Bookish Gift Guide, With Style

I subscribe to Domino magazine, though I’m planning to let my subscription lapse. There’s only so many pictures of garishly colored thousand-dollar bookends I can stand. Usually there’s one article per issue that I find useful, but each month I find it more and more an homage to decorating porn, particularly the hype of products that most mere mortals cannot afford.

The one article I found useful in this month’s issue isn’t useful to me in the way they intended. In a 3/4 page piece about using books to decorate (commence my headdesking), Stella Bugbee opines that some new books are bound in such gorgeous fashion that one should buy them all and stack them artistically on a shelf so people can gaze upon your style and ponder at your reading acumen.

Book CoverPah. I say, these books are gorgeous and terribly TERRIBLY interesting like OMG DAMN Mon DIEU. Consider this a mini-gift guide to anyone who loves beautiful books that are so thought provoking, if they had an odor they’d smell like they taste good.

For example: Penguin has launched the “Great Ideas” series using famous and lesser known historic texts housed in volumes with fonts that are so gorgeous you might want to stroke them a lot. Designer David Pearson, according to Bugbee’s article, is the man to thank for the wow factor.

And thank Penguin again for the delicious tasty irony: one of the most beautiful of the volumes? Thorsten Veblen’s Conspicuous Consumption. Yum yum yum yum yum delicioso!

Other books that are truly attractive for their content and their style? Hazlitt’s The Pleasure of Hating is brilliantly bitchy and bitter, so you might want to have your choice of literary antidote handy as a chaser if you read it. You might enjoy Orwell’s Why I Write while watching election coverage, particularly for his examination of political writing as an effort “to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Penguin has also released collections in boxed sets that are as of this writing 30% off.

If you’re shopping for a reader whose tastes can be tricky and who would love to be indulged with a truly beautiful and amazing book, let us all join hands and think loving and bookish thoughts to whomever dreamed up the idea of Persephone Books, located on Lamb’s Conduit Street in London. The books themselves are bound in grey fabric, with individually selected end papers and matching bookmarks that have ties to the stories within, but the titles themselves are so alluring I had to hide my credit card in the freezer behind a bag of peas. Every book is £10 – which even with the hideous exchange rate is tempting.

I’m hopping in my chair and emailing the link left and right as I type this, too. I’m particularly curious about Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson, about a governess sent to the wrong address, which turns out to be the home of a night-club singer, and The Montana Stories by Katherine Mansfield. This book is the collected work of the end of Mansfield’s life as she lived in Switzerland before her death from tuberculosis, and according to the book description, “nearly half are set in New Zealand.”  Plus, every purchase comes with a two issue subscription to their magazine, which profiles their publications and the individuals behind them.

Domino featured the books for their aesthetic style, which is certainly considerable. But I can’t help feeling they missed a massive opportunity to feature more about this press, both stylistically and literarily – these books are simply amazingly delicious. I haven’t drooled this hard since the clearance sale from Levenger.


The Link-O-Lator

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  1. 1
    jmc says:

    Doesn’t The Strand have a books by the yard option?  For people who wish to decorate and/or stock a library without bothering to read?  Although I’m guessing that they aesthetics of the binding are not the primary focus there.

    Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was also a sweet movie, released earlier this year in, with Frances MacDormand and Ciaran Hinds (forever Cpt. Wentworth in my head).  Worth seeing if you’ve got a couple of hours to spare.

  2. 2
    jmc says:

    Oooh, it looks like Frances MacDormand is the reader/narrator for the audiobook available at Persephone.  Excellent.

  3. 3
    Marsha says:

    I scored a bunch of old books at our church yard sale – classics published eons and eons ago and all with splendid inscriptions.  They have no value on the book collecting market and are all visibly used (this is why I love them – I do old and worn over new and shiny almost every time) and are just lovely.  I’ve got them stacked on an end table next to a trash-picked wing chair.  Books as decor?  I’m in.

  4. 4
    closetcrafter says:

    Using books to decorate?  How NOVEL, har dee har har.  WHo knew I’ve been in vogue with my decor over the last 41 years. My husband often comments about the abundance of en vogue decor we have in our bedroom and den and what am I going to do about it?

