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Fake Smart People Show Off Fake Book Collections

December 29, 2020
Does this bookcase really make you look smarter?

It’s no surprise that bookcases at public locations like hotel lobbies are for decoration only. But what about bookcases behind famous broadcasters on television? Or a co-worker on an internet meeting?

I don’t know if a full bookcase in the background makes a famous person or a co-worker in a meeting appear more intelligent. I’m partial to the bare bland wall. People with bare bland walls behind them are confident enough to not care about how others think about them. Or they’re paranoid about being conked on the head from behind. Nobody can sneak up behind you with a bare bland wall background.


In a place like Washington—small, interconnected, erudite, gossipy—being well-read can create certain advantages. So, too, can seeming well-read. The “Washington bookshelf” is almost a phenomenon in itself, whether in a hotel library, at a think tank office or on the walls behind the cocktail bar at a Georgetown house.

And, as with nearly any other demand of busy people and organizations, it can be conjured up wholesale, for a fee.

And then later in the article…

In 2020, of course, everything changed for Books by the Foot around the same time everything changed for everyone else… When workplaces went remote and suddenly Zoom allowed co-workers new glimpses into one another’s homes, what New York Times writer Amanda Hess dubbed the “credibility bookcase” became the hot-ticket item. (“For a certain class of people, the home must function not only as a pandemic hunkering nest but also be optimized for presentation to the outside world,” she wrote.) And while Roberts makes an effort not to infer too much about his clients or ask too many questions about their intent, he did notice a very telling micro-trendin orders he was getting from all across the United States.

Read more at Washington’s Secret to the Perfect Zoom Bookshelf? Buy It Wholesale.


So that’s what it’s called, the “credibility bookcase.” I had a credibility bookcase back in the 1990s and didn’t even know it. If only I had thought of a way to profit from this idea back then. Some people might have read this article and gotten mad at co-workers or famous people for pretending to be readers. I read this article and got mad that I didn’t think of how to profit from this scam first!

I even mentioned the credibility bookcase in a blog serial romantic comedy that I wrote a few years ago, only I didn’t know it was called a credibility bookcase. Here is a quick excerpt from my blog serial romantic comedy “The Literary Girlfriend”:


When we reached the living room, Danielle stopped and faced me.  “Have you read all of these?” she asked, pointing to my bookshelf.

“Yes, of course,” I said.  I had read a few of the books completely, but I had at least glanced through all of them.  I had read enough about each book to hold a quick conversation before I’d need to change the subject.

“You’ve read Moby Dick?” she said.

“Yes.  I didn’t enjoy it, but I read it.”

“You’ve read…”   She squinted at a large volume at the top of the shelf.   “You’ve read The Brothers K…   The Brothers K….”

“I don’t know how to pronounce it either,” I said.  “When I get to those long Russian names, I just change them to Smith and Jones in my head.”

“I like books,” Danielle said.  “But I didn’t go to school… college.”

For more about the credibility bookcase and the romance that followed, read The Literary Girlfriend: The End of the Story?.


The difference between me and most credibility bookcase owners is that I had read a little bit from each book, just enough to make me dangerous (or sound fake smart).

But enough about me! What do you think? Does having a credibility bookcase make you look smarter? Have you ever looked at the books on somebody else’s credibility bookcase? Do you know how to pronounce The Brothers K…?

  1. So many Skype interview on tv since the pandemic started and I am always squinting at their shelves to see if there is anything I know!!!

  2. I had a similar conversation with my husband several times since the pandemic started and people began having their meetings on Zoom. We never thought they could be credibility bookcases though because most of the people he works with are over 50 and well established old white men who … are well read? We will never know. I do know this. I read and read and read, i have bookshelves and bookshelves and I always take care to ensure my books are arranged nicely and neatly and I have a great love for all of them, even the ones i haven’t got around to reading yet. Maybe that means they are my credibility bookshelves? My husband does not read at all but he is significantly more intelligent than I am, his brain is a planet, and I think sometimes being well-read can make someone appear more intelligent because they have more vocabulary at their disposal, but the things they are saying are actually not of much substance at all. I certainly think having tonnes of books stacked behind you as you give an important interview makes you appear more intelligent and a bit show-off, and I DO like the people with blank walls more, because as you say, they couldn’t care less. Once I saw an interview where the professor was sitting in his office and there was just a mountain of paperwork mess behind him and things piled higgledy piggledy everywhere and he just didn’t care. I liked that a lot.

    • I’m sure some of them are sitting in front of their own books (so not everybody is a fake), but if they’re purposefully sitting in front of bookcases, there’s a lot of vanity involved.

  3. It strikes me as the home decor equivalent of getting fake glasses to look smart.

  4. Reminds me of a Modest Mouse lyric (

    ‘Call it education.
    All those books I didn’t read.
    They just sat there on my shelf
    looking much smarter than me.’

    I’ve been to a few ‘literary’-themed bars that similarly try to gain credibility by using books as trophies. I hear if you get REALLY drunk in such places you absorb the knowledge through osmosis…

  5. It’s better than having a Kindle behind you.

  6. I am drawn to background books and have always thought they are strategically placed and most likely unread. Especially certain titles and authors – there are the obvious ones (Moby Dick?) that are tell tale signs. But now I know. And I know what to call it.

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