Ever wandered into someone’s home and made a beeline for their bookshelves? I’m betting you have. Few things are as enticing to the bibliophile as unfamiliar shelves – and few things as revealing as the books that people choose to read. Does your host prefer weighty historical reads or hot romance novels? Glossy biographies or modern poetry? War and Peace or Shane Warne’s biography? Or all of these and then more?
I am informed that browsing the inside of their bathroom cabinet is the best window to average person’s psyche. (I did meet someone who converted their bathroom into a library, possibly with the urge of making the contents of their cabinet less appealing. Bookshelves adorned two of the four walls from skirting board to ceiling, making a quick trip to the loo all but impossible as you kept finding things you wanted to read while you were there.)
But skimming through closed cupboards seems both invasive and unlikely to throw up good recommendations for future reads, so I am going with flicking your eye over their book collection as the window to the soul.
I’ve had a good browse through many of my mate’s books but the homes and libraries of the rich and famous have always been out of bounds – until recently when I stumbled across a site called Beautiful Libraries. It compiles pictures of lush and lavish libraries, from open-to-all public libraries and to the collections of corporations to those kept by royalty and the church, as well as those owned by famous actors, entertainers and politicians.
I’m not normally much interested by celebrities but this is fascinating. Who knew that Karl Largerfeld had one of the world’s largest private libraries, with over 60,000 books, mostly on fashion or art, arranged on steel shelves three stories tall in his photo studio apartment in Central Paris? That Nigella Lawson’s appetite for books would be near prolific as her passion for food?
Or that Keith Richards would devote such a glorious space, a massive octagonal chamber lined with shelves from floor to ceiling, to holding his favourite reads? (I did have a good squint, but couldn’t spot his own book in there. Nor could I find a copy of the hilarious and oddly thoughtful What Would Keith Richards Do, presumably as he doesn’t need to check its pages to find out.)
It begs the question – with unlimited time and dedication to build a reading room, what would you do? Surround yourself with steel and white light like Largerfeld or build a cosy den like Christina Ricci? Would a few shelves content you or, like Keith, do you want a huge room walled with books? Fireplace or airy windowsill?
And would you consider shelving up the smallest room, or do you think it would be simpler to just put a lock on the bathroom cabinet?