Books in Zoom backgrounds are latest fashion statement

Gregory P. Daily

This column is not many things. It’s not Walter Winchell. It’s not about sports. It’s not Herb Caen. And it’s not about fashion.

Last week was about COVID, life and death. This week is about COVID and haute couture. If you were to catch a peek at my closet in the outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior, you’d find one pair of corduroys and two bowling shirts and quickly conclude that I am fashion free. The last time I attempted to dress in style, I dragged Nurse Vivian to the Green Acres Mall so she could buy me a Nehru jacket and bell bottoms, the week after the Beatles stopped wearing them.

This year’s fashion: masks and literature. We’re no longer looking at a person’s lips (in fact, lip gloss sales have declined during the pandemic); we’re looking at their face coverings. And thanks to Zoom, we’re getting a glimpse at what’s over their shoulder.

Bookshelves first came to my attention through MSNBC. My husband Brian watches Rachel Maddow interview Sen. Chuck Schumer or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, hoping to find out more about the climate accord or the filibuster. But for me, the question is: What are they reading?

In the age of social distancing, even the glitterati have to Zoom in from home, and 90% sit in front of their bookshelves. There are a few outliers like former Sen. Claire McCaskill, who sits in her kitchen with a crystal cake plate of strawberries, but most of them look like they live in a library. With all hardcovers and no paperbacks. If the interviewee wrote a book, they keep five copies of it on the shelf just behind their head.

But I’m thinking: Have they actually read James Joyce, or is their copy just for show?

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