Once upon a time, long before podcasts or Feedly came along, people spent much of their free time devouring the wisdom found in books! Today, many tomes serve purely as home decor. Instagram feeds are loaded with ways to make them shine—stacked on coffee tables, color-coordinated on shelves, wrapped in paper, and more.
It makes sense, to a certain extent.
Still, lately, I’ve noticed that some of the most viral book-decor fads have taken things a tad too far.
If you read books at all, even just the occasional juicy novel on vacation, you will see what I mean once you check out some of these book-decor doozies below. As nice as they look on Instagram, they just don’t work in real life.
1. Shelving books so you can’t read the spine
The worst offender? The spine-in arrangement. And the hashtag says it all: #backwardbooks (sigh).
Sure, this no-spine design looks clean in magazine spreads, says Briana Ellis Hoag, owner of Ritual Architecture, but “it’s actually just a photography stunt and not for homeowners who truly read their books—and I imagine those people eventually turn the books back around when the photography team has left.”
The bookworms among us will never cave to the spine-in book display, since the joy of owning books is seeing the titles and recalling the great stories within. And how do you share your favorite titles when someone’s over if you can’t find what you’re looking for?
2. Arranging books by color
Another book look that makes me want to cry is the “rainbow” arrangement, which is all over the place and has legions of followers.
Fans of the color-forward fad say “embrace the rainbow,” which is all well and good if you have the right shades in your collection. But without enough blue or yellow books, your look is red on red, with some orange sprinkled in—hardly the rainbow of your dreams.
“This is a fair point if all your books seem to be the same color—and a voice please for practicality when your collection is large,” urges Carolyn Gagnon, a real estate broker with Compass in New York City.
The bottom line: Find an organizational method that makes locating your books easy, without forcing a rainbow onto your shelves. Alphabetical is the obvious way, but Gagnon also suggests by genre or by height.
“You can even reserve prime space for your favorites,” she says.
3. Covering books in gift wrap
Want to be truly frustrated with your book collection? Cover each one in wrapping paper and see how much fun that is.
At least with the rainbow idea, you can read the spine—and with the spine-in look, you’re able to turn the book around to see whether you’re holding “Crying in H Mart” or an old textbook you should have donated a decade ago.
Not only are people taking the time to seek out special paper for their books, but they’re also sitting down to cover them as if we’re back in middle school!
With this nutty book move, you have to rip off the carefully applied paper to see the name—or open it and flip (and flip) to the title page.
And then you have to do it 17 more times before you locate the tale you want—at which point, you might decide that owning a Kindle is for you.
4. Stacking books vertically—then using them as furniture
Last up: stacking books into towers, which, of course, never seem to tip over—on Instagram, at least. But rest assured, they will in real life.
Books as coffee tables, plant stands, or bedside tables may seem casual and nifty. But when reality sets in, you’ll regret this move.
“This method is definitely impractical for anyone wanting to keep their home clean,” says Hoag.
Moving these stacks to dust, mop, and vacuum is one thing. But if you have kids or a pet, you’re in for a world of pain. There’s nothing a 5-year-old (or a Lab puppy) doesn’t love more than knocking over a carefully arranged stack.
Harms is a fan of book stacks as decor, since they add dimension to corners. And if you stack sturdy-enough tomes, they won’t topple, she adds.
But no matter how you arrange your books, be sure to edit them regularly.
Keep a bag handy so you can donate titles from your shelves when the look is too cluttered; or hold a book swap with friends. Who knows—all those red book jackets you’ve collected might be just what’s missing on someone else’s rainbow shelf.