Everyone Loves to Hate the Backwards Books Trend—Do You?

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Carrie Coleman )

We recently reposted this image of Carrie Waller of Dream Green DIY’s bookshelf on the Apartment Therapy Instagram feed with the following caption, and the result was DRAMA: “Books don’t match your decor? Don’t fret. The incredibly easy solution? Flip them for a perfectly coordinated look.” While our post garnered over 14,000 likes, it also received 49 how do you find your books, 41 dumbs, 38 thumbs-down emojis, 33 NOs, 29 stupids, 10 April Fool’s Day mentions, 7 is this a joke inquiries, 5 unfollows, 2 delete your accounts, 1 demand for a retraction (that one really made me laugh), 1 spot-on baleen whale comparison, and 1 absolutely perfect Kriss Kross reference. Let’s discuss further.

(Image credit: Submitted by Jessica & Milo)

It’s rare to see readers so unified on one specific subject. Sure, there were outliers, but overall, this backwards book treatment we’re seeing here and there is definitely not one readers seem to be too fond of (to put it lightly).

The sight of backwards books makes me think of the time Neil deGrasse Tyson didn’t understand a key plot point of Interstellar, asking, “Who in the universe would ever know the titles of all their books, from behind, on a bookshelf.” While that wasn’t relevant to the movie—it was Morse code—it does matter if you’re going to make this look your own. How well do you know your own library?

I think the size and age of someone’s book collection definitely influenced their reaction to the notion of turning books around. My beloved collection of novels has been culled down to the greatest hits after several cross-country moves, and I don’t buy more than one or two new books each year. (I am a ferocious reader, but books cost money!) I currently own about 35 tomes—not including my massive cookbook collection—and I could definitely recognize at least half of them if they were pages-out on the shelf. If I owned two or 10 times as many books, or if I were constantly adding to my collection, navigating backwards books would be completely impossible.

But enough about me, let’s see what the Instagram crowd had to say! Of the 900+ comments (of which you can see in their entirety here), here are a few highlights to give you an idea of the unadulterated passion shared against this image:

Perfect if you are The Little Mermaid and think books are just whosits and whatsits to decorate with.

It’s like watching someone bite right into a fruit by the foot: THAT’S NOT HOW YOU DO THAT

If the purpose of your books is to have matchy matchy decor then you don’t deserve books.

This is what I do with all of my sex books when my parents come to visit

lolololol for those of us who like collecting japanese tentacle porn mangas and don’t want guests to see….? otherwise ????????????

I don’t understand what this means, “books don’t match the decor.” Books always match the decor. Books ARE the decor.

You’re the kind of monsters that put the toilet paper the wrong way on the roll, aren’t you?

There were, in fact, a few positive comments:

I do this on all the shelves where the books are well-loved (I know them from the pages) but odd colors throw off the flow.

I did this a few weeks on some shelves that have been the same for a long time, and it’s a fun change. I like it. My shelves look adorable. I know where the books are within one or two spots if I want one. I have read the ones on these shelves already. It’s not a library—I don’t browse these shelves. Is everyone who hates this wandering around their homes for a physical book to read all the time? I seriously doubt it.

My gosh people are so crazy!! @carriecolemanphoto I love how you styled your books, they are yours you can do whatever you want with them! Seriously, people you know you’re on your iPhones 24/7 not running your hands over the spines of your books lovingly day in and day out! I think it’s creative!

This commenter went on a real journey, and I respect that:

At first glance I, like others, thought this was silly and anti-book. Now that I’m looking at the image for longer I’m becoming more enticed by the idea of recognising my books by the colour of the fading of their pages, the way the paper has aged, and their shape. Like, looking at that shelf the variety in them is very clear. I wondered “would I know my books back-to-front?” I think, for many old-friend books, I would, immediately. So I’m starting to think that for a small-ish collection of well-aged books that you know well, this might be nice. A sort of fond game, to know something so well you recognise it even without the spine. Not sure at all that this is what the author had in mind but perhaps worth a second thought.

In October, Emily Henderson included this bookshelf in her How We Decorated Our House For Halloween post. She described it this way:

Now historically I’ve been anti-this gimmick, because it just doesn’t make sense. In no world is it ok to not see what the book is, and yet keep them so your shelves will say ‘I have so many books’. But for a haunted halloween castle it kinda works, no? Of course I secretly LOVE how much more neutral it is without the spines and it is inspiring a solution, just not sure what it is. I jokingly said that I would have to go out and buy all neutral toned novels (the shelves are not deep enough for big books) and then just use those. But how pretentious would that be? To go out and buy pretty white books just to fill the shelves? (P.S. it’s happening …)

She’s right that it looks fantastically spooky—the exposed pages are kind of like the ghosts of books! When she posted the same photo on Instagram, the comments definitely tended more towards the positive than they did on our post. Lots of people loved how serene the shelves looked, and some admitted their own books were turned around; many more shared that they had created book covers to unify their reading collection. This comment was a good example of the general reaction over there:

In some rooms I have spines out, in others where I want the feel to be more restful, spines are in ( and I love the muted creamy beige neutral colour of the pages!) I don’t think how you store your books has anything to do with how serious a reader you are. Do what makes you happy!

(Image credit: Hannah Briggs)

Real Simple covered the trend recently, and made this great point that hadn’t occurred to me:

On the bookshelf of lifestyle blogger Hannah Briggs, only some of the books are turned backwards, while those with spines that match the neutral color scheme are not. And as one commenter points out, reversing the books could have an unexpected effect: It prevents the spines from fading, so the covers stay in pristine condition.

Some of my books are definitely hideously faded after decades of exposure, so turning especially gorgeous and treasured volumes around could definitely protect them…but then I wouldn’t get to admire their beauty on a daily basis! I’m sad to say this issue remains unresolved—and we are not in the habit of issuing retractions for low-key decorating ideas posted on Instagram—but I’d love to hear what you think! Ready, set….go!