I was looking at Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop earlier today…. “Why were you there?” I hear you ask. This is a good question, as I’d never been there before. I was there because Goop had opted to showcase an awesome new book of poetry written by a friend of mine, Jynne Dilling Martin. (The book is called We Mammals in Hospitable Times and yes, you should totally buy it.)
So I’m there at Goop and I notice as a sidebar a weird product you can buy, which is called the “New York City Book Set,” whereby you pay Goop $685 (!) and they send you eight books. The books are New York: A Portrait of a City by Reuel Golden;
New York: A Photographer’s City edited by Marla Hamburg Kennedy and Helena Fang; New York in Color by Bob Shamis; Manhattan Classic: New York’s Finest Prewar Apartments by Geoffrey Lynch; New York Transformed: The Architecture of Cross & Cross by Peter Pennoyer, Anne Walker and Robert A. M. Stern; Central Park NYC: An Architectural View by Bernd H. Dams and Andrew Zega; New New York by Jake Rajs; and New York at Night by Jason Hawkes and Christopher Gray. What sets Goop’s product apart is that the books come with custom jackets that (when combined) create a handsome little picture of an architectural detail from New York’s Grand Central Terminal.
These all seem to be fine books, wouldn’t say a single negative thing about any of them. It’s safe to say, isn’t it, that nobody has ever thought about books in quite this way, right? Like books as ... a puzzle visual element centerpiece? That’s a new one for me. Note that the price of this .... display is $685, and you can get all of these books on Amazon for a total price of right around $300. So okay, they’re marking them up—A LOT—that’s not what bothers me here. What bothers me is that this is a crazy way to think about books.
I’m trying to game out what visitors are supposed to think when they enter your salon and see a pile of books that have connived to form a winsome picture redolent of old New York? “What are the odds?”
Or perhaps they’d feel pity for you for being such an idiot that you spent $385 on FUCKING BOOK COVERS.
Most people I know who like books, they have strong likes and dislikes about this or that author, and so the possibility that, you know, “I’ll never read a book by that guy again!” and so forth is always a live possibility…. now, probably nobody has such strong feelings about any of these nice picture books of New York but my point is, people who like books are likely to resent seeing them used as jigsaw puzzle pieces—or to be precise, as nothing more than jigsaw puzzle pieces. Sarah Palin writes books for people who don’t read, but Gwyneth takes this concept in a very different direction looking for her more upmarket marks. John Waters made that crack about refusing to sleep with anyone you went home with who didn’t own any books, but these Goop books don’t count.
There are two similar products for sale at Goop. The New York product has a counterpart, the “London Book Set,” which also costs $685. This set includes London: A Portrait of a City by Reuel Golden; The Light of London by Jean-Michel Berts; Living in Style: London by Geraldine Apponyi and Monika Apponyi; Great Houses of London by James Stourton and Fritz von der Schulenburg; Unseen London by Mark Daly and Peter Dazeley; David Gentleman’s London; London Interiors by Barbara Stoeltie, Rene Stoeltie and David Gill; and Creative Living London by Emily Wheeler and Ingrid Rasmusse. This product combines to create a little picture of Big Ben with some double decker buses rolling toward the camera, and to be honest I like this picture a little more than the Grand Central Terminal picture. This set of books, if purchased individually, can be also purchased on Amazon for $300.
There’s also a thing called the “Goop Cookbook Club” but it costs just $295 and I find the idea of a six cookbooks arrayed to simulate a carving knife on a cutting board not too bad, really.
Anyway, all of this is to say, it might be that Gwyneth Paltrow is the Jay Gatsby of our time. A number of you may already have thought of this passage from chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald—it seems perfectly apropos:
A stout, middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles, was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. As we entered he wheeled excitedly around and examined Jordan from head to foot.
“What do you think?” he demanded impetuously.
“About what?” He waved his hand toward the book-shelves.
“About that. As a matter of fact you needn’t bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They’re real.”
“Absolutely real — have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Pages and — Here! Lemme show you.”
Taking our scepticism for granted, he rushed to the bookcases and returned with Volume One of the “Stoddard Lectures.”
“See!” he cried triumphantly. “It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too — didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?”
He snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf, muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse.
I wonder if the pages in the books Goop is selling are cut or not…