This I Believe

Laurie - Milltown, New Jersey
Entered on June 28, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in keeping my books where everyone can see them.

This isn’t about looking smart or well-read — it’s just my way of keeping things on the up-and-up: Put your guns on the table, keep your hands and books in plain sight – it’s as simple as that.

I’m suspicious of people who don’t put their books where I can see them. It makes me uncomfortable. Does this mean they don’t read? And if they don’t read, what am I doing in their living room?

Book collections help me get acquainted with people; they provide a kind of social shorthand. Almost as soon as I enter a new friend’s home, I wander to the bookshelves to nose around and get a feel for their interests. I peer at the titles, wondering if all the Faulkner and Hemingway mean they were American-lit majors in college or if they actually kick back after dinner with “The Old Man and the Sea.” Does the latest Ann Coulter book mean my new friend appreciates her politics, or is he just trying to understand the enemy?

And certain titles – Bret Easton Ellis’ “Less Than Zero,” anyone? – reveal as much about your age as a driver’s license.

When I was growing up, our house was littered with reading material. My dad stashed crossword puzzles and political nonfiction on the edge of the tub; Mom stored her novels and self-help books in the bedroom, and cookbooks piled up next to the tiny kitchen TV. My bookcases were jammed with pastel-hued Judy Blume paperbacks and Noel Streatfeild’s shoe series. And when I became a homeowner, I took such delight in my towering wall of books, you’d have thought I’d written and bound them myself.

Of course, just because you own a book doesn’t mean you’ve actually read it. Quite a few “wishful-thinking” books have lined my shelves, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” “Jane Eyre” remained on my bookcase for six years before I actually got around to reading it all the way through.

We all keep a few books we aspire to read. There are the books we buy on impulse because they look so pretty, and we want to touch them and keep them close to us. Then there are the books we amass because they seem essential to any well-rounded collection. Those books reveal a lot about us, too – about whom we want to be, what we wish we knew.

Of course, like most people who hold strong convictions, I don’t always practice what I preach. For the last two years, I’ve lived in a tight space; unpacking my entire book collection has been impractical. I’ve used the library a lot. But I’m saving up for something bigger – nothing fancy, just someplace where Noel Streatfeild can stand tall and line up next to Julia Alvarez, Dorothy Allison and, sure, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, out in the open, in the living room, for everyone to see.