Will the home library survive the surge of the e-book?

"I've not actually read any of them. I just love the bindings." So said the actress Davinia Taylor earlier this year when she decided to put her house on the market – complete with its carefully-sourced collection of classic books. Rarely removed from their perch on a bookcase in the living room, their primary purpose was to disguise Taylor's walk-in fridge. And so, with the fridge no longer destined to be a feature in her life, the books were deemed redundant.

In January Amazon revealed that it was selling more books in Kindle format than any other, and global sales of eBooks are expected to surpass the $1bn mark this year. In an age when literature is increasingly going digital, books hold a curious role in our homes. There aren't many purchases which, once used, would be placed on proud display in our living rooms, considered a vital part of our identity and carted round with us as we moved from one home to the next – particularly not when a virtual equivalent exists. And yet that's precisely what we've been doing with our books. Will the digital revolution change that?

Perhaps. After all, both the music industry and the print media have felt the heat of virtual competition. But in the meantime, there's every indication that, while we might do most our reading on-screen, the living room tradition of displaying our (non-digital) books is alive and well. When Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron were photographed perched on the sofa of the Downing Street kitchen, attention immediately turned to the bookshelves (black, £665, available from OKA Direct). What did the presence of Mrs Beeton's Household Management say about our Premier's family? And why do they keep the Complete Works of Shakespeare in the kitchen? Similar treatment was meted out to both Milibands during the run-up to the Labour leadership contest. When it comes to the crunch, nosing around someone's bookshelves is interesting.

"You can tell a lot about someone by their choice of books – and how many they've got," says Doug Jeffers, owner of the My Back Pages bookstore in Balham, south London. "You can tell their political views, their interests, when they did most of their formative reading and, as a result, how old they are. You can even guess where they go on holiday and what they do for a living."

Household stylist Abigail Hall agrees. "I often style houses for sale and you'd be amazed how important the contents of your book case can be. People form judgments about the type of person who lives in the property as a result. So the paperbacks they've bought on holiday go straight into storage, and the classics go on display."

Given this, it's no surprise that those seeking to bolster their own intellectual reputation stock their shelves with an eye to something other than pure entertainment. As interior designer to the rich and famous (previous clients include the Rooneys and Status Quo's Rick Parfitt), Laura McCree is skilled in the art of reputation-management-via-bookshelf: "I've created whole libraries before. Recently, I did the house of a client who wanted to look like he read a lot. I stocked a library which stretched over two floors."

But it's not just a matter of which books we display that's interesting – how we choose to do so has become an equal point of fascination. "They can almost sculptural in that they offer a physical presence," explains Hall. "It's not just about stacking them on a bookcase, it's how you stack them. I've seen books arranged by colour, stacked on top of each other. Once I saw a load of coffee-table books piled up to become a coffee table in themselves." Recently one national newspaper went so far as to create a Flickr group on their website, inviting readers to upload pictures of their bookshelves for everyone to see. The results ranged from the mundane (untidy paperbacks spilling out of Ikea shelves) to the highly artistic. If nothing else, they confirmed our enduring love affair with the prominently-displayed book.

Curiously, this whole phenomenon – the whole wearing one's personality on our bookshelves – is, in fact, a rather modern one. "It wasn't really until the paperback explosion of the 20th century that books became widely available," explains George Johnson, owner of Lady Kentmores antiques in Callander, Scotland. "The Victorians had been great book collectors – it was very much in keeping with the ethos of the era – but it was an expensive pursuit. To have a library was a sign of status." When Penguin launched its run of ten titles in 1935, the possibility of buying – and displaying – books opened to the masses. In the late 1980s Ikea arrived on the scene, offering cheap bookshelves which promised a stylish way to store books without costing the earth. Ever since, we've been hooked.

"Books define a space," reflects Abigail Hall. "If you have some books and a comfy chair, you have immediately created an area." McCree agrees – books, as she puts it, are an "interactive display tool." It's a trick of which countless hotels, cafés and Harley Street surgeries are only too aware.

Placing a few carefully-chosen books atop coffee tables is the oldest trick in the, well, book. Indeed Johnson himself has repeatedly been drafted in to advise clients on which titles to place where. "Hotels are one of the great buyers. It's about creating an ambiance. No one actually reads the content"

Perhaps, then, the future of books lies in this. With more and more being bought in digital format, the first casualties of the tangible variety are likely to be the beach-read paperbacks – the ones that, if you invite Hall around, would be relegated to the garage anyway. But given the uses to which we put our other tomes – whether they're deployed to show-off, look pretty, or create an atmosphere – the odds of them hanging around look good.

"Already, you can see signs of the book industry moving in that direction," notes Hall. "You can buy books in design shops specifically for that purpose. Even novels are getting a makeover: books by authors like Terry Pratchett were always very striking, and other titles are getting similar treatment." As for vintage books, the future – like that of vintage vinyl – looks positively rosy; one recent sale saw an illustrated copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America sell for a record £7.3m. "The love for great work is still there," says Johnson of this. "An eReader is all right sometimes – but there's nothing like the real thing."

Some of the images featured come from 'Books Do Furnish A Room' by Leslie Geddes-Brown (Merrell, £24.95). To order a copy for the special price of £22.45 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture