Book Constructivism 101: Are books to be revered, built on or shelved?

#Bookstagram has been called on featuring, constantly and relentlessly, books as props. The Guardian and Vulture both published articles mocking and looking-down on the platform’s aesthetic obsession, from bookshelves organized by color or shelved spine-in to ‘throwing yourself on a pile of open books’ – coincidentally, Hillary Kelly’s headline for Vulture. As she points out, ‘books have always been art objects as well as social indicators’.

More recently, the New York Post caused controversy when it tweeted that “Bella and Gigi Hadid make books the new hot accessory of 2019” after they were spotted with copies of The Outsider by Stephen King, and the Stranger by Albert Camus respectively.

But both sides of this argument have existed and angered book-lovers way before social media. I recently read “The Spirit of Science Fiction” by Roberto Bolano. This is the story of two young Chilean writers who move to Mexico City. They are both very different, one loves poetry but works in journalism to pay his bills; and the other spends his time writing quirky fan mail to science fiction authors.

At one point, the science-fiction-obsessed author-to-be builds a table with science-fiction books borrowed (or stolen) from the local library. Some of his friends congratulate him, awed at his ability to create a fully functioning table while keeping the books clean and in good conditions. Some others, were enraged. Now bare with me while I clumsily translate you a passage of this novel:

The reason was the table built with science fiction books. Jan had shown it to her with the healthy pride of a fan of Chippendale and Angelica, after having studied it, both in awe and offended, determined that such action could not be considered as anything else other than a slap to literature in general, and science fiction in particular.

<< Books must be in shelves, ordered with care, ready to be read or consulted>>


So, no wonder 40 years later we are still torn, both in awe and offended, at the artistic use of books by social media users around the Globe. What would Bolano say?

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