Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bookcase Obsession

I was relieved this morning, thanks to a David McKie Guardian column, to find that I'm not the only person in the world suffering from the dreaded Bookcase Obsession that requires me to try to read the titles of the books randomly displayed over the shoulders of whatever person I spot pictured in newspapers or magazines seated in front of their home or office shelves. I always suspect that the books behind the interview subject will tell me more about them than the questions that they answered for publication. And what I find by studying the titles that I can barely make out often changes my opinion about their owner; sometimes in a positive way, sometimes in a negative one.
Whenever I see such pictures I have an uncontrollable urge to seize the nearest magnifying glass and try to decipher the titles. What is it that drives some people (I know others who confess to this failing) to devote their time to such snooping when we could be walking the downs, or exploring the music of Medtner, or deconstructing the latest piece about Paris Hilton?

In part, it's just an addiction to books.
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Yet in any case, would the books on display necessarily tell the whole story? If you knew that Eamonn McCabe was about to arrive with his camera, would there not be quite some temptation to parade the titles with the greatest literary cachet and exile some of the less prestigious ones to the kitchen? After all, the books that you have about you help to establish your image.
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Yet I cannot break myself of my habit. Perhaps I need therapy. Either that, or a stronger magnifying glass.
Most of my own bookshelf snooping has been done on my computer monitor and I've been able to successfully magnify a picture on a few occasions to the point that I was happily able to kill ten minutes or so in deciphering the titles of a couple of dozen books that held prominent spots on the shelves of some interesting people. Stephen King books have turned up in some amazing places considering all the heat that man takes from critics who love to pan him. And I get a kick out of finding baseball books where I least expect to see them. But as Mr. McKie says, all those slightly out of focus bookshelves are "giving me a headache." At least I know now that I'm not alone.

14 comments:

  1. ''At least I know now that I'm not alone.''

    Thank God! I am so relieved you have admitted to doing this. I was under the impression mine was a solitary 'fetish' and I have always been too ashamed to 'come out'. :)

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  2. I think I hear the sound of closet doors opening all over the world, Nick. We can all come out of there together. :-)

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  3. Well then, I guess I'll come out too...I do this all the time. And I always get a little frustrated when the books are too out of focus to make out the titles, although sometimes you can tell from the colors/design what book it is...

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  4. This post made me laugh. I do it with store displays too. I've never resorted to a magnifying glass though...

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  5. I've never looked at the bookcases in pictures before but I do find myself perusing the book shelves of people I'm visiting.

    Sam, I've tagged you for a new meme, returning the favor you know! You can check out the details in my post.

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  6. I see more closets emptying...that should make room to store a few more books, folks. :-)

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  7. When I'm watching a movie that's got bookshelves in the background, I'm always looking at that rather than the actors.
    Yep, that was MY closet door swinging open. Dang squeaky thing! Where's my can of WD-40?

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  8. Bybee, I'd forgotten about that segment of the "obsession." :-)

    I find that to be a particularly difficult part of the process because the book spines almost always seem to be out of focus. I have to go more on colors and recognition of the dust jackets than on actually being able to read the titles.

    We are a strange bunch, aren't we?

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  9. I do the same, even though I know that people peering at my bookcase titles would find out as much about my husband as about me, and how would they know which books to attribute to which person?

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  10. Nicholson Baker wrote a New Yorker article about trying to read the titles of books in magazines. . . and I named our cat Nicholson in his honor. :)

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  11. Interesting point, Dew...my wife and I don't mix our books but I know that a lot of folks do and that would be pretty confusing, I suspect, to a book snoop like me.

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  12. I'll have to try to find that article, sfp. I don't see the New Yorker often, so I missed that one. Thanks.

    BTW, did you tell Nicholson about the honor you bestowed on him? :-)

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  13. I do the same....as a matter of fact you should have gotten in a little closer to take you photo....I think I only recognize those cookbook spines on the right hand side....

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  14. Nice to see that you've left the closet and joined the rest of us in blushing together, Danielle. :-)

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