Indiana Jones and the Prop Books

Recently The New Yorker profiled the Strand Bookstore’s Books-by-the-Foot service which provides ready-made libraries for private homes, stores, and movie sets — most notably Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Although prop books are meant to be seen and not read, they have to evoke a mise en scène, inside and out. For Indiana Jones, the filmmakers specified that the books cover such topics as paleontology, marine biology, and pre-Columbian society. They had to be in muted colors and predate 1957. “People have gotten so character-specific nowadays,” Jenny McKibben, a manager at the store, said. “It can’t just be color anymore. With high-def, they can just freeze the film and say, ‘Oh, that’s so inappropriate.’ ”

Downstairs on the shopping floor, Bibbi Taylor, a Strand manager, perused the Africa aisle for Indiana Jones material. Taylor has a discerning eye for historical-looking history books. She quickly eliminated a rust-colored Paul Theroux and a baby-blue Alexandra Fuller (both were too recent), and zeroed in on a beat-up orange hardback. “This looks good,” she said, pulling out “The White Nile,” Alan Moorehead’s classic history of Egyptian exploration. “It has that older worn look, which makes sense, because Indy’s on the road all the time.” When Taylor saw the copyright date, 1960, she recanted. “That’s pushing it,” she said.

Taylor weaved around some undergraduates and shifted two bookcases to the left. “Indy’s a philosopher of sorts, so I’d want some ancient-Greek stuff,” she said. She leaned down to a lower shelf and pulled out a green book with a faded spine. “Oh, yes! A ’39 ‘Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture,’ ” she said. “This could be something that he’s read many times.”

Read the full story here:
Books in Bulk (The New Yorker)

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