Your Bookshelves are Pretentious

I’ve never read Lee Child, though his name comes up often whenever modern crime writing is discussed. I’ve thought for a while now that I needed to rectify that situation, because so many of the “must reads” that I have encountered (George Pelecanos, Megan Abbott, etc.) have turned out to be all they were hyped to be. His main character, Jack Reacher, star of 13 novels, is described as “a possession-free maverick who travels from place to place and has no permanent address.” That sounds like something right up my alley!

I’ve talked before about wanting to strip down my possessions, live a little closer to mobility, etc. It’s tough to do with a house and family and all that, but I definitely try to live a little “less is more” lifestyle. I keep my books culled down to ones I’ll either re-read or use as reference, I don’t buy many DVDs (maybe 5 a year?), and my CD collection has been massively culled . . . that and I hardly ever buy any music anymore anyway. I’ve told Julia more than once that if anything ever happened to her, or when she finally gets around to trading me in for a 20-something, switch-hitting male model, that I plan to just throw whatever fits into my truck and disappear into the Great Unknown.

So when I saw a link to this article about Lee Child from the Wall Street Journal, titled “Reacher’s Minimalist Roost: Crime writer Lee Child creates a home that his fictional hero might approve of,” I was intrigued. A guy as successful as Child choosing to live Thoreau style? Awesome! This I gotta see!

It starts out well enough, where Child talks about having to draw the line at homelessness. I can deal with that. The article continues:

So instead Mr. Child lives in a two-room apartment in the Flatiron district that’s architecturally stark, wrapped in white and bereft of rugs, curtains, side tables or accessories. The entire left-hand wall—stretching from the white Corian kitchen counter along the living space and to the windows that open to a small balcony—is a plane of glossy white laminate cabinetry. Inside the cabinets are some 3,000 books, as Mr. Child believes books make a room visually chaotic and that displaying them is pretentious. The books are shelved randomly; Mr. Child said his photographic memory allows him to know exactly where each one sits.

Okay, doesn’t sound the kind of minimalist space I’d want, at least aesthetically, but to each his own. 3000 books ain’t exactly minimal, and if you ask me hiding them doesn’t mean they aren’t there, possessions-wise. I also felt a stab of umbrage at his assessment that “displaying them is pretentious.” But we’ll move on.

We next read about the bare furnishings, a single painting, the view. Next we hear from his friend and fellow author, Alafair Burke.

“Every time I go there I want to come back and clean my apartment,” says fellow crime writer Alafair Burke, a friend who lives a few blocks away. She says Mr. Child always laughs at things she has around her house, asking what she needs stuff for.

The article goes on to talk about how much the apartment cost ($1.5 million), how much he’s spent to renovate it ($800 grand), etc. We learn about his childhood and that he always had “stuff.” Then comes the crack in the whole friggin’ facade:

Then there’s Mr. Child’s other apartment on a lower floor, where he keeps many of his possessions. Smaller in size but similar in layout, this writing office has lots of visible books, New Yorker cartoons, Reacher paraphernalia and a “technology museum” consisting of all his old cellphones and his first laptop. “I need a stimulating environment to write because my books are driven at 100 miles per hour at a time,” he explained. “A calm environment is for after I finish work.”

Hmm. We hear of how he and his wife handle their different aesthetic ideals.

She currently spends most of her time at their homes in the south of France and Rye, N.Y., which she decorated in more of a country style, he said. “It isn’t that we dislike each other’s taste. It’s that there’s nothing compromised this way,” he said.

Okay, who exactly does this guy think he’s kidding? It’s like if I pointed to my back porch and said, “See, there is absolutely nothing in this ‘room,’ that means I am a minimalist and I laugh at you and all your possessions! Mwuh ha ha ha!” Then I go back to my garage full of music career (ha! on editing, I realized I’d written “career” instead of “gear” here. I’m leaving it, because it’s actually an appropriate description of my music life — stuffed in the garage collecting dust!) and junk, or my living room clogged with bulky furniture and dog hair, feeling all satisfied with myself.

What he has is what amounts to a rich guy’s play room (nothing wrong with that, mind you, just call it what it is) that he can set up to appear like he’s some kind of stripped-down adventurer ready to throw a go bag in his Land Rover and ride off into the sunset. Please. I can’t see how he could participate in this article with a straight face. And if I were Alafair Burke, the next time he goes judgmental on having possessions I’d bust him in the face.

And he says displaying books in your home is pretentious? This cat just redefined the friggin’ word.

13 thoughts on “Your Bookshelves are Pretentious”

  1. >Irony: we're house hunting, and just went to a house last night where, on bookshelves made from barn walls were, drum roll please, a crap ton of books by Lee Child.Would he be mad at people for displaying *his* books? One wonders.– c.

  2. >Yeah, Chuck, I don't know if you looked at the article I was pissing and moaning about, but in one picture it's clear that Mr. Child doesn't have any problem displaying his OWN books on the shelf!

  3. >I thought the same thing when I read this on Sunday. Two apts in New York, one in Rye, one in Europe. He can have a place for however he's feeling that day. And I noticed his own books, artfully arranged, too.

  4. >Thanks, Chris, for articulating everything I thought when I read that article. If Mr. Child thinks displaying one's books is pretentious but that hiding them is classier, then I think he needs to look up pretentious in the dictionary.

  5. >Considering the source, WSJ, I guess I can understand this. What a perfect relationship; they live thousands of miles away. She probably boinks the handyman on her colorful patterned couch, looking up at walls of books, knocking over booze on the old, worn Tibetan rugs.At least I hope she is. I couldn't stand being around a bore like that, even if he's some terribly great writer.

  6. >I well recall the days, back in 1971, when the ideal was "don't own more than you can carry". Then it became "don't own more than you can get in your vehicle (I had a Dodge van). Then it was "don't own more than you can move to somewhere else by yourself" (with the help of a rental truck, of course).I've got 980 sq. ft. here, 2 bedrooms, living room kitchen dining nook, bathroom. Garage with two cars in it (mine, Wife's). 3000 books, mostly shelved, some in boxes.Every year we go through the garage cabinets and get rid of stuff we aren't using and don't want/need to keep. But there is plenty here we do need and use. I'm not going to get rid of the power tools, or the garden pots and plants, or the books or the furniture or the computer – that stuff is important to me and I use it all the time. I also have things I've gathered over the years, mementoes of times, places, people that I like to look at, are decorative, and they stay. It's not cluttered, but it's full.That's okay with us.

  7. >Yeah, I'm with you, Richard. That sounds about like the extent of my possessions, minus the books. As a homeowner, there is stuff I have out of necessity to maintain the place. I just like to keep the stuff that is stowed away and never used to a minimum.

  8. >Late to the party on your great post, but chalk me up as another who was completely turned off by that article. Not that I have ever been one to idolize writers, but that peek behind Mr. Child's curtain really soured me on him as a person. Still like the books, but will never look at him the same way again.

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