The Bookshelf Snoop

I confess to being a shameless, incurable bookshelf snoop.  Leave me unchaperoned in your home for one minute, I’ll be peering at the shelves, looking innocent, divining your secrets.

Hey, at least I won’t poke around in your medicine cabinet.

What the bookshelf snoop is hoping to discover is what you read, and from that, to make deductions and inferences about who you are.  The sorts of deep, dark secrets that lie hidden until your relationship progresses much further and you can actually ask questions such as “What do you like to read?” and expect a truthful answer.

You can’t always make these discoveries, however.  Some bookcases, especially those in public places (the living room or den, not the bedroom shelves), are specifically intended by the owner to display what he’d like you to believe that he reads.  Shocking, I know, but there it is.  Shameless fraud by displayed title.

My personal bookshelves have a little of this, but it’s not really my fault.  My wife doesn’t like ratty paperbacks in the living room shelves.  So I can stock and arrange those shelves as I like, as long as the books are dressed and presentable.  Books, like other occupants, are expected to refrain from hanging around in their boxers in the living room.

BUT . . . you can still tell a lot from what a person wants you to believe that he reads, and/or what overflows from the bedroom bookshelf to the more formal libraries of the house.

Did you discover a college textbook, for example?  Marginally acceptable for someone less than 5 years out of college, indicative of a character defect otherwise.  Hey, nobody ever refers to a college textbook in earnest.  Perhaps if you are an accountant, once in your life you might thumb through your comparative religion text to remember the difference between Zoroaster and Mithra because there’s a bet on the table.  But not for anything relating to accounting.  Sorry, welcome to the real world.

And even worse, there’s no market for textbooks over 5 years old.  I know, you spent thousands of dollars on those, but they are totally useless.  Libraries will take them and put them out in their semi-annual sale for 50¢, but nobody buys them.  But they’re taking up valuable bookshelf space!  Get rid of them!

Did you discover Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Ulysses, or maybe Foucault’s Pendulum (I had somebody give me a copy of Foucault’s Pendulum once, told me that they thought I’d like it.  I dropped them from my list of friends)?  So, what are they telling you?  I had to read this in college so I’m going to stick it up here because it’s such a great book, I may read it again someday?  I was assigned to read this in college but I only made it through the Cliff Notes, but I’m going to take up bookshelf space with it because it’s supposed to be great (hey, why not just put the Cliff Notes up there)?  Beats me.  Did you ever meet anyone who’s read Moby Dick twice?

What’s really fun do discover is a dozen or two books that you’ve read and liked.  Already the basis for a friendship.

Fifty Shades of Grey?  Tells you that this person doesn’t give a rat’s ass who knows what they read.  Not necessarily the basis for a friendship on that basis alone—there are a lot of obnoxious people who don’t give a rat’s ass what you think—but a positive indicator as well.

And if I discover, as Rick did of George, that you’re an Arthur aficionado?  No telling.

Someday—not in my lifetime, thankfully, but someday—e-readers are going to render the bookshelf snoop powerless.  You’ll have to already be on a much more intimate basis with a person before you get so see what’s on their bookshelf.

“Jason, I think it’s time we took our relationship to the next level.”

“Oh, Jennifer.  You don’t mean…”

“Yes, I mean exactly that.  I’m going to show you the contents of my Kindle.”

“Oh, darling.  I feel so honored that you trust me that deeply, and I’ll never betray… Wait, there’s nothing here but 127 erotic romances and a free download of Moby Dick.  Is this what you read?”

“You promised you’d never betray me.  You, you…” (runs away sobbing).



14 thoughts on “The Bookshelf Snoop

  1. Funny stuff. My first thought as I started reading was that ereaders were going to mess up your book snooping. But you covered that. Just think when you get to know someone well enough that you can look at what phrases/passages they’ve highlighted. Your bookshelf contents are intriguing. Star Trek, a book on Prozac, and Sandra Brown sharing a shelf. Head spinning.

    As for your ereader conversation:
    “Wait, there’s nothing here but 127 erotic romances and . . . ”
    Are we to believe that Jason is only interested in Jennifer for her mind?

    • My guess is that’s not Rusty’s bookshelf — some of the contents, maybe, but others, no way. Am I right??

      • You are absolutely right about it not being mine. The first big giveaway is that it’s green. The second is the golf book.

        Perhaps the next time I have an opportunity, I’ll write a post about my bookshelves. Philosophy about saving books, pressures from my professional organizer wife, what books are on the “to be read” shelf, etc. (complete with photos). If there is sufficient interest among blog readers (as noted by comments, of course).

      • Ah, I should have noticed the green. But the crazy diversity wouldn’t surprise me. And I vote yes for hearing about your bookshelves–philosophy and all.

  2. Bookshelves are such an awesome indicator of who a person is, what they value, where they stand on many things, political, religious, etc.

    And as you said, it’s also a wonderful indicator of self esteem. Do you put a book out there so that someone will think you’re a certain type of person? Do you worry about being judged? Do you care?

    Once again, you’ve made me think! 🙂

    • When I was a lad, my mother was obsessed with green. Green cars, green couch, avocado (and harvest gold) appliances. Ugh. I’ve soundly hated green most of my life. At some point–maybe 25–I purged my closet of everything green and life’s been better since.

  3. I should come to the defense of green, says the lady with a basil green room, heh. But I get the childhood color trauma. Up until I could pick my own clothes, half my wardrobe was turquoise–my best color according to my mom. It took me 40 years to realize that she was right.

  4. Not sure if anyone is still watching these posts, but I would like to throw out a question: One book on your bookshelf. What would it be?
    For me? The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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