We booksellers spend a good deal of time, effort and energy engaged in that noble task of influencing the titles housed on other people’s bookshelves. Yet we also take a professional interest in decoding and learning from bookshelves that we encounter in the wild. In fact, there is no respite from the exercising of our bibliographic muscles, even on vacation, or perhaps I should say especially on vacation as the books on the shelves of vacation homes are of peculiar interest.
Vacation house bookshelves are meant to provide ambiance of course, as all domestic bookshelves do, but are also much more likely to be read by guests, and are much more like a library than the shelves of unrented homes. My wife and I spend a week every year on a Maine island we love. Indeed I am there now post-hike and pre-quaffing hour.
We had stayed at the same place the previous four years, which was very congenial and familiar but the vacation shelves there consequently held little intrigue. This year, however, we rented a different place and it is thus my current task to determine what I can learn from the children’s books on offer here. This house has two shelves on which kid’s books predominate, one mostly picture books and the other mainly novels. Let’s see what we can deduce from them. First the novels shelf.
- There’s not much here and what there is is all middle grade.
- The lack of any young adult makes it likely that the house was not used by the owners when their kids were teenagers.
- Most of the books are actually from Scholastic Book Fairs. The Lightning Thief books, for example, are all book club editions.
- The only non-Scholastic book fair novels are also the most current books, namely series books from The Last Kids on Earth and The Land of Stories. These may have been left here by past renters.
- There is a children’s nonfiction book at the end of the shelf called Meet Ben Franklin, indicating that the owners were stocking the shelves here with left-behinds from their own kids’ elementary school years, as it would have been an unlikely encounter for a vacationing child.
- The picture books are a mix of classic titles like The Sneetches and Madeline and The Gypsies, and some less expected titles that were most likely purchased around when they were released.
- The picture books on offer bolster our theory that the kids’ books in the house are left-behinds from children who are now in their mid to late 20s. The Ben Franklin book had been circa 2002, and looking at the picture book shelf two of the unexpected titles, My Life with the Wave, dates from 2004, while Kate and the Beanstalk is from 2000. Also, the hardcover Brian Jacques, Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, is 2006, right in line for a kid who had read a picture book from 2000.
- Looking further at the shelf above we also spot three Timmy Failure books which indicates the presence of either generous renters or grandchildren with good taste.
So what can we learn from these vacation shelves? I suspect that the humdrum leftovers from the owners’ children inspired renters who valued children’s books to bequeath the more current, higher interest tiles here to enliven what they deemed to be tepid shelves. The biggest lesson is that while Blanche DuBois may have depended on the kindness of strangers we should probably play it safer than that and bring some great books with us to hedge against serendipity. I know I’m glad I brought Kira Jane Buxton’s terrific Hollow Kingdom out to the island.