other people’s bookshelves


It’s Wednesday, which means I ought to be posting a mysterious photo or story prompt… more or less a self-imposed rule, which makes it easy to break.

Instead, I want to talk about bookshelves, other people’s, and how a recent snoop is connected to last Wednesday’s mysterious photo.

Snoop is a harsh word. I was more ‘browsing’ at the cottage where we stayed recently, a remote place in 300 acres of forest, on a lake, surrounded by trails and perfect snowshoeing conditions. We go to this place every year for the seclusion and disconnection from everything other than books, food, wine and fireplace (tea and starlight and thick blankets on the deck also allowed).

As always, my travel bag is mainly filled with books, even for just a few days. But if there’s a bookshelf where I’m staying, chances are I’ll be seduced. (There is something so satisfying in perusing other people’s bookshelves.)

It should be noted that my interest is not to see what they’re reading, as in current titles… bore bore bore… but rather what they’ve collected, the quirky books that might have been culled over time but were kept instead. Those are the ones I’m drawn to. Cloth covers and dust, that kind of thing. Also how the books are filed is interesting… alphabetically, by subject, theme, mood…

This place does it ‘by subject’, which subjects include theology, Shakespeare, political memoir, climate, history, nature, art, Ireland, novels about Ireland, and classic novels, the Brontes, etc., as well as obscure (to me) volumes of poetry such as ‘I Take it Back’, by Margaret Fishback, who strikes me as a sort of poetic Dorothy Parker for all of her delicious rhyming sarcasm as she comments on the state of society. (The rhyming, of course, is essential to the sarcasm.)

To a Baby One Day Old

It seems a sweet absurdity
to call so small a morsel ‘he’.

I mean, to think she was writing about gender identity in the 1930’s…

And this, a little tongue in cheek for, well, you know who you are.

On My Toes

I’m the pronunciation snob who knows
how to cope with the Ballet Joose…
nor does the Monte Carlo Ballet Russe
stagger me as it may do youse.


I also read about Lewis and Clarke and how Lewis was a bit of a jackass who thought very highly of his white self and neglected to give credit to the Shoshone wife of a member of the their crew. Her name was Sacagawea and without her they’d have been sunk as she was the only one who knew the terrain, the language and how to navigate the territory, including interactions with indigenous ‘residents’. Fortunately the transcribing of Lewis and Clarke’s journals fell to Clarke after Lewis’s death and he, being a much more decent bloke, gave her the credit she deserved (and which Lewis had conveniently left out of his own notes).


And I read about Emily Carr, who I’ve read, and read about, many times. But this was different in that the book I found was a rather obscure volume, written by one of her art students and life long friend, Carol Pearson. And not only was Pearson a friend of Carr, she grew up to be Aunt Carol to the people who own the cottage we were staying in. And not only that but Aunt Carol had a small cabin of her own in these very woods, which is now ramshackle (but the dish rack remains) and every time we’ve been up here I’ve passed it and wondered who it belonged to. And now I know.

This is what happens when you snoop in people’s bookshelves.

I mean browse.

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman


14 thoughts on “other people’s bookshelves

  1. Ah, ha, does that solve last week’s mystery photo Carin? Anyway, I too love to peruse bookshelves when away somewhere. Suddenly books that I never would have thought of reading or buying become tokens of such interest and it feels fair game to dip in and out of them without really committing if one wishes.

    1. The picture last week was of Carol Pearson’s cabin (and her dish rack). I’ve been looking at this tumbledown place in the forest for years, ever since we’ve been coming to this woodland getaway. Until this year, I had no idea who Carol Pearson was or that she had a long friendship with Emily Carr. (The power of other people’s bookshelves!)

  2. Interesting that I have similar musings about other people’s book shelves. One thing that really tugs at me is when I randomly select and flip through a book and find a surprise tucked between the pages. Whether it’s a scrap of paper, a little notation made, a receipt or ticket stub — there are always stories attached that make me wonder.

    1. Yes, always interesting. Almost feels too personal at times. And in library books too (less personal). There are sites devoted to these ‘finds’. We’re always excavating ourselves in one way or another aren’t we…

  3. I love this post, and your comment about how we’re always excavating ourselves. And knowing whose cabin it was and the explorations of bookshelves. And your comments about Sacagawea and Lewis and Clarke, which made me think of this, which you might like: https://evalynparry.bandcamp.com/track/to-live-in-the-age-of-melting-northwest-passage (there are a couple of factual mistakes in it, unfortunately, but it is haunting and beautiful and on the same theme as your reflections on the role of Sacagawea.)

    1. Oh, thank you, Elizabeth! I look forward to reading/listening. I love how you always know just the thing to complement a post or photo!

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