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).