Showing Some Spine

Between the global health crisis and the upcoming election, many of us have been more glued to our monitors than ever. So much of what we hear is repetitive or speculation, so I start noticing the backgrounds, rather than the commentators. Well, I’ve always kind of done that. And I’ve noticed there are two basic backgrounds: indoors and outdoors. (Well, what else could there be? Outer space? Internal organs?) I haven’t done a formal study, but it seems to me that 90% of the indoor shots are filmed in front of bookshelves. Some wall to wall. Some packed and overflowing. Some with carefully curated objects spaced artfully between the volumes. And more and more these days, I see a trend to feature the commentator’s own recent book prominently in the camera angle. One author/commentator even had a giant blow-up of her book standing behind her.

These people choose this background for a reason. It conveys a message–of thoughtfulness, expertise, education. Fishing gear or a restaurant grade freezer would send an entirely different vibe. Doesn’t matter whether they’ve actually read the books behind them. In fact, there used to be a standard studio set fitted out with bookshelves on one of the cable news networks that appeared in multiple news segments with a rotating cast of speakers posed in front of it. It was strictly to set the atmosphere and provide a nice backdrop. Nowadays, with experts (or otherwise) being wired up for video in their homes or offices, there’s more variety to puzzle over and be entertained by. Being a heavy reader, I recognize many of the titles, sometimes just by a particular distinctive cover or spine. I look especially for titles I’ve read myself. But I also wonder. Hmm, did they set this up? Did they hide the trashy romances or erotica, in order to attempt to make a better impression? Or is this what their shelves look like in real life?

Here’s my point: physical books still rule. I love eBooks and audio books. But I still prefer physical books and so do the majority of US readers. According to one marketing blog, during August, 2019, hard copy books sales made up about 80% of all total books sales. While there may be some difficulty collecting statistics for some eBook sales, this is still a good indicator of how people read.  I do have one friend who reads exclusively on some device. But she’s the exception.

It will be interesting in a few months or a year to see how the recent conditions have affected these numbers. After all, so many bookstores and libraries where people get physical books are closed or have limited service even though online retailers are still available. Will that urge more folks to try electronic versions? Don’t know. But what I am sure of, is that after reading this, you’ll start to pay more attention to those backgrounds behind the talking heads.

About Lida Bushloper

writer and poet
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