A question has been posted recently with the following title:

Asimov Chair of Books

And the following body:

Am I crazy, or was there once a photo circulating the internet of Isaac Asimov sitting in a chair made entirely of his own books? I cannot find this photo in Google anywhere now, and I'm beginning to think I'm nuts. Please advise.

I downvoted it and voted to close it, since I am convinced trivia questions about authors should not be on-topic here. While doing so, I was perfectly aware of Are questions about authors on-topic? which allows questions about author's literary lives, something I can't think I chair made of books fits into.

Even past that, the question is based on the assumption that this photo exists, and may as well be a product of conflated memories of multiple authors/chairs/whatever - we can't know for sure until we find the answer.

We've had a somewhat similar situation before - Should this XKCD question be closed, and why? - where the consensus seems to be that the relevant question is more of a Skeptics question that Literature. One could argue that no other Stack is better suited for this question, but I think this question is definitely not suited for Literature, if suited for SE at all.

  • I'm tempted to vote to close this as a duplicate of Are questions about authors on-topic? ...
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jul 17, 2017 at 9:34
  • @Randal'Thor Then the question I'm talking about here should be closed because its not about an author's literary life. Period. Jul 17, 2017 at 10:08
  • 1
    You keep saying that. Can't you see there's a case to be made for the argument that a question about an author's books and what they do with them is precisely about their literary life?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jul 17, 2017 at 10:25
  • 1
    @Gallifreyan Can you please unpack why Asimov posing for a picture with his own publications isn't connected to his identity as an author? Clearly it's not as obvious to us as it is to you, and we need some hand-holding on your thought process.
    – BESW
    Jul 17, 2017 at 10:43
  • If the question posted the photo and asked "What statement is Asimov trying to make?" then I would be the first to upvote. Since here the whole question is based on conjecture that the photo exists, and you base your case on the conjecture that it means something, I don't see why it should be on-topic. Jul 17, 2017 at 11:49
  • 2
    (1) I'm not entirely sure if the xkcd question was a consensus: a lot of people upvoted that answer, but there weren't even five people willing to close the question. IDK: if you can't even get five people to close a question, I'm not sure how much of a consensus we have.
    – user111
    Jul 17, 2017 at 15:13
  • 1
    (2) "Experts" (I would only consider three members of this site experts) doesn't necessarily mean literary theory/criticism. What about rare book collectors? Or people who work in publishing?
    – user111
    Jul 17, 2017 at 15:17
  • @Hamlet Expert on publicity? Is there such a thing? Jul 17, 2017 at 15:18
  • 1
    @Gallifreyan yeah; if your one of the people whose job it is to arrange all of those publicity events for authors (e.g. you work at a publishing firm). Or if you're interested in studying why people read the things they read. Etc.
    – user111
    Jul 17, 2017 at 15:19
  • I haven't voted on the question yet. I think you might have a point that the question is "trivia": it doesn't provide an opportunity to give long answers about "why" and "how" that make this site so interesting. But I think consensus shows that's not a reason to close a question.
    – user111
    Jul 17, 2017 at 15:21

1 Answer 1


Easiest part first (I can just quote myself!):

"Unanswerable" is not a problem.

If it's truly unanswerable, then it's provably unanswerable and proving it should make for a good, solid answer. Which makes it answerable in the Stack Exchange sense of the concept.

If it's not provably unanswerable, then it shouldn't be closed as unanswerable for what I hope are obvious reasons.

Now, let's tackle the other bits.

"Triva" is not trivial.

We used to have a close reason called "Too Localized." It's gone now, because our Benevolent Stack Overlords came to understand that "too localized" wasn't the problem with those questions; it's even useful to have questions about very specific situations! What we thought was a localization problem turned out to be a collection of problems that are common to those sorts of questions, but were actually already covered by other close reasons.

Trivia questions occupy a similar position. The problems with trivia questions are already enshrined in other close reasons. Just like with "too localized," we should not be passing value judgements on the usefulness of questions when deciding if they're on topic. (I know of a handful of sites that have waaay more traffic than we do, which take a hardline stance on questions which don't "have a problem." We don't have enough traffic to need that kind of weeding-out, and would have trouble identifying non-trivia with a similar gauge anyway given the nature of our topic, so I don't think this is a practical measure for a close reason on lit.se.)

(NB: Trivial questions are arguably down-voteable because they Do Not Show Research; trivial questions border on that frightening notion of "common knowledge," for which there is not room in this margin. As always, up/down vote with your conscience. Voting to close is a completely different mechanic.)

The XKCD decision does not set precedent for this case.

Whether one agrees with that meta's decision or not, it's specifically addressing questions which ask about a non-book thing which is mentioned in a book (comic). That is not what's happening with the Asimov chair-of-books question, so we can't treat its conclusion as fait accompli for this new question. But it IS useful to look at the principle it invokes and see how that applies here:

The meta's reasoning is based on the broad principle that we should limit our topicality to things which are reasonably answered by an expert on literature, which I agree with. So far we've only had a discussion about applying that principle to non-book stuff mentioned in books; we haven't had a discussion about how that principle applies to authors' lives, publicity and marketing, etc... until now!

I personally don't think that principle cuts those subjects out of lit.se, which brings me to the last part:

"Literary life" is applicable here.

The context of the photo is necessarily and immediately connected to Asimov's identity as a writer. If Asimov ever posed on a throne of his own publications, that's a statement about his prolific output and was probably a publicity stunt organized by his publisher. Either of those--making a statement about his own literary efforts OR participating in a marketing gimmick--would make it clearly part of his life as an author and reasonable for an expert on books to be aware of or have the specialized skills/resources to uncover.

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