  5. 5
    ev says:

    Using books to decorate?  How NOVEL, har dee har har.  WHo knew I’ve been in vogue with my decor over the last 41 years. My husband often comments about the abundance of en vogue decor we have in our bedroom and den and what am I going to do about it?

    but at least you aren’t piling books up, drilling a hole in them and inserting a lamp pole. Which makes me cringe anytime I see some decorating show and they destroy them to do something like that. Makes me want to reach through the TV and smack them upside the head with War and Peace.

  6. 6

    Decorating porn, it sounds good :-)

    Books are too valuable to neglect them, unfortunately people nowadays do not respect them properly.

  7. 7
    DS says:

    I flashed back on one of favorite exchanges from Black Books which I found on Youtube—hope this works.

    The exchange between the bookshop owner and the first customer always cracks me up.

  8. 8
    Leah says:

    So, you watch Dora the Explorer much? :)

    I had to let my Domino subscription go, too—it really is like one big catalog, and there’s no way I can afford that stuff.  Plus, it’s like a Pottery Barn catalog—I look at those interiors and my own book and toy strewn living room, the finger-print smudged, well, everything, the huge laundry pile and the Thomas and Barbie land upstairs make me feel wistful most of the time, and irritable that one week of the month.  I get my fix from HGTV, which my husband calls “female porn”—and he’s right.

  9. 9
    Esri Rose says:

    Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was released as a movie in March of this year. Frances McDormand is the lead, opposite Amy Adams. Two of my fave actresses!

  10. 10
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Reminds me of the whole thing where decorators shelve books by colour! In stacks. Like they’re just “objects”. *grumble* I’ve seen this in multiple magazines . . . And they recommend taking off the dust jackets so that the spines are less “distracting”. Ugh.

  11. 11
    Suze says:

    I saw a decorating show in which the client wanted her books around and available, but not impinging on her calm, serene retreat.  The decorator got a huge quantity soft green thick paper, made book jackets, and used an electronic label maker to identify what each now-identical book was.  It took her days.

    People are crazy.

  12. 12
    Jora says:

    So will I get shot for saying I liked this idea:
    Yes, it destroys one book per shelf.  But browsing in a great used bookstore, you can find some fantastically beautiful books that are not likely to be read.  Really out of date science texts, for instance.  Though I suppose they can be interesting in their own right.  But I ramble.

  13. 13
    SonomaLass says:

    Gorgeous books, SB Sarah, you are right.  Thanks for pointing this press out!  I can see some Christmas presents coming already.

    And let me second (or third) the recommendation for the film version of Miss Pettigrew.  I thought it was well worth viewing (but then, bear in mind both my hero worship of Frances McDormand and my long-standing lust for Ciaran Hinds).

  14. 14

    Maybe I should hide my credit card in the freezer—Persephone Books looks dangerous!

    Books end up as décor in our house by default because we—-er, I own far too many of them. We have, to an extent, figured out how to set things up such that the more picturesque volumes are in the rooms people see, while the massive quantities of beaten-up paperbacks are in the bedroom (with built-in shelving, which I love). But mostly we’ve just accepted that there will be books all over the place, in no particular order. Even the antique books we own were usually found completely by chance.

  15. 15
    Stephanie says:

    My boyfriend gave me some of the Persephone books for the holidays. Amazing gift. He got some serious points for that. The books are beautiful and wonderfully written!

  16. 16
    Quercus says:

    Personally, I like to read them and then decorate with them.  In a small space, it’s pretty soothing to put all the blues/aquas together on a shelf with my cherished blue and aqua vases.


  17. 17
    Kimberly Anne says:

    Every time I hear someone use the phrase, “books as decor,” I remember one horrific decorating show. The decorators were tasked with doing over a room for a book lover.  So what did they do?  They got more than a dozen beautiful hardbound books (not the homeowner’s, or there would have been blood), ripped the spines off – and then glued them to a bookshelf.  They were so proud of themselves because the bookshelf looked like it had books on it, but the shelf space wasn’t being wasted.  Tchotchke hell followed.

    That sound you hear is my head exploding.

    The book lover in question was horrified, and the decorators didn’t understand why.

  18. 18
    amy lane says:

    squishy and orgasmic book porn—I’m so impressed!

  19. 19
    robinjn says:

    I bought a Country Living magazine last month because it had a Coldwater Creek coupon in it. Within the magazine? Instructions on how to take an old hardbound book, rip the covers off, and cut the pages on a scallop so that when pasted together it makes a “tres chic” vase looking thing.

    I was horrified. Not just because of the book desecration but because it was damned ugly.

