Your Reading Life

Bookshelves Are the New Medicine Cabinets

Don’t Judge A Date By Their Bookshelf ... Unless That Bookshelf is Downright Terrible, Then Judge Away and Write About It For Others To Read

Maybe it was the fact that he laughed at my joke about Bret Easton Ellis. Whatever the reason, our date was going well. The banter was crackling, the laughter bubbling, and I remember thinking as I chewed on a piece of warm buttered sourdough that Jane Austen would approve. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy could eat our dust. This was the stuff chick lit was made of.

“Want to see where I live?” my date asked after he paid up. (We’ll call him Joe.)

Confident in our chemistry, I agreed. I was pretty sure I liked this guy . . . but there was one final hurdle that had to be jumped. And I would find that hurdle at his apartment.

We walked to his place. He opened the door, flipped on the light switch, and smiling, hand outstretched, invited me inside. Taking a deep breath, I accepted the invitation.

We sat on his distressed leather couch. The bookshelf was just far enough away that I couldn’t read any of the titles it possessed. Instead, I noticed, slightly irked, that he had already set out a bottle of red wine and two glasses.

“Someone’s confident,” I joked.

“Excuse me a moment.” He stood up and walked to the bathroom. I was up and studying his book collection before he had closed the bathroom door.

It took me about three seconds after the door closed to want to run screaming for the hills.

The bookshelf was packed with copies – multiples – of Tucker Max’s chauvinistic memoirs. If this were a horror movie, I’d turn around at this moment and he’d be standing behind me with a hatchet.

Bookshelves are the new medicine cabinets. We siphon through them for clues to our possible match’s past, present, and future. What makes bookshelves even more telling is that unlike medicine, books are, for most people, not something you need. (Granted, we bookworms might feel differently.) Books are something you buy and keep because you love them.

In my bookshelf, my favorites are arranged in a way so everyone who looks can see I love Aimee Bender and Lydia Davis more than, say, Charles Dickens. (Sorry Charlie.) Like film buffs and their DVD collections, books are displayed in a way that tells people what we hope to learn more about, what we like, and thus, who we are. Forget eyes: books are the windows to the soul.

Judging from this man’s book collection, he was soulless.

In Joe’s bookshelf I could not find a single book I could relate to, much less like. His singular fixation with one author was frightening. Frankly, the collection made me wonder how on earth this gentleman could like me. I was not the type of girl who dated men who read Tucker Max. I was definitely not the type of girl men who read Tucker Max dated.

Suffice it to say, my opinion about my date drastically changed by the time he returned from the bathroom.

“So, I take it you like Tucker Max?” I asked, all casual like, as we each took a sip of our wine. I eyed the door, ready for a quick getaway.

Joe put his hand on my knee. “Dude’s hilarious.”

I scooted away. “What’s your favorite book?”

He shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t really read.”

“You don’t read.”

“No. What’s the big deal?”

I couldn’t let this go. I was so shocked. Who didn’t read? Who didn’t read and was proud of that fact?

“But you laughed at my Bret Easton Ellis joke!” I exclaimed, hoping that there was some way to save this date, some way to prove that I hadn’t been completely wrong all along. That it didn’t take a bookcase to tell me so.

“I laughed because you laughed.” He took a sip of wine. “And because you had parsley in your teeth.”

So I returned home. But unlike Joe, or the myriad of men I would meet after Joe who claimed, quite often and proudly, that they “did not read,” whose bookcases were used solely as storage space for their empty beer bottles or discarded CD collections, I was never home alone.

I had Holden Caulfield and Boo Radley to keep me company. When I was in need of some girl-power-style grieving, I visited with Scarlett O’hara and Jane Eyre. When I wanted to laugh, I visited the Sedaris family or had tea with Lady Bracknell.

Medicine cabinet, window to the soul, in the end a bookshelf really is just a friend.

We welcome Emily as a fresh new (very funny) voice on RIF. Show her some love by sharing this story with a friend or commenting below with your own What-I-Learned-from-Checking-Out-Their-Bookshelf story.

About the Author

EMILY ANSARA BAINES is the author of The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook and The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook. Her short stories have appeared in Narrative literary magazine and AngeLingo. She graduated with honors from USC, where she studied creative writing under Aimee Bender and T.C. Boyle. One day Emily will live in Paris and speak French while wearing a beret, but these days she makes do with hiding out in the bookstores of Los Angeles. Her favorite word is murmur. Visit Emily online on Twitter @LiteraryQueen.
  • N

    This story was great! I look forward to reading more work from Emily

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      Glad you enjoyed it! Emily is a great addition to RIF – more to come from her!

      • N

        HOORAY!!

  • Karla Traxel

    Great story! And ick! to guys who say they “don’t read”.

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      So true, Karla!

  • techeditor

    Yes, I can’t help but judge when I see a bookshelf full of Danielle Steel books. But worse than that is when someone doesn’t even have a bookshelf.

  • techeditor

    Emily says, “Who didn’t read? Who didn’t read and was proud of that fact? ”
    That’s exactly what I think when the technical people I work with say, I don’t read. It’s nauseating.

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      Is there any kind of book you could recommend that might intrigue them? Can’t help it, I’m a bookish missionary….