Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Did I really chose?

I'd like to say I'd spent a lot of time in my library over the last week but, given the fact that lying on the bed was, in the beginning, the required means of conducting my life, my library – thanks to the Celt, and much in the manner of his ancestors with the Forest of Dunsinane – came to me.

A supply of books on the bed, and an iPad to hand - what more could be wished for? Probably not much, and certainly not to quite the level of heaven that Sydney Smith enjoyed, though I do enjoy foie gras, but I'm afraid I slept through most of it. During my more lucid awake moments, having spent some time looking at interior design blogs and magazines, I have mixed feelings about what I saw.

A couple of weeks ago in my post Rapture and End-Times, I discussed what I see as the likely online present and future of magazines and books. In my last post I wrote that I would, because of its timely connection with what I had written, like to discuss this New York Times article about four online interior design magazines' thriving present.

The four are Lonny, Rue, High Gloss and Matchbook. That they are thriving is good news, and that they are positioned solely towards twenty-something females with little disposable income is, to my mind, undeniable. I question whether this positioning is entirely a good thing for only too soon will that group find itself the forty- or fifty-somethings and I wonder if the format, heavily reliant on advertorial and the worshipful prose of celebzines, is viable enough to grow or change with its targeted demographic? Or will there perhaps be new cohorts of twenty-somethings following behind to take their place? But perhaps that is not the point, for it occurs to me that such narrowly-targeted magazines may not be designed for the long-term - and are ephemeral, perhaps, as anything in the world of fashion.

That these magazines do not include me by gender, age, income, interest or scope is not a matter of particular concern. Their value to me, whether here today or gone tomorrow, is that I do not pay for them and I can dip in occasionally – very occasionally – without any thought of disposing of yet another pile of coated, printed, polluting paper.

On the subject of physical magazines: a couple of days ago I received a communication in which I was thanked for choosing to be part of a magazine's Continuous Service Renewal and as I'd recently been notified, my renewal has been processed and payment was now due. 

I'm not really sure I chose to be part of the Continuous Service Program and I'm pretty sure I did not receive any such renewal processing notification and, now I look for it, neither can I find a telephone number to call to ask a customer service representative precisely when my subscription actually ends. Over the last few months I've found this magazine increasingly uninteresting - pretty much the same reaction I have to the four online magazines mentioned above and generally speaking for the same reasons - and had decided not to renew and to find I've chosen, unbeknownst to me, to renew my subscription really does make me even more determined not to enclose my check and return it with the invoice in the pre-addressed envelope. 

So, back to where I began, in a library with the past and looking towards the future. A few days ago, I bought my first iBook, William Shawcross' Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography – and I am totally sold on e-publication.  I fully expect my e-library to grow rapidly if there are enough e-books to satisfy my predilection for history and biography. Biography, by the way, is a genre I have come to appreciate only in recent years – and I'm still surprised that I do, given that I'm not overly interested in the inner lives of anyone, however salacious or celebrated. As I wrote that I glanced at my bookshelves and to my astonishment found many a biography - Billy Baldwin; Catherine of Aragon; Edmund White; John Adams; Elizabeth I; Louis XIV; Mrs Henry Parish; Brooke Astor; Alan Bennett; George, Nicholas and Wilhelm; David Hockney; Nigel Slater; Elizabeth David - to name but fifteen and to say nothing of the monographs about artists, architects and interior designers inhabiting the shelves. Ah well, such is self-delusion!

Real estate, or square footage, is not something one has to consider with e-publishing. Our household is long beyond the point at which we should have stopped buying books and I have considered buying an additional bookcase – a long, low one for the living room – but have yet to find anything that would, aesthetically speaking, fit. Not being one for stacks of books by chairs, under plant pots or vases, or even stacked as decoration on tables, I have decided to edit - take out and dispose of those books neither of us actually has any more interest in. I have begun with the vanity-publishing - decorator monographs of interchangeable interiors and egotism. Some of these are now for sale on Amazon Marketplace. We'll see how they fare.

