Visiting a home for the first time, I tend to gravitate toward its bookcases when the opportunity presents itself. These repositories of knowledge communicate a variety of messages to the casual observer. For the purpose of this post I’m boiling them down to, 1.) expressing who the books’ owners aspire to be, or, 2.) who they are.
Regarding point 1.), TV programs on English estates I’ve watched invariably count huge libraries among their palatial chambers. Rank upon rank of richly-bound volumes adorn the shelves: I often wonder how many undiscovered Shakespeare First Folios or Gutenberg Bibles are among them! I also wonder how many of the books have been read, or whether they just meant to impress people. Do I believe libraries of the folks I meet perform this function? Generally not, but on rare occasions I have speculated on it.
I can speak more knowledgeably about point 2.), which is illustrated by a photo of a portion of my personal library. Almost all of the books shown were acquired intentionally, although I am as prey to impulse purchases as the next consumer. I didn’t amass the collection so people could use it to define who I am but am content if they do so. That’s because I think the topics and authors I’ve made my own do shed light on what matters to me. When others survey my library it can help them get a grip on my personality, my worldview and what I feel passionate about. That may pique their interest in an issue they hadn’t considered before, too. Not a bad outcome for several shelves-worth of paper and ink!