“What You Say is Not as Important as the Bookcase Behind You”

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“What You Say is Not as Important as the Bookcase Behind You”

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“What you say is not as important as the bookcase behind you.”
Bookcase Credibility, Twitter

The year 2020 may have seen the sad decline of the Selfie (who wants to click a picture of oneself with Covid hair and bushy eyebrows), but this unusual home-bound era has seen the rapid rise of the “Shelf-ie”, where curated bookshelves are on public display.

Suddenly everyone everywhere — during  Zoom calls, TV interviews, school meets, and virtual parties – have begun to appear ridiculously well-read and intellectual, thanks to a backdrop of a Shelf of Many Books. Got to admit, these Shelfies are making us everyday folks look with greater respect at not just newly elected presidents, but also match-making auntyjis on our laptop screens. Of course, the latter, I’ve heard, poses for interviews against a wallpaper printed with a pattern of a huge, colourful bookshelf, and if anyone knows where this ready-made character-enhancing sticker is available, please send me a link.

A bookshelf backdrop also saves a lot of people, who are genuine booklovers, from looking like complete morons. Thanks to the weird angle they place their laptops or phones, even intelligent faces are ruined when we end up seeing the insides of their nostrils, but a background of books implies that the very same nose is often buried in pages. If you’ve not caught on to this trend, it’s well worth giving your own backdrop a thought before your next scheduled digital appearance. And worry not if the grey in your hair is showing; by appearing against a bookshelf, your grey matter will show instead.

Perhaps your drawing room shelf currently has only the unused dinner set you got from your rich aunt in Canada at your wedding several years ago. Along with a dusty miniature Taj Mahal you inherited from your grandparents, sitting next to Three Monkeys with their eyes, mouth, and ears shut, and a rusty Ovaltine box with a dozen batteries you don’t know are alive or dead. Clear them all out for a bunch of books. Just wear a mask (for the blast of dust that’ll hit you from the shelf), and hop over to the pavement bookwallah or deserted neighbourhood library and get yourself a few kilos of books, doesn’t matter what. Some ’80s Guinness World Record books, Microsoft’s very first OS/2 computer operating manuals, and solved Maths papers (bound) for IIT-Jee entrance exam 1987… these usually sell for ₹1 for five kilos and make for great shelf fillers.

But you must make sure a few good titles can be read clearly. A Hundred Years of Solitude (by either Franz Kafka or Garcia Marquez, I forget who), Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and Barack Obama’s latest A Promised Land are musts on your shelf. Do take good printouts after downloading these covers from Google and paste them over your volumes of ribald Khushwant Singh’s Joke Books.

A few fake leather-bound books will imply you own the best of the classics, Charles Dickens and whatnot. But too many of these may end up looking like a lawyer’s office. Also, don’t overdo stacking all the shelves, just because you got the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica from the bookseller, as he didn’t have ₹20 change to give you back. And make sure you hide your collection of Mills & Boons and no one ever sets an eye on Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, if you want to be taken seriously.

It doesn’t end at that. Your aesthetics game has to be on point. Save some empty space to keep a plant or two. That Chinese bamboo plant is for commoners. Try a peace lily or the colorful croton.

If you recall, the Selfie had the world-wide honour of being declared “The Word of the Year, 2013”, so surely the Shelfie must be similarly lauded…(it’s certainly a better candidate than the winning word Pandemic, or even Covidiot). Meanwhile, go right ahead and set up the backdrop for your next Zoom meeting , and use these amazing  tips to increase your shelf-worth overnight.

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