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Margery Newman's Bookcases

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday May 13, 2020


Peggy Roalf: When did you realize that books would be important in your life? 

Margery Newman: I always loved books. It started in childhood.  My local library rewarded us with star stickers for every book we read. I was an avid reader. I had a lot of stars.

PR: When did you realize that you had become a true collector of photo- and artbooks?

MN: A true collector?  I’m more of an acquirer. I was always attracted to photography, and the stories I imagined inside the pictures. We had many books in our house when I was growing up. All kinds of books, because my father was a reader, too, and was interested many things, and my mother was keen on art.  On my bookshelf now, I have our family’s battered first edition (no dust jacket) of “The Family of Man.” I remember poring through it, over and over and over. Images burned into my memory. I had no idea that someday I would work in the photo world and that many of these images would stand the test of time and become iconic so many years later. When I look around my apartment now, there are photo book and art books everywhere. On shelves, in piles. Some well-worn, some barely cracked.

PR: What were you studying [or involved with] when you decided on your career choice?

MN: I was an English lit major, and I always wanted to be a writer (and a singer and an actress and a dancer). I didn’t decide on my career. It kinda chose me. I followed my interests and I followed what was fun.  I moved to the East Village. I sold classified ads at the Soho News and admired all the cool kids in editorial who were writers and editors. (We all avidly read the Voice, too, and were huge fans of the photo features among everything else).

Later, I was working for Paper magazine, writing about food, photography, personal essays & more.  The editors knew someone who was looking for a publicist for a company that was bringing neon telephones, clocks and radios to the market. They thought I’d be good at it.  And I was. I taught myself. I also started writing press releases for a slew of restaurants and for Robin Rice Gallery’s exhibitions.  I was a jack of all trades, and then it segued into all art, all the time.  I fell in to PR, but as a Gemini, communications is my natural strong suit.  

PR: What went into your choice of bookcases — any research? Any seen/envied among friends/colleagues? Any particular manufacturer, etc…

MN: There was never any research. Just many years of acquisition and organic growth.  I’ve been in my Union Square apartment for 29 years. My main book case is industrial metal. It came from Canal Street in the ‘80s and moved here with me from the East Village. It’s kind of rickety. There’s also a mid-century modern hutch/credenza piece that hold a lot of books. Others are piled on my coffee table, my night stand and in a little niche between my air conditioner and heating unit. Almost every surface has books.

PR: Are they everything you every hoped for or is there room for improvement?

MN: There’s always room for improvement and a good interior designer.

PR: Have your shelves ever collapsed under the weight of your books? Or have your photo-and-artbook caused any other type of disaster caused by big heavy books?

MN: Fingers crossed, no. Except for the time I stubbed my toe on my Bacon’s Media Directory.  That thing was bigger than a phone book… remember them? 

PR: How you organize your photo-and-artbooks?

MN: There is really no rhyme or reason.  They go where they fit. In most places, though, they are arranged by size and shape… like a puzzle.  In some places, I create vignettes that please me visually. 

PR: What do you do when you run out of shelf space? 

MN: When I do, maybe I’ll have to get rid of my record collection. That will free up one long shelf. 

PR: How do you maintain your library? For example, do you periodically take it apart and reorganize, or something along those lines…

MN: Funny question.  I don’t think that way.  Books (and other things) tend to find a home in my home and then they stay where they are. But now that you ask, maybe now is a good time to make sense of it. 

PR: Please feel free to make this a mashup:

—What is the first photo-or-artbook you ever bought and why did it catch your attention?

—What was the last photo-or-artbook you purchased?

—What is the next photo-or-artbook you might purchase?

—Is there a rarity that somehow got away that you regret not grabbing when it was affordable?

MN:  When I look around my collection, I think the first photo/artbook I bought was “The Inner City Mother Goose” when I was a teenager.  It combined urban blight nursery rhymes with photographs.  I thought it was super cool at the time.  The last art book I acquired was “Mag Men” that explores the heyday of magazine design. My library is a mashup of photo books, art books, literature, pulp fiction, vintage novels, slim volumes of poetry, rock & roll autobiographies, big fat dictionaries and more.

Books I’d like to have?  Maybe a first edition of “The Americans” that in my dreams was purchased 60 years ago.  And I remember a friend urging me to look for books by David Bailey when I went to London in 1985 which I didn’t do, though fashion and glamour was another of my passions.

I don’t plan on buying any photo books right now. My apartment is way too filled to the brim. But I haven’t read a novel in a while and I am interested in Elizabeth Gilbert’s “City of Girls.” At first blush, it reminds me of “The Best of Everything” of which I have a second edition hardback with dust jacket. Both explore all that possibility of coming fresh to New York City as a young woman, a possibility that seems so crushed and distant right now.

PR: What are the best bookcases you have ever seen and what do you envy about them? Can you advise the readers on anything you feel should be avoided in the planning and construction/installation of bookcases?

MN: I admire people who have the genetic predisposition for interior design and uber-functional living. It’s so aspirational.  

Margery Newman was born in Manhattan. She is a PR professional with a keen interest in photography working in the visual arts, culture, design and architecture. In her spare time, she practices her guitar and sings. @margery_nyc pimp_bookcase

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