Book Aesthetics: An Unconventional Approach to Sustainability

Spend a few minutes on the internet and you’ll probably see the kind of highly curated images that saturate social media, whether they’re posts by influencers or ads from retail powerhouses. Every detail in these images is planned, from the succulents in the background to the coffee mugs placed strategically on the counter and yes, even the books lining the shelves with precise color coordination. Just based on a quick scan of these picturesque galleries, it’s easy to make the assumption that these books aren’t going to be opened in the near future, if at all. This use of books for their “aesthetic” induces eye rolls in some and can even be downright offensive to literary enthusiasts.

What’s the big deal? At first glance, this kind of “pointless” aesthetic display is done with the goal of seeming mature, sophisticated, even attractive. But, while it’s understandable that an author would feel offended if a company ordered their book only to place it on a shelf to match a certain shade of paint or accent a certain wood grain, it pays to take a closer look. The people purchasing these books may not appreciate the writing—the rich literary value between the attractive covers—but these buyers are breathing life into work that otherwise might end up in a landfill. It’s also important to remember that the covers are a product of hard work as well—a representation thought up by a design team and executed to elevate the text found on the pages. These companies remind us that these talented design teams contribute so much to a book’s sales as a whole, whether the book is used simply as a backdrop or to attract a consumer’s eye.

The web-based company Books by the Foot, supplied by Wonder Books, sees this value and aims to save books that “are made to be read, collected, shared, and displayed,” even using #BookRescue to champion its cause. This website was brought to my attention through a Twitter thread criticizing the website and the completely “asinine” use of novels as decoration. A quick investigation into this company would show that a fellow book lover established this site in order to further recycle unwanted books destined for a landfill. It stems from the same love that an author shows the work they slaved over for years or that a book enthusiast has for their favorite novel. This company may not market to the same demographic we expect books to target, but it finds a new audience in the form of interior designers, hotels, corporate offices, and even social media influencers. This market highlights the importance of a design team, especially in a world with such a heavy emphasis on aesthetics.

Why is it so easy for us to judge this company by its proverbial cover and turn our noses up at this “misuse” of books before looking into the benefits? That’s simply how we consume information in these days of overabundance: through snapshots and tweets and blurbs. In this crazy, fast-paced world, it takes just a moment to look into Chuck Roberts and his business, where you’ll also find articles featuring the company’s efforts. They have even appeared in the New York Times!

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