After a peek in the medicine cabinet, what could be more appealing to a home voyeur than a good judgmental crawl of thy neighbor’s bookshelf? It used to be that the proprietor’s record collection afforded a similar opportunity, but of course music has long since disappeared into the aether. We can no longer admire a battered old Dylan album or turn our noses up at a Flock of Seagulls LP. But for now, books still exist as three-dimensional artifacts.
Recently I came across a tweet that made me realize that bookshelf voyeurism extends across the centuries too:
LibraryThing is an excellent service that helps you keep track of your books. You can, by extension, keep track of other people’s books too, so they introduced Legacy Libraries. Want to know what Thomas Jefferson had piled next to his bed? Look no farther. That’s how it came about that the library of Mayflower magnate Myles Standish began to appear on LibaryThing. It’s fun to browse through it, and let me tell you, they knew a thing or two about making book titles back then. For instance, consider The historie of the most renowned and victorious Princesse Elizabeth, late queen of England. Contayning all the important and remarkeable passages of state both at home and abroad, during her long and prosperous raigne. Composed by way of annals. Neuer heretofore so faithfully and fully published in English. Neuer? That striketh me as vnlikely. But vvho am I to jvdge?
If you have your own books catalogued on LibraryThing (mine are here), then they’ll compare your libraries. Imagine my surprise to find out that Myles and I had two books in common. One was The eight bookes of Caius Iulius Caesar: conteyning his martiall exployts in the realme of Gallia and the countries bordering vpon the same (I may have read a slightly different edition). And the other wasn’t Ye Bridges of Madison Covnty: being chiefly a Meditation on Unnaturall Loue and the Corn of Iowa.
I’m comforted by the fact that even after books disappear as things you can hold, I’ll still be able to admire your bookshelf virtually on LibraryThing.