Jeremiah Moss at Vanishing New York has a justified rant up about the use of books in promoting luxury lifestyles. Such trends seem of a piece with efforts to market downtown luxury living by appealing to “history” and to a neighborhood’s “bohemian” past — only to have the arrival of such luxury behemoths presage the death of a neighborhood’s distinctive character. They’re also, as JM blogged so entertainingly some time ago, in character with luxury settings that not only displace neighborhood bookstores, but masquerade as them as well. And then there are luxury settings that lead to the closing of libraries.
Apparently the glossy new building The Caledonia, in the meatpacking district — which does, in fact, advertise itself as offering “a new exciting style of living
in a historic downtown location” — boasts a sort of library (or “culture lounge”) as a “literary backdrop” for its residents. Only thing is, it’s sponsored by a publisher of extraordinarily expensive, self-congratulatory design books targeting wealthy readers, and they’re much more “backdrop” than “literary.” Jeremiah laments:
That’s because the books here are provided by Assouline, a publisher of objets that are meant to be seen and looked at, not so much read. They sell themselves as “the first luxury brand in the world that has used its publications as medium.” They have a boutique in Dubai and another just opened in the new Plaza condo. Some of their books come wrapped in Chanel and Coach leather jackets.
Their subjects cater to the affluent and the aspirational. A few sample titles: Megalomania: Too Much Is Never Enough; High Society: The History of America’s Upper Class; and A Privileged Life: Celebrating WASP Style.
A couple of taglines: “New York was vulgar, flashy and vibrant” and “Megalomania: excess, folly, splendor, vulgarity.”
He concludes by asking: “Might there not be something vulgar about turning books into shiny
objects without substance for the sole purpose of displaying wealth?” And while I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, I’m also struck that such conspicuous literary consumption has long been associated with the hazards of new fortunes in the city. (In Boston, too, for that matter.) Some old New York problems apparently won’t go away, though in our day they’ve clearly been taken from personal to corporate levels.
As an antidote, I’d recommend a new mural housed in the belly of the beast — the 30’x10′ mural At Home with Their Books, by artist Elena Climent [slideshow] — recently installed on the ground floor of 19 University Place, where our offices are located. The titles represented there, we hope, could actually lead a viewer to a library or bookstore to satisfy his or her curiosity about New York’s literary heritage. Let’s just hope the exhibit is open to the public from closer range than the sidewalk! (If it’s not, I’ll complain!)
Update: Promoted from comments, TMK reminds us about Gatsby’s library, as well.
Not completely on-topic, but speaking of neighborhood bookstores, I just love the new bookstore on Prince St. and Mulberry. (Don’t actually know how new it is other than “since I worked around there ten years ago” — a friend gave a reading there last month and it warmed my heart to see such a nice independent bookstore on that block.)
Books have a long history as lifestyle props in NYC of course — carrying Gravity’s Rainbow or Herzog or what have you on the subway. I don’t think that’s what Moss has in mind though.
Oh BTW: the obvious literary reference here, it seems to me, is to Gatsby’s library.
Nice call, TMK. The relevant pages here.
Also, the bookstore you mention — McNally Jackson (formerly McNally Robinson) — is my neighborhood bookstore, and you’re right, a store that good makes you feel lucky to have it nearby.
It’s been there since December 2004. More here.
you must have been reading my mind: