Has anyone else seen the latest J. Crew catalogue? I have it only because I was at one of their stores last week (buying a navy blue pinstripe suit if you must know) and threw a copy in my bag. Today, in a moment of idleness, I picked the thing up and thumbed through it.
It's been a while since I perused their catalogue, so I don't know what the company's other recent photo shoots have involved (I seem to remember lots of beaches and barns, back in the day), but this one involves Boston, and it also involves a helluva lotta books. Some of the scenes are shot in front of the bookstacks in the Boston Athenaeum, while others just involve piles of books on the floor; being stood upon by models; in the arms of models; displayed with high-heeled shoes; and on, within, and all over the ground surrounding a 4x4 Jeep-type-vehicle.
And I was surprised by how much this annoyed me. I mean. . . attractive women in glasses, with really old books in their hands! In libraries! Shouldn't I be happy that J. Crew is celebrating (after a fashion) bookishness and libraries and the sexiness of people who read? And if anyone were to be excited by the juxtaposition of a totally cute high-heeled shoe and a stack of books, wouldn't it be me?
But I wasn't excited. For one thing, I found it irritating how prop-y those books were. Because I'm a nerd, I kept squinting at the titles on the shelves, and almost all of them were runs of very old, exceedingly dull-sounding bound periodicals ("New York Seaports" and "Pennsylvania History" are two I recall); they were clearly chosen only because they looked old and therefore cool, and not because the 20-something models with long shiny hair could have had any conceivable need to or interest in reading them.
And don't get me started on the models standing on stacks of books. I mean, I am, in Anne Fadiman's terms, more of a carnal than a courtly lover of books--I leave them face-down on the floor, use them as coasters, and dog-ear and write in them (albeit in pencil) with abandon--but there isn't even any pretended narrative point to this; were the models standing on books to reach a higher shelf, say, that would at least be explicable, and maybe cute in a little-girl way.
But maybe it's that cutesiness that bothers me. I couldn't help but notice that it's the women who are photographed with and near perilously-arranged or collapsed towers of books; books in the shots involving men are infrequent, and those books are always decorously placed on shelves or tables where they belong; the overall message, perhaps, is that there's something silly and excessive about women's relationship with books, while the men get to look moodily out of windows and think deep, studious thoughts.
I suppose it's foolish of me to be bothered by this, both because it's J. Crew, for God's sake, and because I'm clearly as much of a consumer, and as invested in constructing a certain look for myself, as are those 20-year-olds who buy glasses with clear lenses and pair argyle sweaters with tweed skirts. And really: who wouldn't prefer a little argyle to those simultaneously cleavage- and middrift-baring tops that I've seen entirely enough of in recent years?
But I am bothered, all the same.