We recently had some guests over for dinner who had never been in our house before. (Which, by the way is not the picture above, that’s the library at Westbrook Station, Queensland, ca. 1898.) They sat for a few hours in our lounge facing two large bookcases which must hold at least a thousand books. And they never made a single comment about the books all night. About 500 of the books are about Jane Austen, so it is an unusual sight to say the least, but even that provoked no comment.
I find this very strange!! The first thing I look for when visiting a new house is the bookcase. While my host is out fixing the drinks, I quickly nip over to scan the shelves, avid to see what sort of books sit there and what they will tell me about the owners of the house.
For book collections are someone’s biography, they let you get to know a person in a way that conversation cannot do. If you have a book in common you can discuss it, if you are filled with book-envy you can talk about that, you can begin to learn about authors you do not yet know, and you can find a rapid and totally enjoyable route to a new friendship. Of course, if there is no bookcase in the room and the house lacks the soul that books always bring, then you sadly have to accept that this is probably a relationship that will not go far. These days, of course, you also have to take the precaution of checking whether the owner of the house does all his or her reading on electronic books – you don’t want to condemn them as non-readers only to find that they get through a few books a week on a kindle.
Are you a book spy when you go visiting? Do you immediately look to see what books your dinner hosts have? I have wondered if my guests perhaps felt it was prying to go and look too closely at my books, but I’d have loved them to get out of their chairs, take books off the shelves and ask questions. I do judge people by their books, or lack of books – do you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.