I snoop through peoples' bookshelves the way snoopier people rummage around in medicine cabinets. If it's a trusted friend, I'm looking for volumes to borrow or authors' names to jot down. If it's a stranger, I'm looking for a conversation starter (didn't you love His Dark Materials?) More than that, I just think it's a good insight into someone's character. To me, a person's library says a lot about them.
In my first year of university, I moved into the dorms with a carefully hand-picked selection of volumes that would sit on my shelf and sum me up for the world. In hindsight, No Logo, Alias Grace, and Leonard Cohen's Collected Poems scream of trying a bit too hard. My bookshelf was like my posters or bedspread though; a way of displaying my personality. In university, I wanted to be conscientious, thoughful, romantic. The shelf was like a personal ad, summing up these qualities and selling them to the world.
Nowadays, as I pinball back and forth between Canada and far-flung countries, I don't have the luxury of my own bookshelf to show off. I do have bookshelves in each new apartment and home, of course, but they're temporary. The books I amass overseas usually end up being given away to friends when I pack up again. The books I amass in Canada join the collection in my parents' house. Those shelves house high school phases of postmodern plays and war diaries. They display university textbooks that span English literature, with an odd emphasis on gothic texts (if you met Dr. Morrison, you'd understand why). It's an ample collection, but still feels like an inaccurate representation of who I've become post-studies.
I went to Amazon.ca today to fantasy-shop for books. The site, always one step ahead, gave me some recommendations based on tags and purchases. Amazon, you see, has a clear picture of That Bookshelf that I display to visitors. Their customer analysis programs know the kind of person I am, my pursuits and hobbies and indulgences, and the areas of thought that matter most to me. Their choices were:
Grammar with Laughter
Yoga to Fight Fat, Wrinkles, and Fatigue
... me in a nutshell, Amazon? Hoo boy.