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The Spectator USA guide to book curation

Gwyneth Paltrow has a book curator – now you can too!

August 24, 2019

6:20 AM

24 August 2019

6:20 AM

Books Do Furnish a Room was the title of one volume in Anthony Powell’s sequence of novels A Dance to the Music of Time. How true that is. When you enter a room, where do your eyes turn? To the wallpaper? The ceiling? The furniture? No, the books! What do you have in common with the person you are visiting? What can you talk about? What can you slip into your pockets while they are out of the room?

‘Books do furnish a room’ is the thesis Thatcher Wine has built his career around (yes, that is his name, not the special vintage of some kind of hideous Young Tory club.) Wine is Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘book curator’, as an interview in Town & Country Magazine describes.

‘After everyone tired of reading on their Kindles,’ the interview begins (everyone, everyone):

‘…there was a delightful, if unexpected, realization. Book lovers remembered that books aren’t just for reading, they can also be beautiful objects in and of themselves.’

Well, sure. You don’t have to tell me about the romance of the musty old doorstopper and the well-thumbed paperback. But where does the curiously named Mr Wine come in? His ‘philosophy’, he claims:

‘…is that the books we keep on our shelves reflect who we are.’

What a weltanschauung. But what does this mean in practice? Well, for example, Mr Wine creates custom book jackets to ensure that books fit the décor of a room:

‘People have invested in how their home looks: They chose the cabinets, the carpets, the paint, and the window coverings. Why settle for books that a publisher designed?’

You know, I’ve been thinking that my dog might not suit my living room’s color scheme. Could I spray paint her a darker brown? Why settle for the dogs that nature designed.

Mr Wine is asked what books are fashionable currently. ‘The Stoic philosophers are having a moment now,’ he says. Great to hear that stoicism is having a moment. This year’s top trends: velvet capes, Billie Eilish and Zeno of Citium.

Wine is fascinating on the subject of the curation he has done for Ms Paltrow:

‘In the family room we integrated the books into her existing collection so that it felt very light, inviting, and easy to grab off the shelves. In the dining room, we stuck to a more rigid color palette of black, white, and gray since it was less of a space where one might hang out and read.’

I feel like more detail is necessary here, though. Does the content matter or just the color scheme? Do people want to glance up from their cereal and see The Black Book of Communism or The Satanic Bible?

If Kindles have enabled too much distraction and flightiness then ‘book curation’ bears more than a whiff of bourgeois status-seeking. I have real books! Do you read them? Maybe not, but damn do they look good on my shelves. Of course, it is important how books are presented. I don’t want a neon pink edition of the Bible. But this is all aesthetics – literature reduced to an aspect of interior design. Frankly, I think that I should get in on the action. Mr Wine has inspired me to join his line of work. Why bother trying to write books, as I have done, when all that matters is book jackets? With the fine aesthetic taste, meanwhile, that often had my mother admiringly saying ‘look at the state of your room’ I think I have the necessary talents. To that end I offer up the following suggestions for a suitably furnished room, organized by the style of its owner.

The Minimalist

A true minimalist should have one book, sitting on a glass coffee table. The cover? White. And the pages? White. And the text? Non-existent. In the pure blankness of the book the owner can achieve a meditative peace, which becomes more meditative and more peaceful with every blank page that is blankly turned.

The Poet

For the poetic soul it is important that every book – every book – be in terrible condition, as if it has been carried through fields, forests, graveyards and pubs. Take your books outside and throw them around the garden – across the lawn, through the hedges and into the flower beds. Sprinkle them with whisky and ground coffee beans. Carpet them with cigarette stubs. You want people to think you bought your books in a run down second-hand bookshop near the seaside for 50 cents a piece after they had been through the trenches of World War One and through the Sixties in the back of Neal Cassady’s car.

The Lover

You’ll want to place suggestive books at strategic locations in your home. You can leave them on the arm of a sofa, or on the countertop in your kitchen, or on the sill next to a window that overlooks your nicest view. You’ll want to keep it subtle, so that you can realistically say ‘oh, this‘ if asked about the books. As for what books to choose, well, you should stick to something sensitive or sexy. Avoid 50 Shades of Grey, whether you are a man or a woman, and avoid something specific to your niche interest, especially if that niche interest is low-carb diets or military history.

The Intellectual

Margin notes are an important aspect of any budding intellectual’s book collection. You don’t want your guests to open your books to find notes like ‘huh’, ‘eh’ or ‘what the hell’. You want them to find notes like ‘very Freudian’, ‘Orientalist subtext’ and ‘the death of the author’. Thankfully, I am available to add margin notes to your books for a mere $500 an hour. Do get in touch.


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