Once upon a time, long before the advent of podcasts or Feedly, people spent much of their free time devouring the wisdom found in books! Today, many toms serve exclusively as home furnishings. Instagram feeds are full of 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.
“Americans don’t read that much. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they hadn’t read a book, not even part of a book, in the past year,” says Kara Harmsdesign blogger at Whimsy Soul.
However, lately I’ve noticed that some of the most viral book decorations have taken things a bit too far.
If you read books at all, even just the occasional juicy novel on vacation, you’ll see what I mean when you check out some of these book decorating 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 spineless design looks clean in magazine spreads, say Briana Ellis Hoagowner of Ritual Architecture, but “it’s actually just a photography stunt and not for homeowners who really Read their books—and I imagine those people eventually flip the books after the photography crew has left.”
The bookworms among us will never rush into the book exhibition, as the joy of owning books is seeing the titles and recalling the good stories inside. And how do you share your favorite titles when someone is over if you can’t find what you’re looking for?
2. Arranging books by color
Another book look that makes me cry is the “rainbow” arrangement, which is everywhere and has legions of followers.
Fans of color-forward fashion 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 vote please for practicality when your collection is large,” urges Carolyn Gagnona Realtor with Compass in New York City.
The bottom line: Find an organizational method that makes it easy to find your books without forcing a rainbow onto your shelves. Alphabetically is the obvious way, but Gagnon also suggests by genre or by height.
“You can even reserve the best seat for your favorites,” she says.
3. Covering books in gift wrap
Want to be really frustrated with your book collection? Cover each one with wrapping paper and see how fun it is to is.
At least with the rainbow idea, you can read the spine – and with the spine-in look, you can flip the book around to see if you’re holding “Crying in H Mart” or an old textbook you should have donated ten years ago .
Not only do people take the time to find specialty paper for their books, but they also sit down to cover them like we’re back in middle school!
With this cute book cover, you have to tear off the carefully attached paper to see the name – or open it and turn (and turn) to the title page.
And then you have to do it 17 times more until you find the narrative you want – at which point you may decide that owning a Kindle is for you.
4. Stack books vertically – then use them as furniture
Last up: Stack books in towers that, of course, never seem to topple over—at least on Instagram. But rest assured, they will in real life.
Books as coffee tables, plant stands or bedside tables can appear relaxed and smart. But when reality sets in, you’ll regret this move.
“This method is certainly impractical for anyone who wants to keep their home clean,” says Hoag.
Moving those stacks to dust, mop and vacuum is one thing. But if you have kids or a pet, you’re in a world of pain. There’s nothing a 5-year-old (or a lab puppy) loves more than knocking over a carefully arranged stack.
Harms is a fan of bookcases as decor, as they add dimension to corners. And if you stack solid enough tomes, they won’t tip over, she adds.
But no matter how you organize your books, make sure you edit them regularly.
Keep a bag handy so you can donate titles from your shelves when the look is too cluttered; or swap books with friends. Who knows – all those red book jackets you’ve collected might just be what’s missing from someone else’s rainbow shelf.