It’s Labor Day, which means long-weekend time. I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent many a Labor Day Past as a houseguest – it’s really the perfect amount of time to be a houseguest if you arrive on Friday just in time for drinks and leave on Monday right after coffee, remembering to call and send flowers to your hosts on the trip back…


Many people consider their houseguest status a license to snoop through the medicine cabinet and nightstand drawers. Tsk tsk, how rude...I say, why not peruse something simultaneously allowed and more revealing? I’m talking, of course, about people’s bookshelves. Before I discuss why, a brief digression…


My blog entry title today is a homage to the superb film

Lives of Others  which was about how an East German intelligence operative’s attic surveillance of a top theater director and his actor girlfriend changes everything for all three of them. One of the most extraordinary moments in the film for me was when the director is reading some classic poetry (the kind not sanctioned by the DDR’s cultural regime), and the operative’s face slowly, slowly, slowly lights up with the power and beauty of the lines he is hearing.



To me, gazing at “the books of others” is a less transgressive but often no less transformative method of cultural eavesdropping. You might learn that your host has never read anything besides every Stephen King novel ever published, or you might discover that your friend arranges her books by color. You might laugh upon finding that your aunt and uncle keep a shelf full of college textbooks, or be shocked to see that your best friend has a serious romance habit.


But just as often as you see the silly, the shocking, and the superficial, you may find gold: A well-loved set of Trollope. A collection of magazines that you’ve never heard of before but must learn about immediately. A curated bookshelf of World War I history. A novel you’d completely forgotten but will now re-read. Your face begins to light up with possibility.


The last time I had the chance to gaze meaningfully at someone else’s bookshelves was a few months ago while staying with a dear old friend whose books I’ve seen many many times over the years – yet I always learn something new about her when I look at them, and therefore something new about myself, too.


I’d love to hear about your experiences with “the books of others.” Won’t you share? I hope everyone has had a good, relaxing long weekend.

by hestia on ‎09-07-2009 07:54 PM

I never noticed that I did snoop through others books until this post got me thinking. When I was younger, my mother went to work each day in for Kodak while my sister and I were taken care of my my Aunt Shirley. I remember that if we were sick we simply stayed over on her couch until my mother got out of work. My aunt had a rule, if you were home sick you did not watch television past 9 am. I was left to my own devices rummaging around my cousins bookshelf. Audrey, my aunt daughter was away at collage, but kept all of her high school books at home. i flew through The Diary of Anne Frank and short story collections of female authors. My aunt thoguht keeping the television off was enough to inspire me to go back to school, but that “grown up” book collection was everything to me.

Later, my bookshelf tendency gave some me some grief. I moved in with my boyfriend and noticed he had a lot of strange book titles (a lot of chick lit and Maeve Binchy) in a shelf behind the bed. I asked him when he started reading the The Copper Beach, and he replied they were his ex-girlfriends of a year ago, she just never took them... and he never got rid of them! Obviously it drove me crazy. I ended up donating most of them after I moved in and now can’t even look at Binchy in the bookstore. Because I’m a masochist, i ended up keeping some with notes written in them and sometimes go though them, letting m anger and jealousy boil over.

by aurora3d on ‎09-07-2009 09:01 PM

I love to check out what others are reading.  It opens your eyes to other possibilities.  There are so many good pieces of literature out there that unfortunately I will never get to read or I may not even know about.  It's also possible that they would have something that is out print or something you can't find anywhere.  Then you can swap books or just borrow from them if they are willing. 


My aunt and her family were recently in town and she did just that; checked out my bookshelves.  She even asked to borrow one for the week while she was in town.  Having a friend to swap books with is a plus too as you pretty much have your own library that you can borrow from but without the deadlines.  I like sharing my books with others. (most of them) :smileywink:

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