I bought a $600 lamp. Now I read more books.

Or, why lamps are more valuable than TVs

The only lamp I had was a crappy IKEA one. My old roommate gave it to me when I moved out and didn’t have any furniture. It didn’t cast light evenly on my books, so I often found myself leaning over the edge of my armchair just to read.

I prefer not to develop the posture of Quasimodo, so it was time to find a different lamp.

I hadn’t realized how hard it would be to find a good reading lamp: one that hangs over your book, casts light evenly, and with a dimmer switch. I looked around at various shops.

I figured my budget was $150.


I saw lots of disappointing lamps, with clunky controls, cheesy faux-antique finishes, and switches that would be way down on the floor, which I would have no hope of reaching comfortably from my chair.

But there was this one lamp that I couldn’t get out of my head.

I saw it at a fancy architectural lighting shop in River North. There was an old German guy working there who wore suits and pretentious glasses and he just wanted you to go away. Its controls were buttery. It was as if the lamp was an intelligent being, a dance partner — it knew when and where you wanted it to move, and where you wanted it to stop. It could reach over your chair, point at any angle, and it even had a dimmer switch within easy reach.

But, it was $600.


I went back to the lighting shop three times to look at the lamp, looking at other shops in between. Every other lamp was all wrong, but, $600 for a reading lamp?

Then, one night, I was on a walk. I saw a flickering blue glow in the third floor window of a nearby apartment building. It grew intense, then would disappear for a moment. It would even change colors from time to time: tan for a moment, violet for a moment, then back to blue.

It was a television. A big giant television, right in the middle of this person’s living room.


I’m one of those annoying people who hasn’t had a TV in years. It’s not like I don’t watch television shows on my iPad or my projector. My main problem is one of design: if, 1,000 years from now, archeologists happen upon an untouched living room from our age, they will be convinced that the television was some kind of religious shrine: “And all of their furnishings in their gathering space pointed at this flat rectangle through which they were transmitted messages from their gods.”

Actually, they wouldn’t be far off.

My problem with TVs is that they take over the space. They become the dominant element, like a billboard on a highway in the middle of Nebraska, you just can’t look away. This makes you watch TV more than you intend to.


I figured to myself: most people will pay more than $600 for a television set that takes over their living room, why shouldn’t I pay $600 for a lamp that makes reading more enjoyable?

So, I bought the $600 lamp. It sits there in my living room, a beautiful piece of design, reminding me to read. It also makes the experience of reading downright blissful. Now, I read more books.


(The lamp that stole my heart is the Holtkoetter 6470 SN Bernie Turbo Series in Satin Nickel Finish. Available on Amazon, without the snooty German guy.)

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