The phenomenon of “books for looks”

In the midst of “stay-at-home” orders necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, I have found a new pastime.  I’m not sure what it says about me.  At first I thought it rather silly, and shallow.  Now I’ve turned it into a whole “thing.”

It’s not an exercise regimen, which given that I had to select 2XL when ordering a bright canary yellow polo shirt by Polo I recently purchased from an online retailer specializing in clothing for “big and tall” men would certainly seem like something I should consider — haha, “big and tall” is just the male version of calling a woman “big boned” when what you mean is she is fat.  Exercise would be good for me, but I must confess I never saw the point.  Not even when I was “out there,” as in advertising myself at the local gay meat (meet?) market.  My position was WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), so if you’re looking for a guy who spends every free moment he has at the gym to sculpt his body that, if you are lucky, you will see naked for at most 30 minutes a day, you should probably move on.  I can promise you the essentials:  I brush my teeth, and floss, I bathe regularly, and I do buy high-end underarm deodorant that matches the scent of my cologne, and I am rather fastidious in my sartorial choices.  But that’s the extent of the effort I’m going to put into how I look.  I find being able to speak in complete, grammatically correct sentences far more sexy than an ass you can bounce a dime off of.

And I will absolutely swoon if you know the reason that last sentence should have been written "I find being able to speak in complete, grammatically correct sentences far more sexy than an ass off of which you can bounce a dime” but don’t correct me because you have no need to define yourself by a superior grasp of English grammar.  The technical term for someone like me is a sapiosexual.  Extra big numberwang bonus points if you know what that means.  And even more bonus points (the most I can award) if you got the numberwang reference.

I mean, really.  What’s the obsession with running?  I suppose it comes in handy if you’re in danger of being fucked by a bear who has just torn down your yurt while you were backpacking in central Alaska, but there is a simpler, more leisurely solution to this problem — don’t go backpacking in central Alaska.  There is nothing there that can’t be seen from the comfort of your recliner reading a travel blog on your laptop while power-eating sour cream and onion potato chips from a lovely, hand-painted bowl you bought off of ebay by clicking on Buy It Now, abbreviated as BIN, because you find the whole “auction” paradigm nerve-wracking.

So no, thoughtful reader, you’re unlikely to find me lifting, or running, or cycling (although I will confess I do go to the annual Tour de Palm Springs charity cycling race because I find a man in tight, form-fitting spandex shorts irresistible — but here again, I have no interest in being the one riding the bike).  My idea of “cardio” is when I’m out of breath from clicking Buy It Now just before an auction ends on ebay.  And imagining the high bidder cursing me because he really wanted that signed copy of Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life.

I have noticed something about myself.  I derive the most enjoyment from things I didn’t realize I enjoyed.  Let me explain.  I will find myself in the middle of a particularly good entrée, or a book I only half-heartedly started reading, or streaming a show on Netflix I figured I could just stop watching if it sucked, and something switches “on” inside of me; as quick as you flip a light switch, I suddenly feel a wave of satisfaction wash over me.  I am very resolute and efficient in my tastes — I can tell in the first few bites of a meal, the first few pages of a book, or the first ten minutes of a show whether I’m going to like it and commit to finishing it.  So when I get halfway through one of the aforementioned items and realize “wow, I’m halfway through this and it’s great” it’s far more satisfying than starting something I’ve told myself I’m going to enjoy then realizing I’m enjoying it.  I think people refer to this in the vernacular as being “pleasantly surprised.”

Like most people around the world, I have grappled with our new normal, casting about for things to hold my interest at a time when there is precious little to do but cast about for things to hold my interest.  Because I watch so little television, I want the time I spend staring passively at disembodied talking heads to be worth my while.  The problem is I have grown tired of watching intelligent people with experience germane to public health saying things that directly contradict our Tangerine-in-Chief, or listening to him list his grievances about the lack of credit he receives for the government he lead’s coronavirus response.  Day after day, the story doesn’t change — Trump makes some outrageous and demonstrably false claim about how he has done something which is then immediately contradicted, sometimes on a split screen in realtime, by someone with a functioning brain.  But because reporters, experts, and in some cases even anchors are now broadcasting from their homes, instead of the well lit and familiar set of your favorite news program, we are now getting a glimpse of what Anderson Cooper’s renovated 1906 8,420-square-foot firehouse in Greenwich Village that he bought in 2010 for $4.3 million dollars looks like.  In case you are curious, here ‘ya go…

I’ve spent more time than I care to admit this past month contemplating the home-design choices of news anchors, reporters, and the talking heads who join them on a regular basis.  As more interviews are held remotely and as the anchors themselves have moved into makeshift home studios, I’ve become obsessed with the backdrops each of these staples of American television has chosen as they struggle to make sense of the latest bizarre statement made by President Trump.  They range from the relaxed manner of John Heilemann on MSNBC, in a blazer and checked shirt sitting in front of his open-plan kitchen, to the full-suit-and-tie (well, at least from the waist up) look of others, backed by wall-to-wall bookshelves that fill the entire frame behind them but for a carefully placed family photograph or portrait of a significant other.  I was recently delighted to see a world-renowned epidemiologist sat so that a child's finger painting could clearly be seen over his shoulder taped to an otherwise blank wall — delighted because it looked like a deliberate choice and it told me something about that person, namely that he loves his child and is so proud of the child’s shitty attempt at art that he wanted the world, literally, to see it broadcast on CNN.

It set me to thinking about where in my apartment I would set up my live shot if Anderson wanted to interview me and get my opinion on the minimum number of brain cells that should be required in a US president.  Obviously, this is an important choice.  The bookshelf shot seems to be the go-to, but because I read exclusively on a Kindle I actually do not have a bookshelf, nor any books to put on it.  That actually suits me just fine because of my OCD; I cannot begin to fathom the hours I would have to expend coming up with an organizing principle — genre, subject, size, color of spine, or the tried-and-true alphabetical, but even then is it alphabetical by title or alphabetical by author?  Fortunately, by default, my Kindle Fire HDX 7” chooses for me — books are organized in the order I purchased/downloaded them, then by last opened; there are other options available via a drop down menu, but I am too frightened to look as then I would be forced to assess then rank the various organizing paradigms and choose one — what a fresh hell that would be.

So if your state is still under a stay-at-home order, as mine is, and you’re suffering from cabin fever, may I suggest you try my new pastime:  looking at other people’s cabins in the background on tv and reflecting on the kind of person they are and/or what is important to them.  Since so many chose the ubiquitous shot in front of a shelf of books, you can also judge them by the titles of their books.

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