I’m a reader, so I was ecstatic when our local library reopened after being closed for several months due to the coronavirus pandemic. I wasn’t exactly going through reading withdrawals, reduced to reading cereal boxes and tide charts – I had my trusty Kindle to turn to – but I’d really missed the physical experience of going to the library.

We have a great little library in Kennebunkport: good book, magazine and movie selections; a large computer-filled workroom; knowledgeable and friendly staff; and a touch of local history in the form of storybook murals in the Children’s Room, painted by Louis Norton, an American impressionist who studied art in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century and lived in our seaside community from 1906 until his death in 1940.

As a whimsical, eclectic reader, I choose books as the mood strikes me. I’m currently interested in gypsies – the Roma – and one of the knowledgeable library staff (a former teacher) had a recommendation for me. When I took the book home, I opened it and studied the date due label, curious to see how many other people had been interested enough in the Roma to check out this book. I counted 18, besides myself, dating back to 1995.

Then it struck me. Wouldn’t it be cool if next to the stamped due date was the borrower’s name. Then I would know who else in town was interested in gypsies. It would be like having our own little book club. I could contact one or more of them, ask them how they liked the book, and if they had any other recommendations.

If you’re like me, whenever you’re in someone’s house and you stumble upon their book collections (everything from a shelf or two to a full-blown library) you stop and study them in the attempt to better understand who that person is. Sometimes you’re impressed (“Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius), sometimes not so much (“Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. James). Not that I’m judgmental; I read all kinds of crap and enjoy it.

I do this even when watching TV news shows and the commentating journalist or politician or expert is Zooming from his or her den and there’s a bookcase in the background. I strain my eyes trying to make out what books are contained there. It’s possible these folks sit in front of an overstuffed bookcase simply to impress us, the audience. Maybe the books are fake; maybe they haven’t read a single one of them. Who knows? Who cares? It’s still fun to snoop.

I guess you could do the same sort of snooping into people’s DVD collections, or their clothes closets. But there’s something special about books: books are an open window into people’s hearts and minds. They reveal intellectual interests, but also give clues to people’s emotional makeup – what moves them, what angers them, what turns them on.

Libraries have posters, probably for kids, with the tag line: Reading is FUNdamental. I posit, so is book snooping.


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