  20. 20
    ev says:

    I flashed back on one of favorite exchanges from Black Books which I found on Youtube—hope this works.

    Oh god yes it worked. I am saving that link. I have never seen the show before and just about died laughing. I have often wanted to use a post it note for just that reason.

    So will I get shot for saying I liked this idea

    I have seen that one also. Along with the show where they recovered and labeled all the books. What a colossal waste of time. As for the one where they used the spins for the shelves, I wanted to strangle the decorator.

    I bought a Country Living magazine last month because it had a Coldwater Creek coupon in it.

    get on their mailing list and they will send them to you instead. I love Coldwater Creek (especially the outlet near me!)

  21. 21
    robinjn says:

    get on their mailing list and they will send them to you instead. I love Coldwater Creek (especially the outlet near me!)

    I *am* on their mailing list but had forgotten/lost the coupon. Needed an interview outfit that looked elegant without being fusty. Took it to the counter and the clerk said, “you know, there’s a coupon…” So I walked over to B&N;and spent $4 to save $30.

  22. 22
    Suze says:

    spent $4 to save $30

    That’s such a woman thing to do!  My coworkers and I just had a long, baffled conversation about the husband who just spent $1000 fixing up his old van so that he could increase his selling price by $500.

    Men.  They puzzle me.

  23. 23
    dowsabel says:

    Delurks to put in a recommendation for Nicola Beauman’s A Very Great Profession.  She founded Persephone after writing it and they have just reissued it (it was originally published by Virago in the UK).  I think it might be right up your street.

    A Very Great Profession

  24. 24
    ev says:

    So I walked over to B&N;and spent $4 to save $30.

    I just did that at Lane Bryant- no coupons right now, but the new copy of Figure Magazine had one in it. So I had to buy that first and then do my pile of clothes.

    Men.  They puzzle me.

    I think they puzzle most intelligent beings. LOL But then they say the same about us.

  25. 25
    tracykitn says:

    I am strongly against books as decor except in the case of book lovers!  If there’s no chance in HELL that you’re ever going to pick a book up and read it, then you have no business having it in your house in the first place.  False literati are my very peeviest pet peeve! (come to that, I hate book snobs, too…but isn’t that kind of the point of this whole blog? That there’s a place for all kinds of books, not just “Lit-ra-chure”? Or nonfiction, or whatever form their stuck-upitty-ness takes?)

  26. 26
    CHH says:

    Persephone Books are reissuing their catalog in cheaper editions called “Persephone Classics” and, more importantly, the Classics are available in the US for about $10 on Amazon.  Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is one of the ones available.  Even though they don’t have the famous dove grey covers, the books are still beautiful. 

    Persephone Classics

  27. 27
    CHH says:

    I apologize for anyone who clicked on that link and was slapped in the face with all that Twilight crap.  It was supposed to go to the page you get when you put “Persephone Classics” in the Amazon search bar.

  28. 28

    I remember once when I worked at B&N;a couple came in who’d just had custom bookshelves in their home. They bought thousands of dollars worth of books to fill up the space. They asked me to pick books in ‘reds, greens and blues’ to match their color scheme and charge it to their Amex account. Oddly enough, that happened more than once. If you don’t read, why bother getting custom bookcases? Those things cost a fortune. We can’t afford custom bookcases which is why our house is overflowing with books.

  29. 29

    I plan on having a huge library in my future home (the one I will one day be able to afford as my OWN), but I don’t think I ever considered having it for design purposes. Although, I will admit I have a soft spot for old books for the very purpose that they look so cool and collector-item-like. That said, I only own even old books for the purpose of reading them or lending them to friends. I agree with tracykitn who said “False literati are my very peeviest pet peeve!”

  30. 30
    Pearl says:

    Oh, so many things here.
    1/ Bad, bad, bad for introducing me to Persephone Books. Not only the endpapers but the actual stories/writing itself—WOW! I am seriously in trouble re: credit card spendage.
    2/ Ditto Penguin books: so many I want. I have to tie myself into chair NOW to avoid running out to favorite Paris English-language bookstore as it is.
    3/DOMINO is decor porn, as is anything that refers to books as decorating tricks meant to impress visitors with your style and (2nd) your intellect… and simultaneously refers to thousand-dollar decor as attainable. I stick to IN STYLE, the IKEA catalog, and the French design mag ART & DECORATION for this nonsense.

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