Do I Really Have To Explain To Anyone But Gwyneth Paltrow What’s Wrong With Hiring A “Book Curator”?

Oh God, I hope not.

From Town and Country:

[B]ooks aren’t just for reading, they can also be beautiful objects in and of themselves. Thatcher Wine, a long-time bibliophile and collector, tapped into this concept in 2001, sourcing rare, out-of-print books to build beautiful libraries based on interest, author, and even color for his clients. Since then, Wine has curated the bookshelves of Gwyneth Paltrow and New York’s NoMad hotel; fans include Laura Dern and Shonda Rhimes.

One way I identify a stone-cold phony is when their living room includes a chess board on which the pieces are set up incorrectly or the white corner squares are on the left, not the right. This means that the resident doesn’t know how to play chess, but wants people to think he or she does. In my view, such a visual lie is like hanging a diploma of a school you didn’t attend, or a military decoration that isn’t yours. (I give a pass to people who have grand pianos or harps in the homes; they are beautiful, and if the owner doesn’t mind looking foolish when he or she has to answer the question, “Do you play?” with “No,” that also is useful information.)

Hiring someone to put books in your library because they look nice is exactly like the misleading chessboard. I now know all I need to know about Gwyneth Paltrow,  Laura Dern and Shonda Rhimes.

Town and Country interviewed “Thatcher Wine,” and it that’s his real name I’ll eat my rooks, and he said,

“My philosophy is that the books we keep on our shelves reflect who we are. But the thing about books is that you can only really read one book at a time—yes you can be reading five books, but not literally all at once. So home libraries, especially those that contain a few dozen, hundred, or even thousands of books, are not about constant use of reading. They are a reflection of where you’ve been and where you want to go.”

He’ll get no argument from me, but then what is the point of a “book curator”?  Presumably if book collections are supposed to say “who we are,” then we are the ones who must decide what’s on our shelves, not a stranger engaged to make visitors thinks we are someone smarter, more erudite, more cultured and more eclectic than we are.

43 thoughts on “Do I Really Have To Explain To Anyone But Gwyneth Paltrow What’s Wrong With Hiring A “Book Curator”?

  1. I have to wonder if Thatcher Wine includes a copy of The Great Gatsby in every connection, maybe with the old-fashioned uncut pages…

  2. Halfway related: I often annoy my wife when pointing out background books on news shows, sitcoms, or whatever.

    Two easy ones to spot (for me) are: 1) law books by West Publishing (typically one of the court reports), or 2) Encyclopedia Brittanica Great Books of the Western World. Both have distinctive bindings. It is generally funny to spot either of them because, in almost any case, you can presume they are there for show. The Great Books are particularly great because they are color-coded. This is somewhat superfluous though, because if it is behind a talking head on any major news program, it does not matter whether the color coding is Science, History, Philosophy, or Literature, they probably have no clue what is in there.


    • Jut,

      i will give a pass to the television interviews because most of those take place a the network’s offices or showrooms. The guest doesn’t have much, if any, control over the visuals. Sometimes, the guest’s most recent book is on display in the background but that makes sense.


  3. This is on par with turning the spines in for a monochromatic look. Ugh! I’d have more respect if they hired a librarian who could develop a specialized collection for their tastes and needs. In Paltrow’s case it might include basic science.

  4. Grands turned into photo holders. Or plant stands, where the potted plant is invariably over watered and the finish on the piano lid gets ruined.

    I keep my grand under a black taffeta piano cover. With a humidistat. In what used to be our dining room. Leaving a grand open or covered in family photos or plants is like leaving a guitar or a violin or cello hanging on a wall. They are instruments, living things, that need to be protected. And if they’re not played, the get depressed. And serious pianos are works of art. Don’t let them die.

    • Yes, musical instruments are living breathing things. They should be played, often and all the time. Sticking them in cases for show is simply wrong. The bass player for my beloved Rush, Geddy Lee, as amassed a monster collection of basses and guitars. To his credit, he displays them with respect but he also plays them, putting them through quite a workout. Check out his Big Beautiful Book of Bass, a 300 plus page of photos, stories, and anecdotes about iconic instruments used by musicians over the years, great and unknown.


  5. Actually, you had to explain it to me as I never heard of that job title before, and never would have thought a celeb employing a special collections librarian to acquire, organize, and take care of my media collection was a bad thing. If i came into a lot of money, I’d get an intern from my local school with an advanced library program And set up a database that can lookup specific books, authors, and themes. Where is that reference book on analysis of how false damascus blades were made centuries ago?

