Professionals can help curate your bookshelves so you look more erudite on Zoom

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski

In the age of Zoom, some people may be self-conscious about what their rooms say about them. That bookshelf in the background? It better be stocked with Shakespeare and classic literature. Enter the bookshelf curator. There’s someone who will get you the books so you look the part. 

Jessica Bowman manages a service called Books by the Foot at Wonder Book in Maryland. When you call her for advice on enhancing your bookshelf, she’ll want to know more about you. What exactly are you trying to achieve? If you’re in the business industry, would you want a room full of business books? Or is your shelf in the living room or family room, so it should have books for all ages? 

Bowman makes sure there are no controversial titles. “We do screen the titles. So if it's controversial, we'll keep it out unless you specifically requested. So we do have some people that like the obscene and want more of it. And we have others that just want to play it safe,” she says. 

She’s had people request “six feet of books in all purple on marijuana” too. 

Some people may want their bookshelves color coordinated. Photo by Jessica Bowman. 

Bowman says her company caters to lots of interior decorators, set prop decorators, and hotel staff. 

The COVID pandemic has shifted her business toward more residential clients. “The filming industry has kind of pressed pause for a moment. And we do see more residentials, I think just because people are inside more and trying to focus on bettering their house. … It's like art, it's very personal to them. So they're trying to create a shelf and a library that they can be proud of, and that represents them.” 

What books lose their currency the quickest? Ones that are mass produced and become movies, she says. “They have their brief moment in the sun, and then we get flooded with thousands of copies of them. Things like ‘Twilight.’”

This row of books contains “The Nile: The Life Story Of A River” by Emil Ludwig, “Beyond This Place” by A. J. Cronin, and “The House of Earth” by Pearl S. Buck. Photo by Jessica Bowman. 

In her own home, Bowman has multiple bookshelves that are broken up by categories. 

“My favorite bookshelf has the Barnes and Noble classic editions. So it’s the leather-bound, colorful, all literature. And another bookshelf that I gravitate to a lot is actually a children's bookshelf.”

Does Bowman reread her books, or are they reminders of what she’s already read? “I do both. The literature books, I normally never go back to them, but I can't really get rid of them either. I just love them. And they're pretty. So they just sit there on the shelf for decoration just because I cannot bear to part with him.”