An anonymous reader writes:

I feel there’s a certain unappreciated intimacy to bookshelves.

They are the housings for the things we love most. Our collectables, our memories, the things we want to see last at night and first in the morning, our dreams, our aspirations, and the most intimate things of all: our books.

Books teach us not only facts and opinions but they teach us how to think. They form our minds and shape our souls. To look into a person’s bookshelves is to look into their very being. When you read a book the words on those pages BECOME your thoughts, whether you realize it or not. Books are a form of literary mind control. If you read about vampires you think about vampires. If you read about politics you think about politics. If you read about spanking you think about spankings. And where do these mighty fountains of thought reside? Our bookshelves.

By seeing what is on a person’s bookshelves you see into their mind. They stand there, proud and tall, in our parlors, in our libraries, in our dens, and our most intimate rooms: our bedrooms. They stand dutifully protecting our treasures and watching. Watching as we sleep, as we eat, as we undress and expose ourselves. They listen to our conversations. They feel our touch. The watch as we grow, as we change, as we learn, as we feel loss and love, as we make love. They watch us make love to others. They watch us make love to ourselves. They watch us make love to other books!

And they hold our secrets safe. They hold our books safe. They hold our pictures, our holiday cards, our collectibles. They hold our souls. People wonder if walls could talk. If walls could talk they’d have very little to say. But if bookshelves could talk? Our bookshelves know us better often than we know ourselves.

You like to fill our minds with stories, Sir – but what fills yours? 

What treasured gems are privileged enough to adorn YOUR bookshelves? It’s a mysterious entity: the bookshelf of a literary master. It’s interesting hearing the inspirations authors list in interviews. I’ve had the pleasure of touring Ernest Hemingway’s estate twice and seen the books left on his shelves. But it still lacks the intimacy of a truly close author. One you read and read and re-read even after you know every twist of the plot.

So tell me, Master, what books dress your shelves? What words inspire your words? How are they organized? How many are treasured favorites and how many were picked up at a random yard sale or that favorite book shop and sit waiting to be read? Do you prefer the compact simplicity of paperbacks, easily slipped in a bag for travel reading and small enough to pack several on even the smallest shelf, perhaps even two books deep, or do your tastes tend towards the expensive elegance of hardcover books, thick and strong, with monotone cardboard protecting the precious pages within and the only markings being the shining letters emblazoned down the spine?

Thank you for this submission. And I agree entirely. 

If you would know someone, simply browse their bookshelves.

A bookshelf reveals its owner’s preferences, their interests, their adventurousness. And it can not lie, its contents are there in the open, for all to see.

You ask what resides on my shelves? In my living room, where visitors might linger, and where eager fingers might easily pluck a book from a shelf in an idle moment, reside guidebooks and books I’ve brought back from my travels. This room is decorated by prints of photographs I’ve taken, of mountain peaks and faraway trails. I hope my browsing visitors might be momentarily whisked away, and that my souvenir library enjoys its new home.

The spare bedrooms contain my fiction collection, visitors being very welcome to pick up something from my library during their stay, and even take their choice away with them. I run a friendly library, I’m happy to see these books borrowed and shared. 

In my study reside the books that reflect my professional face. Long rows of concentrated knowledge: business, technology, health, economics. Here you’ll also find my doctoral thesis, a bulky red leather-bound tome, with my name and alma mater sparkling on the spine in gold. A few other hidden gems lurk here too, collectables and books their authors have kindly signed.

And then there’s the secret bookshelf few ever see, just above eye level in the master bedroom. A short stretch of honey-coloured wood, where my most intimate books reside. Writings about sex, erotica, bondage and discipline. Here an intrepid reader can sate their appetite for fucking positions, and all manner of erotic roleplaying and sexual adventure. But only the most privileged ever get to see this treasure trove.

You understand why, of course.

Because that last shelf is me.