An Examination of Bookshelves in the Age of the COVID-19 Pandemic as a “Liminal Space”

Towheed, Shafquat (2022). An Examination of Bookshelves in the Age of the COVID-19 Pandemic as a “Liminal Space”. In: Norrick-Rühl, Corinna and Towheed, Shafquat eds. Bookshelves in the Age of the COVID-19 Pandemic. New Directions in Book History. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 31–47.



In the space of a few weeks in 2020, the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus into a global pandemic has changed the way we work, live, interact and communicate with one another. One highly unexpected result of the massive rise in homeworking has been an extraordinary exposure of domestic bookshelves, which in the famous words of Amanda Hess, have become the “quarantine’s hottest accessory” (New York Times, May 1, 2020). Personal bookshelves had hitherto been jealously guarded, a marker for personal taste and shared only with the select few invited into their owners’ households and allowed to scan the titles on display. This physically delimited space has now been unleashed upon the world: where once few people could look at the books on our shelves, now theoretically, almost everyone can. The pandemic bookshelf has accidently been fashioned into the most ubiquitous liminal zone anywhere: it is the ostensibly private and personal backdrop for the staging of our public, digitally mediated, professional existence. Drawing upon theoretical perspectives from anthropology, psychology and literary theory, this chapter explores the many ways in which the private-public bookshelf has become the cultural liminal space par excellence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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