You never really expect the rainbow of books. In the center of the store, on a round shelving unit, stand blocks of brightly colored popular novels. But it isn’t a bookstore. It’s a Warby Parker.
I’ve been inside a few Warbys and I’m always left wondering about the books on display. I went in to buy glasses, not to pick up the latest Zadie Smith book.
But, each time I go, I find myself tempted by the colorful selection of books, sometimes more so than the frames.
image via warby parker
The relationship between books and glasses has pervaded literary culture for years. In the simplest sense, the two are linked because a person uses glasses to read. The Romans discovered the use of glass as a magnifier, but the 13th Century Italians invented the first pair of eyeglasses. These handheld pieces were mainly worn by monks, as they were the main readers of the population. Most were small round lenses step into a frame that could be balanced on one’s nose. Tommaso da Modena famously painted a monk, in the first known image of glasses. It is no surprise that he is wearing them to read.
image via wikipedia
But, glasses didn’t stay monk-specific for long. With the invention of the printing press in 1440, writing spread, and more people learned to read. Today, glasses are so widespread, people even buy fake frames for fashion. From the nerd to the shy rom-com girl who hides behind them, glasses have been a prominent theme in culture, almost consistently associated with books. So why is it, history aside, that glasses and books are so deeply interconnected? Why is it that when you picture a librarian, she’s wearing glasses. That when you walk into bookstores you find products like this:
image via amazon
Here’s the truth: I don’t have an official answer for you. But I have some thoughts.
The first is rooted in Harry Potter. His thick circular frames have become a staple of book nerd-dom. Daniel Radcliffe admitted to Vogue that the glasses were just a fashion statement. Rowling has said that she wore glasses growing up and wanted to see a hero wearing them, not just another brainy character. Sorry J.K., turns out your glasses became a brainy phenomenon after all. But, in many ways, Harry Potter made glasses cool.
Despite how recent the books are, they’ve likely contributed to the boost in glasses in book culture.
Another theory is that we nerds have spent too many hours reading in the dark. Even though it is not scientifically proven, most readers grew up hearing that if they read in the dark their eyesight would get worse. But how else were we supposed to stay up reading without our parents finding out? Whether or not this actually made readers need glasses, it connected the two. It ingrained the idea in our minds that if you loved reading enough to read in the dark, you would need glasses someday.
In a sense, the prominence of glasses in book culture is a reclaiming of the nerdy image. Instead of the awkward nerd with broken frames, we now see the artsy reader in a sunlit space wearing glasses, engrossed in a book. So, it makes sense that shops like Warby Parker would utilize book culture to their advantage. It makes their product seem artsier while reminding you why you needed glasses in the first place.