Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Guilty, Yet Lovely, Pleasure

By Hilary Davidson

At first, I found this week's question baffling. "What is your guiltiest pleasure on your bookshelf?" I scanned my (many) shelves looking for possible suspects. While parts of my collection may reveal questionable tastes (Justine by the Marquis de Sade shares space with Publicize Your Book! by Jacqueline Deval... truth be told, the Marquis would have appreciated her excellent advice), I couldn't find anything that struck me as a guilty pleasure. But that was because I had a blind spot, and it took me a while to identify it.

Two words: art books.

You need to understand how pressed I am for space to get why something as seemingly respectable as art books would be a guilty pleasure. In fact, it's their inherent beauty that makes them so insidious. If I love an art exhibit, I feel an irresistible compulsion to buy the accompanying catalogue. Museums know all about suckers like me, which is why they have these oversized, overpriced volumes available for sale as you walk out of a gallery. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the biggest offender, because it produces glorious catalogues for virtually every exhibit that passes through its halls. But almost every museum, no matter how specialized, is in on the game: the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto produced a volume called Splendid Slippers (about Chinese foot-binding) that now kicks back on my shelves. Even New York's Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology — a place that doesn't even charge admission! — is in on the scheme. That's how Gothic: Dark Glamour ended up in my home.

Basically, I am a full-grown adult who likes picture books.

Worse, I've lugged giant art books home from trips abroad. One from the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum in Madrid weighs 15 pounds. (I know, because I shipped it back to Toronto, then brought it with me when I moved to New York.) Its obscene bulk lolls around a shelf, taunting me. I've tried to remember the last time I lugged it out and cracked it open, and I can't. Am I going to get rid of it? Not a chance. That book owns me.

The truth is that if I wanted information about anything — say, foot-binding, or gothic art — I could find it online. Hell, if I wanted to look at the Thyssen Bornemisza collection, it would be easier to find it on the Internet than haul out that behemoth of a book. But there's something irresistible about having these books around. I can't quite explain it, but I also can't let go, even though I need the space... and I do feel guilty about that.

* * *

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that The Damage Done is a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel. This past week, I learned that my book is also an Anthony Award nominee for Best First Novel. I'm honored, thrilled, and completely stunned. A huge thank-you to everyone who nominated my book for the Anthony! You have no idea how grateful I am.


Sabrina E. Ogden said...

After visiting NY last year and visiting the museums, I found myself wanting all the books in the gift shop. My husband helped me resist my urges, but now he wishes we had bought a couple. So, after attending an art exhibit a couple of weeks ago I now own my very first art exhibit picture book!

Great post, Hilary.

Hilary Davidson said...

Thanks so much, Sabrina! I'm glad you can relate — I know that feeling of wanting to buy every book in the gift shop all too well. Art books can be amazing souvenirs of a trip... as long as you have space to store them!

Meredith Cole said...

Congrats on your nominations Hilary! Looking forward to hearing more good news...

And art books? Well, I'm married to an artist, and he considers them "research"! But there is something lovely about having those huge and gorgeous books on our shelves. Stifle the guilt!

Reece said...

Congratulations on the well-deserved nominations, Hilary! I'm totally with you when it comes to art books. In this age of ebooks, I think it's important to remember what a beautiful object a book can be.

Hilary Davidson said...

Thanks so much for dropping by, Meredith and Reece! Also, thanks for your kind comments and congrats. (It should be noted that Reece is a finalist for ITW's award for Best First Novel. The Criminal Minds really get around!)