Have you ever fallen in love with someone’s bookshelves?
In the world of Book Geeks, Gentle Readers, bookshelves are very important. When I enter your house, I will socialize. I will small-talk. But eventually you will leave to room to freshen your drink, or check on dinner, or powder your nose. And I will find your bookshelves.
And I will judge you.
It’s not pretty, but it’s true. I will peruse your books, and I will make vast, sweeping generalizations about what sort of person you are. Do your books all match, as though you bought them for décor alone? Are your shelves full of self-help books and dieting tomes? Do you own Twilight? Judgment is swift and merciless.
Then there are those moments when I realize that I am in the home of a fellow Book Geek. Books are well-loved (read: beat to shit), with receipts and business cards acting as bookmarks. If it’s the bookshelf of a teacher or a grad student, there might be multiple copies of one text, as though the owner can’t bear to lose one footnote of one edition. Spines are cracked, perhaps a paperback is held together with a rubber band, dustcovers are tattered. These books are loved. The funny thing is, I don’t even have to like your taste in books to recognize a kindred spirit. I can respect you as a Book Geek even if you are an 18th-centuriest. Or (gasp) an Americanist.
The very, very best moments are those when I recognize that you are a kindred spirit, a soul-twin. Every book on the shelf is one I own…or one I’ve wanted to read. At those moments, my heart swells and I get giddy. You will return from your momentary absence and find me grinning like a fool, dancing on the balls of my feet, eager to ask you where you got this book or what you thought of that one. I have accepted you into my bosom and even if you object, you are now my friend.
This whole post began because I was thinking of an ex-boyfriend, and how our first dates were perfectly lovely, but I truly and deeply fell in love with him when I saw his bookshelves. The collection was small, but well-curated. A few beat-up Shakespeare plays, an as-yet unread Watchmen, a Donald Barthelme or two, Octavia Butler, Italo Calvino. And then I saw it. Lorrie Moore.
Lorrie Moore is a genius writer who has a wicked sense of humor and a wry way of seeing the world. Her short stories are polished moonstones, easy to overlook in their deceptive simplicity, but rich with hidden colors and facets of light. And then she smacks you over the head with a two-by-four of a line like “it came out wrong, like a lizard with a little hat on.”
As this boyfriend is an ex-, Gentle Readers, you know we are no longer together. He is now a writer himself, and will publish a book later this year (see link below). I am insanely excited for him, and I will buy his book and I will urge everyone I know to buy it. But sometimes it still bugs me that another woman is running her fingers across his bookshelf. Such are the perils of love-by-literature.
Herein please find a link to said ex-boyfriend's book, available for pre-order. (Anonymity is hereby temporarily suspended for purposes of supporting talented young author):
[NOTA BENE: Ann Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader has a brilliant chapter on combining libraries. When two Book Geeks marry, whose dog-eared copy of House of Leaves do you keep? Whose marginalia is more important? Her recounting of the negotiations is wonderful, and very, very funny. Read the below excerpt, Gentle Readers, and get hooked!]