After reading about why people would use a book by the foot service to fill their empty shelves, I wondered what books I would have on my shelves if I were vain enough to use a personal bookshelf as a backdrop for Zoom calls. (Right now, I just have a blank wall.) I’m afraid my answer would be depressingly simple. I would just have science books on the shelves. Obviously I would have actually read them all, but I think my choice of subject pretty much reveals that I have no confidence in other people taking me seriously if I don’t show books that are socially and professionally acceptable.
I think we all erect some sort of facade by what we decide to reveal about our reading tastes to others, even if we’ve read the books in question and are not just using them as decorations. It can even be skewed further these days as many people read library books rather than buy them or have transitioned towards ebooks. After getting rid of most of my physical library from my last move, I’m one of those people who have mostly transitioned to ebooks. So just looking at the physical books remaining won’t tell you the whole story.
Anyways, back to the “book by the foot” thing. I think if I were to utilize such a service to fill an entire library and not just a shelf in the background, I would be a pretty obnoxious customer because I wouldn’t want it just to be random or done by color. I would specify subjects–like the sciences, heavy on biology. History of science, maybe some biographies of scientists and engineers as well. Art and architecture, the weirder the better. Mythology and folklore. If there’s religion, it must be academic. Atlases and travel (both guide books and travel memoirs are fine). Cooking books–but only ones with a strong academic bent either towards science or ethnography. Archaeology and anthropology. History–but it would have to be all sorts of places and not just “classical Western civilization”. As for fiction, I’m rather neutral on the majority of genres, but I would like an emphasis on speculative fiction (i.e. science fiction/fantasy/horror) and modern literature in translation if we’re talking about hard copies and not ebooks.
Well, now that I’ve listed only a subset of what I would find acceptable, what would I not want on my shelves? I have no patience for new age woo and self help books. Politics and biographies of current celebrities–blech. Business books written by quacks. And bestsellers that were probably ghost written. I guess, in general, I like books that are interesting and reveal that the writer has an interest in the world. Books that are only self-serving turn me off real quick.