A book is a complex entity. How many times have you heard the keenest readers decry the advent of the e-reader – only to be spotted with one, days later? Yet ask them again whether they prefer paperback or Kindle, and they’re sure to sing the praises of the printed tome. We are weak for conveniences, our instincts reach for the reassuring glow of the digital device, but our hearts still rush at the sight, smell or feel of a well-designed paper book. And we haven’t even talked about the content.
That’s because reading is a multi-sensory pleasure. It is a culture more than an activity. The feel of a particular book in your hands becomes part of your memory of reading it. Even a book that props up a table in your spare room acquires an identity that is unique and memorable. You’ll show somebody a book that you’re reading, even if you don’t expect them to leaf through it while you wax lyrical about the plot. And if you yourself are a budding author, you’ve probably spent many a guilty hour fantasizing about cover design and paper quality for a novel that remains unfinished because you’re fixated on aesthetic issues.
Well, good news. Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with loving books as physical objects. And secondly, you can expand your love of the aesthetics of literature’s trimmings by going one step further and looking at the aesthetics that appealed to the authors who wrote your favorite books. Publishers have long sought to find the perfect match between the form and content of the books they print, so that when you look at a well-designed book it almost conjures an image of the author themselves. An interesting twist on this synaesthetic game is to look at the design principles an author used in their daily lives and attempt to trace them back to the author’s writing style. You could look at the book designs they favored, the way they dressed – or the way they kept their room.
This new infographic from Home Advisor does just that. The researchers have pieced together the details of celebrated writer’s bedrooms and writing rooms and created a seductive new set of images to give you a glimpse into how authors such as Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor kept their surroundings.
So Victor Hugo, for example, is predictably sensual in his choice of colors and textiles. His ornate standing desk was both physically imposing and intelligently designed. The room’s Parisian charm is certain to inspire the interior design of today’s reader of Hugo as its classical yet luscious décor is as timeless and stimulating as Victor’s prose.
And Flannery O’Connor lived a (superficially) simpler daily existence, writing many of her works from her room at her mother’s dairy farm. That combination of homely details and personal touches seems as unpretentiously eloquent as her short stories and essays.
So next time you find yourself feeling guilty about fetishizing the physical books in your library, remember that their authors had very real and sensual sensibilities outside of the written word too. It’s that very tension between the objective world and the writer’s bodied perspective that make these authors so unique – and their books so hard to put down.