Thursday Reads: Staying Inside and Peeking Into Other People’s HomesPosted: April 30, 2020
Have you found yourself trying to read the titles of books behind all those experts appearing on TV from their homes these days? I certainly have, and I’m not alone. Some people also like to examine famous people’s knick knacks and decorating choices while watching TV. I found several interesting articles about these voyeuristic pastimes.
The New York Times: What Do Famous People’s Bookshelves Reveal?
Bibliophiles do not approach bookshelves lightly. A stranger’s collection is to us a window to their soul. We peruse with judgment, sometimes admiration and occasionally repulsion (Ayn Rand?!). With celebrities now frequently speaking on television in front of their home libraries, a voyeuristic pleasure presents itself: Are they actually really like us?
The Times discovered that actress Cate Blanchett owns all 20 volumes of The Oxford English Dictionary; and Prince Charles owns a copy of Shattered, by Dick Francis, the famous mystery writer whose books feature horse racing as well as a biography of the painter Basil Taylor, who mostly painted horses. Read more examples and see photos at the link above.
I’ve spent a lot of time the past month contemplating the home-design choices of network anchors, cable-show hosts, and the ubiquitous talking heads who join them on a fairly regular basis. As more interviews are held remotely and as the anchors themselves have moved into makeshift home studios, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with the backdrops each of these has chosen as they pronounce judgments on the waning days of the Democratic presidential primaries or the latest bizarre statements made by President Trump at his daily coronavirus briefings.
They range from the relaxed manner of John Heilemann, 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 Jon Meacham, backed by wall-to-wall bookshelves that fill the entire frame behind him. (And no, those books are not arranged by color.)
Ah, yes, bookshelves. Rows of carefully arranged books seem to be the go-to choice of most of the reporters and commentators who provide the bulk of the cable-news programming. Thus my curiosity about their reading habits. Peter Baker, a White House correspondent for the New York Times and a frequent guest on MSNBC, sits in front of a tall, narrow bookshelf containing an array of political tomes and presidential biographies, including what looked like one of his own, Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House. David Gura, another MSNBC correspondent, has a more haphazardly arranged bookshelf as his backdrop, with an eclectic reading taste that ranges from the *New Yorker *’s Jane Mayer (Dark Money) to novelist Colson Whitehead (The Nickel Boys). And Josh Barro, a business columnist for New York magazine, has been doing his frequent TV appearances lately framed by a row of travel books and a vintage poster from United Airlines (wishful thinking?).
Read the rest at Vogue.
Town and Country: Billionaires on Video Chat Are Giving Us a Rare Peek Inside Their Homes. This article introduces a new Twitter feed: Room Rater. Check it out!
Two weeks ago Claude Taylor and Jessie Bahrey launched a Twitter account called Room Rater (@RateMySkypeRoom). In it, the boyfriend-girlfriend team comment on and score the background decor of broadcasters, pundits, and celebrities forced to do interviews from home during coronavirus physical-isolation orders.
In brief, pointed tweets, they weigh-in on art selection, bookshelves (content and arrangement), lamp placement, color palettes… you name it. Although neither has a background in interior design, their comments address some newly universal aesthetic questions: Will having a bookcase in the background make me look smarter? Is my wallpaper dorky? Am I force for good in the world during uncertain times?
Room Rater quickly accrued 100,000 followers and Taylor has appeared on Inside Edition and been interviewed by numerous websites. Subjects of their tweets have begun to tweet back, begging for higher scores.
Peter Baker of the New York Times added artwork to his walls after Room Rater pointed out an empty wall hook. They are still getting angry DMs about a 9/10 they gave Michelle Obama four days ago. “Come on. That’s a great score. We all need room to grow,” says Taylor.
Room Rater focuses mostly on TV pundits and politicians, but we asked them to take a look at a seemingly under-analyzed segment of home backgrounds—those of billionaires.
Check out the video backgrounds of Barry Diller, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Mike Bloomberg at the T and C link.
Financial Times: When bookshelves are more informative than the books.
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Our bookshelves have suddenly come under intense and unexpected scrutiny. The ad hoc backgrounds to our home office Skype and Zoom calls, the random arrangements of books accumulated and the knick-knacks in front of them have become public property. TV news is populated by hairy-nostrilled talking heads mediated sketchily across our screens. You just can’t help peering at those backgrounds. What do they say about their owners? The academics and scientists come out best. Shelves fully stacked have spiral-bound reports and papers stuffed sideways into every spare inch of space. There is no curation here, just accumulated knowledge, constantly updated, overwhelming the shelf space. These are texts as tools, not interior decoration. Historian Simon Schama caused a little flutter of recognition when he appeared against a backdrop of steeply stacked books and jumbled shelves. Even the comfy-looking armchair was requisitioned as storage….
And then there are the shelves themselves. The political class tend to have built-ins, the marker of a proper home office (rather than the Ikea Billy bookcase that does the job for so many). They range from the minimal modern (UK chancellor Rishi Sunak) to faux-Victorian dark wood (former US presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who also mostly displays political biographies). The zenith of shelving must be the Dieter Rams-designed white modular Vitsoe wall units. They pop up only rarely, but I noticed one behind Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers.
On to more serious stuff. The U.S. appears to be poised to kill record numbers of people by opening up states’ economies prematurely, while European countries take it slower.
