April 13, 2022

Shelf Wars: Ashley Tisdale buys 400 books to ‘style’ her home and Twitter explodes


Ashley Tisdale for an Allure video, Condé Nast (through Vogue Taiwan) (CC BY 3.0)

What do your bookshelves say about you? Have you been collecting for years, cramming books in any which way you can? Do you carefully stylise, organising by colour or category? Have you actually read most of your book collection, or are they there for show?

Recently, Ashley Tisdale, star of High School Musical, accidentally started a Twitter war… over her living room bookcase. Inviting Architectural Digest into her newly renovated home, giving them an all-access tour for their Open Door series, the actress showed of her stylish, built-in bookcase, preempted by a shocking revelation, saying:

“These bookshelves, I have to be honest, actually did not have books in a couple days ago.

“I had my husband go to a bookstore and I was like ‘you need to get 400 books’. Obviously my husband’s like, ‘we should be collecting books over time and putting them in the shelves,’ and I was like ‘No, no, no, no, no, not when AD comes’.”

And my, did Twitter react! Many expressed outrage and horror at using books as accessories, wondering why she would admit such a thing on camera. Responses ranged from:

@BritneyMommy “The richness is just painful for people who can’t even afford new books.”
@rattixempire1 “Isn’t it fun filling a book shelf slowly over time? Or being like I have a shelf. I have money. Let us purchase copies of our favourite books to snuff, stroke, read & love. We will fill the rest of the shelves with books we think the other would like to read & talk about.”
@real_lifemama “That’s so sad. It took me a few months to fill up my new shelves, all special and important to me. Not magazine worthy but I like it! … All important books in my life.”
@MichelleyM “Can you imagine being able to buy 400 books at once?”

However, many defended her choice and applauded her honesty:

@samiru27 “All I want in life is for someone to tell me to go buy 400 books.”

@wlwanningsquad “The way people are criticizing Ashley Tisdale for…buying books?? Supporting authors and a bookstore??? Like who gives af if she reads them, as if I’ve read most of the books I own.”
@thathannahbethAre we mad at Ashley Tisdale for supporting bookstores? In this economy?”
@WetMascara “I hope Ashley Tisdale buys 400 more books tomorrow just to give people with nothing better to do something to complain about.”

As Tisdale admits, interior designers style books all the time. Several years ago, Gwyneth Paltrow hired Thatcher Wine, a bibliophile and collector who’s literal job is to curate book collections for rich people. She needed ‘five or six hundred more books’ to fill her remodelled home. This practise is not unusual… if you have the money. As twitter user @brucetempleton points out “Google “books by the foot” and you’ll find dozens of companies selling bulk books solely for decorating, based on size, colour, etc.””

Tisdale’s husband and chief book-buyer, Christopher French also chimed in on the conversation, defending Tisdale on Twitter, saying:

“(1) Support local used bookstores when (2) staging for photoshoots and (3) don’t worry if people have opinions about it, because some people will always feel the need to have an opinion about anything, no matter how trivial.

 “We got most of them from @IliadBookshop! The best.”

Is it really so terrible buying hundreds of books from an independent bookshop?

What books did French buy to adorn their home? Almost all non-fiction: the Guardian lists mostly “celebrity biographies, reference books, cookbooks and titles on fashion, psychology, wealth generation and self-help – her taste for fiction seeming to extend only to a novel by Ken Follett.”

Which at least this seems to chime with Tisdale’s interests (see Buzzfeed for a more detailed list of the books spotted on their shelves). She is the founder of Freshne, a mental health and wellness platform and community, which also has it’s own book club hosted on Instagram, every Saturday at 9am. Tisdale says:

“I’ve always gravitated towards self-help books because I’m constantly talking and thinking about mental health. It’s why I founded Frenshe and our Frenshe book club.”

Tisdale clearly did not realise she would unleash the wrath of the bookish community over her shelf confession. She certainly isn’t the uncultured book hater many are making her out to be, and she and her husband have made an effort to publicly support independent booksellers. Plus let’s be honest, how many of us are jealous because we wish we had the money to splash out on 400 books?

However, for us bibliophiles, books are much more than an accessory – they inspire us, teach us and become life-long friends. Respect the mighty book!

Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.