The room above is Emilio Terry's library of books and musical scores for Jean de Polignac, photographed by Robert Doisneau for Les réussites de la décoration française, 1950 - 1960, Collection Maison et Jardin, Condé Nast S.A. Editions de Pont Royal, 1960

P.S. One of the more interesting aspects of looking at interiors is the art to be found in them - for example, the Edouard Vuillard portrait of Jean de Polignac - a subject for future posts, I'm certain.


  1. Hello:
    We do so hope that your time spent languishing in the Library has given your back the rest that it needs.

    For our own part, we rarely part with anything either decorative or useful. Books we should NEVER part with, but then again we are ones for stacks on the floor, several filled bookcases, books as plinths, books on tables.....The only advice [if indeed advice is either needed or wanted]is not to do anything in haste. When you are more yourself, everything may look quite different.

  2. Shawcross I would read on boiled eggs; it's great to select an inaugural book, isn't it, or a book for an ideal trip? I hope you enjoy this one, it's time to feel better!

  3. I like the idea of Shawcross's book on Queen Elizabeth being on iBook. It is such a huge volume that as careful as I am about books, mine split. It was also very heavy to hold whilst reading, and I found the only way to do so in comfort, was to read at my desk.

  4. Jane and Lance Hattatt, thank you. I understand your point of view as do many of my friends, judging by what I see, yet I truly feel there comes a point where enough is enough. I have a rule now and it is that a book doesn't come in until one goes out. Arbitrary, but it does impose discipline.

  5. Carter Nicholas, thank you. I have not read anything by Shawcross before but find his writing very supple and non-intrusive. I'm thoroughly enjoying this book and couldn't wait, as I'd intended, to read it on the plane to England next week.

  6. Columnist, thank you. I had not realized quite how big a book it is until I saw a picture of the Queen holding it. I'm not surprised it split - not that it should have but, given the way modern books are produced ... That aside, I think it a terrific book about a terrific lady.

  7. I understand the impulse for one out for a new one in. Really I do. In preparation for some work in the living room, I am clearing out books in bookcases and storing them away. It is taking more time than I thought. There are more books than I thought. And then there is that "reading the dictionary" syndrome. You know. You look up a word and hours later you have read PAGES! There were some great surprises: that's where the Edith Wharton books had gone (into the sides, where titles were not seen). And then there was the 1836 book on philosophy that had been my husband's grandmother's..complete with notations. Love reading other's notations. I lack your willpower, but admire your curated taste! I think I may die of book suffocation. Would that be such a bad way to go?

  8. home before dark, thank you. There are always more books than one thinks and there always more memories attached to them than one thinks! That's why I'm being judicious is my weeding - I began with four books (the decorator "monographs") and am eyeing my shelves with a certain trepidation and with discrimination. I don't want to cull for the sake of it yet there is so much I know we'll never read again. It is time to let stuff go precisely because I am feeling suffocated by too many things.

    I know exactly what you mean about reading a dictionary for hours on end - Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage is even more enjoyable. Love it!

  9. Although most of my clients are gilt-shy (due to the wide mis-use of both the leaf and metallic paint), I have been greatly influenced by the handsome millwork designed by Emilio Terry. My own interpretations of French-polished, crotch-grain mahogany panels with ebonized fillets have been a crowd-pleaser, if I do say. I must speed up my progress of converting my own archival images to digital!

  10. "I was thanked for choosing to be part of a magazine's Continuous Service Renewal and as I'd recently been notified, my renewal has been processed and payment was now due."

    You should see what happens when you do NOT remit payment on Continuous Service. It goes on and on, and finally you are turned over to a collection agency. Oh yes, this is the new age of hijacking subscribers into magazine subscription servitude. I learned the painful way that the "trick" to getting out of these hidden contracts is to go online and cancel a subscription prior to expiration.

    In my case, my most recent bondage was launched when I took advantage of a very low cost subscription offer in the mail. I didn't realize the miniscule print informing me that I was lucky enough to have qualified for the courtesy of automatic renewal.

    Today in the mail comes AD offering me 15 months for $12, but only because I'm THAT important do I get this offer and, since I'm THAT important, I've qualified for Continuous Service! Been there with AD, now I'm forever over the AD thing, and every other Contiuous Service subscription gimmick including the enticing Veranda + Town&Country offer, one year of BOTH for $12, wiiiiith the benefit of Continuous Service.

