed at professional Designers, Prop masters...(we've done Broadway shows, major movies...).
    This sprung from an effort to "recycle" books we get too many copies to retail in our brick and mortars or online (www.wonderbook.com).
    Some people buy them to stock new homes/vacation homes in a hurry.
    The blue restaurant on our splash page is in Boston. Neat concept!!
    We are 95% traditional "1 book at a time" booksellers - since 1980.
    Booksbythefoot is a fun and quirky sideline for us.

    Posted by Chuck Roberts April 21, 09 02:09 PM
About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

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Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

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Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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