ROME—Some of the hardest-hit countries in Europe will start opening up their economies in the coming days after several long months of very tight pandemic lockdowns. But they are doing it in conjunction with scientific guidance that marries widespread testing and aggressive contract tracing—and no crowded beaches. And, under the understanding that if anything goes wrong, everybody goes back inside.
The Trump administration appears to be doing the exact opposite, pushing to kickstart stagnant economies before the pandemic has even reached its peak in some states, going for a “rip off the Band-Aid very quickly” approach, while here in Europe, countries are lifting it corner by corner, slowly, to make sure everything is fully healed.
The authors describe cautious reopening steps planned by Italy, France, and Spain. In contrast, in the U.S. some states are opening up willy-nilly.
In the United States, bowling alleys and pizza joints are full in a number of states, with people rubbing shoulders as if the global pandemic is a movie or someone else’s nightmare. The only European nation that even compares to the U.S. is Sweden, which didn’t officially lock down—though the Swedes mostly self distanced on their own accord— and which is now grappling with a higher infection rate than any of the other Nordic countries, according to statistics gathered by Worldometer.
European news outlets have featured mocking photos this week of people eating barbecue in Georgia and running along crowded beaches in Florida, but there are plenty of wistful Europeans here complaining that their countries are moving too slowly in returning to normal. The most vocal tend to be those who have been working from home just fine, but who desperately need their roots touched up and are sick of cooking….
Yet in Europe, life seems to mean more than the bottom line and even those in the tourism industry are worried about opening too soon, and what liabilities will come with mass tourism and international travel if it kicks off another wave and a return to the darkest circles of hell.
Ah yes, here in the U.S. it’s all about the bottom line, especially in the red states. Case in point: Georgia.
The Atlantic: Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice. The state is about to find out how many people need to lose their lives to shore up the economy. As we’ve all heard, Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp ordered businesses in his state to open up this week.
Kemp’s order shocked people across the country. For weeks, Americans have watched the coronavirus sweep from city to city, overwhelming hospitals, traumatizing health-care workers, and leaving tens of thousands of bodies in makeshift morgues. Georgia has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and the state’s testing efforts have provided an incomplete look at how far the virus continues to spread. That testing capacity—which public-health leaders consider necessary for safely ending lockdowns—has lagged behind the nation’s for much of the past two months. Kemp’s move to reopen was condemned by scientists, high-ranking Republicans from his own state, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; it even drew a public rebuke from President Donald Trump, who had reportedly approved the measures before distancing himself from the governor amid the backlash.
By acting with particular haste in what he calls a crucial move to restore economic stability, Kemp has positioned Georgia at the center of a national fight over whether to stay the course with social distancing or try to return to some semblance of normalcy. But it’s easy to misunderstand which Americans stand on each side. Many Georgians have no delusions about the risks of reopening, even if they need to return to work for financial reasons. Among the dozen local leaders, business owners, and workers I spoke with for this article, all said they know some people who disagreed with the lockdown but were complying nonetheless. No one reported serious acrimony in their communities.
Instead, their stories depict a struggle between a state government and ordinary people. Georgia’s brash reopening puts much of the state’s working class in an impossible bind: risk death at work, or risk ruining yourself financially at home. In the grips of a pandemic, the approach is a morbid experiment in just how far states can push their people. Georgians are now the largely unwilling canaries in an invisible coal mine, sent to find out just how many individuals need to lose their job or their life for a state to work through a plague.
Read the rest at The Atlantic.
At Slate, Jordan Weissmann writes that red states aren’t immune from being overwhelmed by the pandemic: Republicans Are Absolutely Deluded if They Think Only Blue States Need a Bailout.
With the coronavirus crisis threatening to choke state budgets and force massive, economically damaging spending cuts, Republicans have responded in their time-honored fashion, by telling New York and the rest of blue America to politely drop dead.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set the tone last week when he said that any aid to state governments would amount to a “blue state bailout.” He suggested that instead of handing governors money, which would supposedly allow them to paper over years of financial mismanagement, Congress should just let states declare bankruptcy. On Tuesday, meanwhile, Donald Trump signaled that he might be willing to discuss aid with Democrats in Congress, but only if states bend the knee on immigration policy….
What’s a bit odd about all of this is that GOP leaders are acting as if they have an upper hand on this issue, because only Democratic strongholds like New York and Illinois are in trouble. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Red states are also fiscally screwed thanks to the coronavirus, and in many cases may be in worse shape than supposedly irresponsible blue states.It’s unclear why, exactly, some Republicans appear convinced that only political entities that happen to be run by Democrats are about to experience a financial rout. Perhaps it’s because the biggest coronavirus hot spots have tended to be in places like New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. But economic activity has frozen all over the country as governors try to slow the pandemic, and even if Georgia or Texas attempt to “reopen” a bit early, that won’t save them from the shockwaves of a deep national recession. Some Republicans, like McConnell, have seemingly suggested that states like Illinois are in financial trouble now because of their long-standing public pension problems. Insofar as that makes any sense, it’s because some states with pension issues (Illinois, Pennsylvania) haven’t been able to build large rainy day funds or other reserves that would help tide them through this crisis. But that list of offenders also includes McConnell’s own home state of Kentucky, which has one of the worst-managed pensions in the country.