    These trickster mags create an opportunity for others to secure fairer footing but, to date, that opportunity is being grabbed by bloggers who scan and publish the glossies hot off the press. Oh, but I do agree with you that Rue, Gloss and Lonny don't go anywhere near my deep longing for, say, Lou Gropp's editorial days at H&G.

    Stay down flat, follow that Rx, and with all best,


  11. Flo, thank you. I have just gone to the magazine's website and cancelled the subscription which had been extended to September 2012. So, if my present subscription finishes in September this year I wonder why I was asked for payment in June. This is the last time I subscribe to any magazine except for WoI - the amusing thing with that magazine is that it doesn't even bother informing one when the subscription is ending. The magazine just stops coming.

    I miss the Lou Gropp days, and Dominique Browning's days as well.

  12. The Devoted Classicist, thank you. The door and its case are superb. I wish the editor had allowed more photographs of that room but what you see is all there was. Even the text, the captions, were pretty rudimentary.

    Did you notice the paintings hanging from an iron rod?

  13. I am sorry to hear your back has been giving you trouble - but this long and informed post suggests it is improving :)

  14. I have been threatened with eviction by my daughter who keeps telling me half of my books have to leave. Every time I go to clean the bookshelves I fall in love again with all my books, particularly the cookbooks. I have just finished the latest purge and have thrown out all of 6, that with heavy heart. I hate books on the floor and chairs too even though some of mine, because of circumstances, presently reside there. I haven't tried e-books yet but for some one who reads as much as I do I may have no option.

    I am now dreading the purge of the so called coffee table books. Oh the money I have spent there. Perhaps a sale is not a bad idea (more $$$ to buy more books?) oh well, I'll have to think about that tomorrow.

    Sorry to hear about your back but happy to see you so inspired.

  15. Blue, I did indeed notice the paintings hanging from the rod. I was thinking about Maison Jansen's use of blue steel and brass or polished bronze, but this could be blackened iron. The same is used as a ladder rest on the bookcases. Lighting is evident on the shelves with small books, but I assume it just shows more on those, and all shelves are lighted. Although I might be tempted to rearrange the furniture, Terry was surely a genius.

  16. Lindaraxa, thank you. How I hate to read that phrase "thrown out" but it must be a hard choice to make - between your books and your daughter!

    Years ago, (1972 I think) I was given a copy of the Betty Crocker cookery book - the last before they all became spiral-bound - and it was stolen. I have regretted the loss of that book so much over the years, and I know it is downright obsessive to do so, but I miss it. Those were the days before I even knew what a cup measure was and, this was when I still lived in England, I made use of a teacup and my grandmother's tablespoon. (The English tablespoon is or was the serving spoon, so very big compared the the modern American one I now use.) Betty Crocker's German Chocolate Cake was delicious, if a tad sweet.

  17. The Devoted Classicist, thank you. According to the caption the rod is indeed iron. The woods are mahogany and ebony with gilt filets. Did you not once tell me this room was the inspiration for William McCarty's rooms for Douglas Cooper in Monaco? Or was that some other Terry room. I must go back through your comments and check.

  18. Emile de Bruijn, thank you. I wish I could say it was!

  19. Blue, I am dipping my toes into Ibooks now that I finally have my much coveted IPad. I love the idea of a 'greener' reading experience, but to tell you the truth, I can't figure out how I am going to hang on to the slippery IPad in winter, when the mercury drops below zero and I am burrowed under a mound of quilts. Lately have found most magazines hopelessly boring (used to subscribe to dozens!) Still love the "New Yorker."

    Are you feeling a little better? I hope so!

  20. Smilla4blogs, thank you. We've taken the New Yorker for eighteen years and over the last year so I got too busy to read it. Now I have all the back issues on my iPad and the Celt has his print version - ideal, and I don't feel guilty any more about that pile lying there unread by me. It was going to be my reading on the now cancelled transatlantic plane journey.

    I find reading iPad in bed pretty easy now I remove the magnetic cover. It's just like a slightly unwieldy book. I've grown to love it but just wish iBooks had a more interesting selection!

    The pain is much reduced and thank you for asking.

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