    Like a museum art collection with book curators.

    This should be more a fashionista job, a book stylist, fashion or interior decorating consultant. It’s decor and set dressing, and book in the job title implies education and experience with the written word. Set dressings do not even require ability to read…

    • “Like a museum art collection with book curators.”

      Actually this phenomenon is alot like collecting art. Most people look at it as decorating or collecting status symbols. With little to no ability to actually “read” the piece of art and converse coherently about what message the artist tried to communicate. It’s just easier to call out someone on a book they have than on a piece of art they have.

      • I admit i have a lot of books in ‘to be read’ stashes, gooten as gifts or on a whim, ut i never bought or kept a book not intending to read or reread it. When I see homemade key safes ordecorating projects that destroy a book as a book something in me cries…

        I could see keeping a book as an heirloom, its fun to imagine a grandchild being enthralled by a murder mystery in jovian orbit, or laughing at how stupid it was. But Books are books and first meant tobe read, they are pintless without the experience of the imagination in reading. You might as well carve and paint a fake set of britanica if you aren’t using them as books.

      • In the same exact moment?

        If starting a book before finishing your current book is the standard, how long should a given book count?

        Unless we put a time limit on this, I might be able to claim dozens of book ‘read at the same time’ 🤣

        • I don’t think at the same time, but, he’d read some of one book in the morning, then another in the afternoon and another in the evening.

          But, if anyone could read multiple books in one sitting, I could believe it of TR.

      • As long as the parallel readings are different topics or story-lines, I think this is doable. But if you have several all in the same story-line (for fiction), it could easily get muddled. If you have several all in the same topic (for non-fiction), one would need to be a bit more deliberate in note taking to keep the various sources reasonably separated for comparison purposes.

        • I prefer to read all of the Xanth novels at the same time, one chapter each at a time.

          The only way to absorb the entire experience, IMHO.

          PS: I just learned how to add emojis to EA. The world is my oyster! 💋

          (They don’t have oysters. Oh well, lips are close enough)

        • I’m following perhaps fifty serial stories in mostly one genre, and get a new shortish chapter almost averaged daily. I either plow through things unrelated or chapter at a time. A book on the history of the Bronx is in between all that, when I’m trying to figure how new characters will react.

          I have seen chapters in both pro and amateur grow shorter and less thoughtful, and the bad side of serial publication grow in only a decade. Stories need substance to have lasting meaning and satisfy more than a bon-bon. Slow way to say, serial writing has grown and you rarely get a good end with closure. But people keep looking for the hero to bring back the hard-won victory that satisfies.

    • Uh . . . on the bathroom floor? Inquiring minds want to know.

      By the way, a propos of absolutely nothing, I am reading Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse 5” at the moment. Can someone please tell me when it gets good? I am 200 pages into it and must have missed the “black” humor, the sardonics and the wit. I have found neither and I hate every single character so far. I haven’t laughed. I haven’t chuckled, guffawed or even snickered, not even once. Hell, I long for a mere chortle at this point. I get the bombing of Dresden was terrible but c’mon. This book is even more laborious than weeding the garden. But I have to finish it, regardless of whether I want to claw my eyes out and stick yarning needles in my head.

      See, my mother, may she rest in peace, cultivated a terrible rule in our family – you must finish every book you start, regardless of how awful or great it is or how long it takes (don’t ask me how long it took to read Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem”). Yeah, I know – it was a silly rule but to her, reading was more than entertainment. It was a chance for the mind and imagination to take flight. Even awful books were important to help you to discern and develop good writing skills. To her, a face buried in a book was a thing of beauty, up there with Mozart, Beethoven, my beloved Rush (at whose mention all knees must bend) (it’s true: she didn’t like their music but appreciated their musicianship and writing), Da Vinci, Einstein, Tesla and Monet, Conan Doyle and Shakespeare. My mom was a 6th, 7th and 8th grade math and science teacher for 23 years in a small Catholic school in Northfield, OH. Knowledge to her was an imperative. When she passed away in 1991, many of her former students attended her funeral, which was an eye opener for your humble correspondent. Some of her students from her first years of teaching attended with their children who were in her classes. To a person they said she was a great teacher but more importantly, a great motivator to seek and find truths, knowledge, and who you are as a person. So, yeah, a silly rule but on balance it has been a good one.


