One of my favorite things to do upon entering someone’s home (especially for the first time) is to look at their books.
I like to see which ones are well-worn, which are autographed, which are displayed prominently while others are scattered around the house within easy reach. Sometimes I ask about a particular book, especially if I am surprised to find it there. Other times, most times, I say nothing.
If I am in the library of someone I like or admire (and if I know them well enough to know they will not mind), I like to touch their books, to hold them in my hands, to see if things are written in the margins or if there is an inscription.
And then, I love to talk with them about their collections. I want to know about their favorite childhood book and whether or not they still own it. I want to hear about the book they turned to for solace during adolescence, the books that bring them comfort in times of heartache or loneliness.
I want to know if they’ve experienced epiphanies or been challenged by an author or transformed by a character. I love to hear stories about what they read, why they read, where they read. A person’s literary palate often reveals more to me than the personal photographs they have displayed around their home.
When I was in Grad School at the School of the Art Institute, I worked as a barista in my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, The Bourgeois Pig in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. I met many interesting characters grinding coffee and making espresso concoctions in the days before Starbucks hit Chicago. One of the dearest was philosopher and fellow-bibliophile, Kevin Neilson.
Between the Linesis a fascinating glimpse into the literary passions of some really interesting people. I invite you to check it out, and if you are inclined to share or make suggestions, send him an email at jkneilson [at] yahoo [dot] com.