A charming essay by Jay Parini discusses a vicarious pleasure known to many bibliophiles:

In restaurants I always want to eat whatever someone else at the table has ordered, even if it’s not something I would normally consume. Along similar lines, I find myself thoroughly intrigued by other people’s books. I want to borrow them and read them. Sometimes I go so far as to mimic other people’s collections, adding my own copies of their titles to my shelves at home.
I still remember going to visit a friend in Scotland, long ago. He lived in a tiny house in a back alley in St. Andrews, where I spent many years as a university student. He had a pristine row of novels by Vladimir Nabokov, one of my favorite writers, then and now. I often used to go to his house for afternoon tea, and the conversation was absorbing. But it was hard to keep my eyes off that uniform edition: the colorful spines, the remarkable titles (Ada, Bend Sinister, Lolita, Pnin, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight). I liked the elegant typeface, and the sense of a complex international life captured in a shelf of books. Decades later, when I got my own house, in Vermont, I went to some trouble to acquire from British booksellers that exact row of Nabokov, recreated volume by volume at considerable expense…

Thanks for the link, Paul!


  1. If the guy’s Nabokov novels were “pristine”, doesn’t that imply he hadn’t read them?

  2. Perhaps. Some people seem to be satisfied with just owning fine books; reading them would just muss them.

  3. At the age of 5, I was busted at a birthday party for reading my little friend’s copy of The Magic Pudding instead of stuffing myself with birthday cake.
    Now that I’m grown up, I have my own copy of The Magic Pudding and I mostly manage to avoid eating birthday cake.

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