Tending to pesky bookcases, redux

The current crisis has triggered the recollection of a question in the muddle in the middle of my head, where there's plenty of room for faint relevance. The recollection was of something I'd read, perhaps 30 years ago, in a Chicago business publication. It was an exchange between several real estate agents about what they'd do with bookcases encountered in houses they were trying to market. All agreed bookcases were a problem, and the solutions they offered ranged from the extreme - tearing them out or drywalling over them - to arranging tchotchkes as an alternative to leaving the shelves arrogantly bare. None of the agents - and here I must stress I doubted they were necessarily representative of their peers - proposed putting books on the darned things.

Then, as now, I was a book acquirer - the more books spilling off shelves onto the floor, the happier I am - and I was troubled by their views. But I dismissed them ... until now. In these days of at-home television punditry, I've been delighted to see backgrounds of bookcases filled with books in the living rooms and dens of opiners everywhere. No drywall cover-ups, no tchotchkes, no nothin' but books for our crop of influencers, I am relieved to see. Yet those backgrounds of books are a distraction, for instead of paying attention to the pundits, too often I find myself squinting to see what they've read, or perhaps more accurately, what they want others to think they've read. It's tough squinting, for most of the titles are too far back to be identified, though now and again I recognize one or two. They are justifiably weighty tomes, mostly histories, as would be expected from news and political commentators, although one particularly forthright fellow's shelves were stocked with nothing but cookbooks, and there's something to be admired in that, too.

Still, while I find the sight of all those books on all those shelves pleasing, I can't stop remembering that long-ago discussion of what to do with bookcases. I believe our current sheltering-in-place is accelerating the transition of reading from paper to screen. E-reads are everywhere, instantly available, anytime, direct to us with just a touch of a finger, in great variety, cheap from online sellers, even free from our local library. That's hard to deny in these homebound times.

And so I anticipate reading, perhaps in the electronic version of a Chicago business publication, a panel of real estate agents discussing what to do with those pesky bookcases.

- Jack Fredrickson of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].