Monday, March 7, 2016

Bookshelf anthropology

When Jack and I began culling our collective books, we learned a lot about each other's previous lives. Bookshelf anthropology can be fascinating ...
Wendy Welch, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

Last Friday's post focused on what our personal libraries say about our own lives. Today's topic is what other people's books say about them.

When Wendy Welch and her husband decided to open a used bookstore in their home in Big Stone Gap, Va., they built their initial inventory by donating many of their own books to their new business. Welch's comment above suggests that this examination of the other's books taught them something about each other's lives they didn't already know. (My question is, why did it take so long for these dedicated book people to look at each other's books? I would think that would have occurred soon after marriage, if not before.)

I love Welch's phrase for this practice of learning about people from their books: bookshelf anthropology. I have written before about my practice of checking out the books of anyone who makes the mistake of inviting me into their home. I was a bookshelf anthropologist without realizing it.

What can one learn from someone's bookshelves? Some people hold on to college textbooks. If so, they can offer a clue about that person's major.If the books are uniformly old, it suggests the person read a lot at one time, but not recently. Or perhaps the books belonged to somebody else but have been retained more for decorative purposes than anything else.

A good mix of new books with older ones indicates a committed reader, someone who usually has a book in progress, then hangs on to it when it's finished. If most of the books still have bookmarks in the middle of them, that's a hint the persons starts books but has trouble finishing them. If the books on the shelves are mostly of the best-seller variety, it means the person in question reads mostly what everybody else is reading. More obscure books impress me more because they indicate the reader goes beyond the best-seller list when shopping for books. These people may have a bit more depth to them.

Many readers are interested mostly in certain kinds of books, say romances or thrillers, or in just a few authors, like Danielle Steel or Sue Grafton. You could fill an entire bookcase with their books. Others keep mostly religious books or mostly cookbooks or mostly technical books relating to their career. I am more impressed by bookshelves holding a variety of different kinds of books, probably because that is what my own bookshelves look like.

We could go on, but you get the idea. Bookshelves can reveal a lot about us, and about other people as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment