Sunday, December 19, 2010

“A good book on your shelf...

is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend.”

I purchased several pairs of bookends at auction Friday night...and I thought how it was a neat metaphor for a between January and December, we have all the chapters in another volume in our personal encyclopedia of life...then I thought of the new Kindle bookends needed...the gadget needs no bookends. Will bookends and book shelves go the way of the TV antenna?

What is funny is that there is a neat book about books called The Book on the Bookshelf, and I could not remember the author's name - it is Henry Petroski - and, when I went to Amazon, only the Kindle version is available.

Petroski calls bookends "curious constructions that are supposed to hold books back as a dam does water." He says, "They may or may not support the slender or the squat." Having been trained as a librarian, there is a logic behind arranging books vertically. The boards that form a book's cover can warp if placed horizontally and if the surface isn't flat, or there are heavy books stacked on top.
Even if books are placed vertically, the same can happen to both the cover and the spine if they are packed too tightly or too loosely. Ideally, books should be packed just tightly enough to keep them upright but not so tightly as to invite damage when removing them. Also, if they are allowed to lean for extended periods of time, spine deformation will almost inevitably occur in the form of twist, slant or lean.

Bookends can help prevent all of these problems. Petroski also quotes a Victorian guide that claimed the most effective bookend ever was a simple wooden block cut in half diagonally. Strange coming from the ornate Victorians! Technically, bookends were created to keep books from falling on people's heads!

During medieval times, books were really only found in monasteries and a few other scholarly locations because as books required a great deal of time and special skills to produce. Books were chained in study areas (ye olde reference books must be used in the library)and read on slanted surfaces in carrels. The outside of the reading seats had lists attached to them, showing the books to be found in that particular seat. Each row had a specific topic and a list of books assigned to that desk. Need to use a different book? You had to change where you sat.

During the Renaissance books became available to more and more people. Those lucky enough to have collection of books, generally kept them together, as they were still quite valuable.

Before books became so much more regular, a small pile of books might be stacked flat, or horizontally; but as the quantity of books increased, forming mountains of books didn't seem to make much sense, even just considering safety reasons. Shelves and book chests came into use; eventually books began to be stored vertically by the end of the 16th Century.

As libraries and collectors formed categorical systems for arranging books, and shelves grew taller and more accommodating, bookends became a means for keeping books neatly horizontal on an otherwise unfilled shelf. Bookends of sufficient weight would keep the shelved books safely in place and reduce book avalanches, making vertical book storage and the use of bookends a definite improvement over horizontally stacked book mountains.

Bookends can be found in many different shapes and sizes. It was not uncommon for bookends to be made from bronze, brass or solid marble. Here is a solid marble set that I bought at auction.
Bookends made of solid pewter and silver plate were common around the turn of the twentieth century. There has always been a decorative use for bookends, mostly as accents for a theme. Cast iron bookends come in a variety of themes and styles. This pair is cast iron.
As the years have passed, and fewer people kept personal collections of books, bookends lost some of their utility. It was not uncommon for out of work bookends to find new uses as doorstops and other mundane functions.

Famous pieces of art and sculpture have been the inspiration for bookends. Replicas of The Thinker by Rodin, busts of the great Caesars grace some of the world's great book collections. There are even bookends that are images of the collections owner. Public libraries' bookends are utilitarian, often just stamped metal bent at a ninety degree angle, literally holding the accumulated knowledge of human history.

The professions have Attorney bookends and Physician bookends. Animals are popular when it comes to bookends. Other wildlife that people celebrate in this form are eagle bookends and frog bookends. Lucky animals include elephant bookends. Many people believe that elephants are lucky, especially if their trunks are facing upwards.

Sports are popular in this field especially golf bookends. Bookends are a great way to decorate the house with a theme. One popular home decorating theme is a throwback from our great beach vacations, the nautical theme and the nautical bookend.

But, the librarian/English teach in me cannot ignore books or bookends! Like a bloodhound, I will seek and find!


Barb B said...

Oh, Sue - I just love bookends. Of course, I love books also. Can't imagine reading a good book from a Kindle. Can't take a Kindle to the beach as probably will drop it in sand. January and February (and into March) is the perfect season to read all day with a cup of hot cocoa and a fire in the fireplace! :-) said...

I love that solid marble set you found at auction - if you ever need to sell it let me know!

Kimberly said...

I really could use a set of bookends. Really like my books. The marble ones are my favorite. How much are they?