Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things. Every shelf is different and every bookshelf tells a different story. One bookshelf can creak with character in a bohemian coffee shop and another can groan with gravitas in the Library of Congress. Writer and historian Lydia Pyne finds bookshelves to be holders not just of books but of so many other things: values, vibes, and verbs that can be contained and displayed in the buildings and rooms of contemporary human existence. With a shrewd eye toward this particular moment in the history of books, Pyne takes the reader on a tour of the bookshelf that leads critically to this juncture: amid rumors of the death of book culture, why is the life of the bookshelf in full bloom? Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in the The Atlantic.
As the page is to the book, so is the bookshelf to our culture, that is the lesson of this delightful and stimulating essay. Anything can happen on a page, so too, we learn, a bookshelf partakes of that astonishing range of possibility, circumscribed only by rectilinear geometry, a mode nonpareil of storing, displaying, distributing, assembling, categorizing and contextualizing knowledge. Even virtually, it continues unabashed, as a metaphor, like browsing. A lovely glimpse of the joy and scale of human culture endeavor, its forms and functions, contexts and containers. Richard Nash, Publisher, Red Lemonade
Lydia Pyne (PhD) is a freelance writer, editor, and historian, and a Research Fellow in the Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Texas of Austin, USA. She is a Contributing Editor for The Appendix and a Reviewer and Essayist for NewPages and New York Journal of Books. She is the author, with Stephen J. Pyne, of The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins, and the Invention of the Pleistocene (Penguin, 2013).
Introduction. Bookshelf: What's In a Name? Chapter 1. From Medieval to Modern: Bookshelves in Chains Chapter 2. The Things that Go On a Bookshelf Chapter 3. Bookshelves That Move Chapter 4. Bookshelves as Signs and Symbols Chapter 5. The Life Cycle of a Bookshelf Conclusion. The Plural Futures of Bookshelves Bibliography Acknowledgements