Go ahead, judge this book by its cover. There is nothing inside

Already the norm for film sets and commercial spaces, fake books are becoming common fixtures in homes, but if you see one, you might never know. (Photos: NYTimes)
If it looks like a book, feels like a book, and stacks like a book, there is still a good chance it may not be a book.

Fake books come in several different forms: once-real books that are hollowed out, fabric backdrops with images of books printed on them, empty boxlike objects with faux titles and authors, or sometimes just a facade of spines along a bookshelf. Already the norm for film sets and commercial spaces, fake books are becoming popular fixtures in homes. While some people are going all in and covering entire walls in fake books, others are aghast at the thought that someone would think to decorate with a book that isn’t real.اضافة اعلان

“I will never use fake books,” said Jeanie Engelbach, an interior designer and organizer in New York City. “It just registers as pretentious, and it creates the illusion that you are either better read or smarter than you really are.”

Engelbach said she has frequently uses books as décor, at times styling clients’ bookcases with aesthetics taking priority over function, which is a typical interior design practice.

At Books by the Foot — a company that sells, as its name suggests, books by the foot — one can purchase books by color (options include “luscious creams,” “vintage cabernet” and “rainbow ombre”), by subject (“well-read art” or “gardening”), wrapped books (covered in linen or rose gold) and more. The tomes are all “rescue books,” ones that would otherwise be discarded or recycled for paper pulp, said Charles Roberts, the president of Books by the Foot’s parent company, Wonder Book.

During the pandemic lockdown in 2020, remote work created increased demand for the company’s services. “People were requesting books for Zoom meetings,” Roberts said. “They wanted classic literature, cookbooks or other things for their backgrounds, kind of like props but also to reflect their personality and tastes. People wanted to avoid getting made fun of for having a romance novel in their background.”

While it mostly specializes in the sale of real books, the company has also dabbled in the world of faux ones. The bookseller has cut books — so only the spines remain — and glued them to shelves for cruise ships, “where they don’t want to have a lot of weight or worry that the books will fall off the shelves if the weather gets bad,” Roberts said.

There are other, sometimes counterintuitive, uses for fake tomes. Although it has the capacity to hold more than 1.35 million of them, many of the books in China’s huge Tianjin Binhai Library are not real. Instead, perforated aluminum plates emblazoned with images of books can be found, primarily on the upper shelves of the atrium. While the presence of artificial books in a place devoted to reading has been widely criticized — “more fiction than books,” one headline mocked — it remains a buzzy tourist attraction. After all, the books do not need to be real if it is just for Instagram.

Tina Ramchandani, an interior designer in New York, said that her firm has used fake books in both commercial and residential settings. For a dressing room in a members-only club in New Jersey, “where nobody was really going to read the books, but where there were bookshelves, we got all fake books,” Ramchandani said.

For her clients’ homes, fake books are usually placed on the upper shelves of bookcases that cannot easily be reached. “We did this for a house out in the Hamptons. It’s usually for larger homes, where you’re not using every part of the home like you would in the city,” Ramchandani said. “Say you have an extra reading room, library, or some sort of media room where you fill it with books and can’t ever get to the top parts. So instead of doing real books that are going to collect dust that you’re never going to access, we end up doing fake books.”

Anna Shiwlall, the owner of 27 Diamonds Interior Design in Anaheim, California, said that she frequently makes use of fake books, especially if they are “of certain sizes or colors that coordinate with the room or if we want the client to feel a portrayal of a well-traveled life.”

“Not too many people read physical books now, but we are reminded of certain things when we’re surrounded by them,” Shiwlall said. “The smell of it, the stories it brings or the colors that make the room pop.”

Justin Felipe, 37, one of Shiwlall’s clients in Rancho Cucamonga, California, said he doesn’t even know how many fake books are in his house. They’re so convincing that most visitors believe them to be real books, and they’re mostly in the style of vintage mystery books or books about fashion, chosen primarily for their size and color.

“They’re sprinkled around,” Felipe said. “They are in my office, living room, family room, some of night stands in my guest rooms and in my master bedroom bookcase.” If he had to guess how many there were, Felipe said, he’d estimate 20 to 30.

“It doesn’t matter to me that they’re fake,” Felipe said. “I wanted to make the room look complete, so whatever looks good I’m happy with.”

John Shumway, 51, an engineer living in Snohomish, Washington, used a curtain with an image of a bookcase for the background of his Zoom calls in 2020.

Because most of his family was in the house during the lockdown, including his wife and four of his children, Shumway was left with the garage to use as his home office. Inspired by journalists who pulled similar tricks with fake backgrounds on television, he said, he spent around $100 “to get a passable background so that I’d looked like I was in an office on video calls.”

“I usually only used it when interviewing job applicants or other situations where I didn’t want to draw attention to my garage office,” Shumway said.

He revealed his magic trick on Twitter.

Behind the curtain and beyond the garage, Shumway could create his own library. “My wife and I have thousands of real books in our house and can’t understand people who decorate with fake books,” he said. “Ironically, I probably could have carved out a small office space in our house if we didn’t have so many real bookshelves.”

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