The appearance of erudition

Everything is fake, including the supposed knowledge of the politicians and famous public intellectuals:

In a place like Washington—small, interconnected, erudite, gossipy—being well-read can create certain advantages. So, too, can seeming well-read. The “Washington bookshelf” is almost a phenomenon in itself, whether in a hotel library, at a think tank office or on the walls behind the cocktail bar at a Georgetown house.

And, as with nearly any other demand of busy people and organizations, it can be conjured up wholesale, for a fee.

Books by the Foot, a service run by the Maryland-based bookseller Wonder Book, has become a go-to curator of Washington bookshelves, offering precisely what its name sounds like it does. As retro as a shelf of books might seem in an era of flat-panel screens, Books by the Foot has thrived through Democratic and Republican administrations, including that of the book-averse Donald Trump. And this year, the company has seen a twist: When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Books by the Foot had to adapt to a downturn in office- and hotel-decor business—and an uptick in home-office Zoom backdrops for the talking-head class.

The Wonder Book staff doesn’t pry too much into which objective a particular client is after. If an order were to come in for, say, 12 feet of books about politics, specifically with a progressive or liberal tilt—as one did in August—Wonder Book’s manager, Jessica Bowman, would simply send one of her more politics-savvy staffers to the enormous box labeled “Politically Incorrect” (the name of Books by the Foot’s politics package) to select about 120 books by authors like Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Al Franken and Bob Woodward. The books would then be “staged,” or arranged with the same care a florist might extend to a bouquet of flowers, on a library cart; double-checked by a second staffer; and then shipped off to the residence or commercial space where they would eventually be shelved and displayed (or shelved and taken down to read).

Only sometimes do Bowman and Wonder Book President Chuck Roberts know the real identity of the person whose home or project they’ve outfitted: “When we work with certain designers, I pretty much already know it’s going to be either an A-list movie or an A-list client. They always order under some code name,” Bowman says. “They’re very secretive.”

I think people have a basic understanding that there is an element of falsehood to many, if not most displayed libraries, given the reaction that more than a view Darkstream viewers have had to my videos. I’ve even been accused of using a greenscreen with a backdrop of a picture of a library. This is why it gives me great pleasure to be able to answer those who ask “have you read all those books” with “actually, I’ve published quite a few of them.”

And even more pleasure to inform the more dedicated doubters that I wrote more than a dozen of them. The Castalia-only portion of the library already fills more than three double shelves and I haven’t even received my copy of the first three Junior Classics yet.

My office library is larger than it appears on screen, as there are seven horizontal rows and six columns in an L-shape to my left and behind my gaming table. There are about 600 books and 50 boxed wargames in it (not counting comics), but my office library is only a small portion of the house library which is scattered throughout shelves in various rooms and hallways on all three floors of the house. Forget books, I don’t even know how many bookshelves we have.

But it is intriguing, and informative, to have the shallowness and lack of knowledge that we have observed on the part of the ruling class confirmed by their need to buy the appearance of erudition in addition to their worthless university degrees.