Saturday, January 26, 2013

Interlude: Other People's Bookshelves

I don't want to make my shelves jealous, but I love browsing through other people's book collections, especially if they're readers like me. I can spot a kindred spirit by their books: by the variety of theme and type, by the way the books are organized, and by the person's willingness to talk about their books the same way others talk about their pets or their kitchen.
Get ready for an onslaught of library porn. I found a tumblr on the subject.
 There's an indefinable something that distinguishes a book lover's from a layperson's collection. I can tell at a glance who has a true library and who just has a place where the books go. The presence of so-called genre writing is a big clue. If there's a lot of sci-fi and fantasy hanging around, that person is probably a reader; ditto for comic books and graphic novels, especially if they're prominently displayed where visitors can see them. There's still a big of shame and stigma attached to enjoying genre writing, so a willingness to display such works and invite comment says the reader ain't give a damn what other people think of her interests.
Why yes, I do own every book every written about Rubicks cubes.
Variations on theme are another clue. Readers who are really in to reading tend to go for depth and completism. The BF has "The Sun Also Rises," "This Side of Paradise," and "The Great Gatsby"; he also has many books on the subject of the Great Depression and the art and design aesthetics of the 1920s and 30s. R's bookshelf has "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," so it's not surprising she would also have a non-fiction book called "Teaching Race in the Classroom."

I'm a bit hard-pressed to explain my own thematic elements. Maybe it's like tickling: you can't do it to yourself. I may have to get someone in here to look at my shelves and explain them to me.

And finally, a true reader and book-lover will always have something to say on the subject of organization. My friends J and L organize alphabetically by authors' last names, like a proper library; the BF shelves his books (and DVDs) chronologically by the year they were published/produced; right now I'm shelving by height, though I may organize them by color in the near future, just for a change. It's never haphazard. There's always a reason the books are set up like that, and the book-lover desperately wants you to comment on it so she can explain her system.
It all began when I saw "Beauty and the Beast" as a child...
 This post was originally going to be a review of Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," which I borrowed from R's library. But while I enjoyed the book and could probably mash my brains into saying something witty and profound about the text, what I'm actually thinking about this morning is the fact that I'm going to R's apartment later today and will be able to browse through her books again. That's what I'm really excited about: other people's bookshelves. It got me to thinking about the people I've known and the book collections I've had--no other way to put it--relationships with, and decided to say something witty and profound about that instead.

I may just be a hawa'e maoli (collector urchin) when it comes to books and want to pick up every book I see and glom it on to my body to conceal me from predators.
Turtles and sharks will be baffled by my impenetrable armor of cornflakes
But there's more to it than that. I like other people's bookshelves because while reading tastes are a very personal thing, a bookshelf is rather public in nature. A bookshelf is an open display of a person's inner world and imagination, what they like, what they think about, what they desire. It's a strange mixture of the public and the private that endlessly fascinates me for its potential to both reveal and conceal the truth of a person's being.
Sauron knows what you think about at night. For shame.
Now why do I get the feeling other people are going to stop showing me their bookshelves?

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