      • By the way, my mom would have rolled her eyes at someone hiring a curator of books for their personal library. An unread book on the shelf was merely a dust catcher. She would box Palthow’s ears for such idiocy.


  6. I’ve been doing it wrong all this time; whenever I’m reasonably sure I won’t read a book again, or if anyone shows interest in one of my old books, I’ve been giving them away.

    It never occurred to me to hoard books I do not realistically intend to read and display them so as to appear smart.

    That would have KILLED on dates. [strolls into room with young lady] “Yes, this is my study. As you can see there are thousands of books. I’ve read all of them, you know. Except for the ones I haven’t gotten around to yet. ..
    Now this is my workout room. Over here iswhere I do deadlifts. Yes, I was just using that bar with 400 pounds on it. Oh, I know you didn’t ask, I just saw you looking at it and thought you might be wondering.”

  7. It’s fitting that the only word one can make out in the photo of the color-coordinated bookshelves up there is “fiction”. The whole goddamn room is a work of fiction.

    I offer this advertising slogan to Ms. Paltrow’s bibliocentric decorator friend for no cost: “Thatcher Wine: Putting the ‘lie’ in ‘library’ since 2001!”

  8. I wouldn’t normally think about it, but that picture is rather obvious even without the story. There is no way any rational sorting of books would be that color coordinated — unless the sorting was only based on color.

    I won’t even go into the thought of even a semi serious book collector having that many books with nary a book jacket. Books without jackets command only a fraction of the normal price.

    On the other hand, it’s not the first time I’ve heard of people buying books solely to achieve visual effects. I don’t have a brick and mortar store, so I don’t have that sort of customer, but they do exist.

    • I hate book jackets! They look so commercial. I throw them in a cabinet in my basement to mold, forgotten, because that seems better than throwing them away somehow. I also psychotically only buy hardcover. I like a firm book with some dignity. Otherwise, I might as well read electric books like the teenagers.

      You might guess, my shelves aren’t so coordinated as Gwyneth Paltrow’s. They aren’t organized based on any characteristic, come to think of it.

      • How my bookshelves are organized:

        General genera, by bookshelf. Except the Sci Fi section spills over into the ‘everything else’ bookshelf.

        Major filing consideration, Sci Fi: author or series. After that, ‘this will fit here.’

  9. I have even seen faux books on bookshelves: cardboard or even wooden replicas, complete with titles from a smattering of classics. These are in people’s homes, where nary a speck of dust is to be found nor does the floor dare to be scuffed.

    Pretentious prigs, in other words. I take that as good info to have.

    • Like when Indiana Jones runs to the top of the balcony in the library in Venice to look down on the “X marks the spot” scene? The whole set of shelves behind him were really poorly done fake books.

        • Well, that’s not saying much, you hate the movie from start to finish.

          It doesn’t make sense for Indy, but it DOES make sense cinematographically. The camera COULD just pan up by itself to show the viewer…but by walking up WITH the man who makes the discovery, the viewers are attached to HIS excitement.

          In real life when Indiana Jones found the X, he DIDN’T physically climb the stairs…but his heart did.

          • Spielberg is usually sly at that stuff, so you don’t realize you were conned until after the second viewing. Not here. He’s lazy all the way through. I don’t hate the movie, though. Sean Connery is great to watch. Just having Petra in the film at all makes it worth seeing. There is ONE long action sequence that meets the standards of the two previous films: the tank bit. I still watch it when its on TV.

            But the chase in the circus train is ridiculous (The magic trunk? The fake giraffes?); Allison Doody is unwatchable; why wasn’t the rubbing paper ruined when Indy was submerged?; the boat just sitting there while the propeller chopped it up defied physics; the way Indy and Dad were tied up together with a long, single rope while still IN THEIR jackets was even dumb for that old cliche: there was so much slack anyone, even a non-Jones, could have easily escaped; the Young Frankenstein rip-off gag with the flipping secret passage was silly; the plane going through the tunnel was too absurd for words; turning Marcus into an idiot was unforgivable; the grail display made no sense—what was this, a game show the old knight had been guarding all these years? And if the drink gave eternal youth, why was he so old? Wouldn’t that water be either gone or putrid by now? The “Last Crusade” warned us of what Part 4 would be like: as with the Die Hard series, each installment became progressively harder to swallow.

  10. To be fair, I’m an avid chess player, and I never knew that the white corner squares were supposed to be on the right, but I suppose I would snicker a little if the queen wasn’t placed on her own colour.

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