As Virginia Woolf so elegantly surmised: “that was what music was for”. However, it seems to me that Virginia has unwittingly done herself an injustice here. If I could paraphrase, I would much rather reason “that was what bookshelves were for”.
I look through people’s bookshelves unabashed, yet feel that I am surely intruding into their private life. One look can tell you the company in which they have spent many an evening. You can tell who brings back happy memories for them, by whom they are never failed to be moved and where they choose to hide in times of need. These are the companions they have chosen to keep close. Each time the pages are read, not only does the reader live temporarily this life, but they also leave the imprint of their own. At each reading the book becomes more reluctant to close, the pages fanning out at the weight of the memories they cling onto.
On the other hand, there are the never-been-opened books that wait their turn patiently. There is something distinctly intimate about knowing how someone is going to spend their time. You see a close friend of yours waiting in line on the shelf and can’t wait for them to take this new reader under their wing. You know that once the dust is brushed off from the old tome on the end, he will impart his wisdom. You hope that they will feel just as let down by the cheap sell out as you were.
Finally, if the bookshelf is empty, I think this should tell you all you need to know about your present company.