7 Secrets You Can Learn Just By Glancing At Someone's Bookshelf

Although I hate to admit it, I am a hopeless snoop. The good news for anyone generous enough to open his or her home to me is that my sense of propriety (and, let's be honest, the fear of getting caught) usually prevents me from doing any serious digging — say, through dresser drawers or medicine cabinets. Of course, when it comes to the bookshelf, all bets are off. After all, literary proclivities aren't hidden behind closed doors or buried at the back of a sock drawer; someone's bookshelf is right out there in the open, practically begging to be examined, and not without good reason.

If you know where to look you can learn a lot from a bookshelf. As far as I'm concerned, the windows may be the eyes to the soul, but the bookshelf is the modern millennial's beating heart. If you're comfortable, standing, staring, and maybe even running your fingers across a few unfamiliar tomes, you could stand to learn a lot. So, whether you've just been invited into a new flat for the first time or you're getting to know your new roommate on a whole new level, the bookshelf has a lot to offer, starting with these seven secrets.

1. What She Loves

It is a truth universally acknowledged among anyone who has ever tried to make small talk, that shared interests are a godsend when you're getting to know someone. And when it comes to passions and proclivities the bookshelf has a lot to offer. Sure, you can quickly suss out which books you've both read, but you can also pick up on more general patterns. Does she lean towards love stories? Is she mad for mysteries? Do all of her favorite authors seem to be women? The bookshelf is a treasure trove of interests to be explored, if only you take the time to look.

2. What She Hates

When it comes to spilling secrets, what you don't find on the shelf can be just as revealing as what you see right in front of you. If you find yourself facing a broad cross-section of contemporary literature's heavy-hitters but not a single novel penned prior to the 20th century, surely there's a story there. If you're staring down a selection of genre fiction without a science fiction story in sight, that's got to be worth exploring. Now's the time to play detective and make the most of your powers of deduction, you might never have a better chance to get to know your host.

3. Who She Knows

Sure, you can bond over a shared love of Marilynne Robinson or David Foster Wallace if you find a copy of a beloved text on a foreign shelf, but there's so much more to making authorial connections than shared interests. If you've found a friend with similar authorial tastes, chances are she can make a killer recommendation, and maybe even lend you a copy of a book you never would have found on your own.

4. Where She's Been

Making your way in the world is all about starting fresh with new friends, colleagues, and romantic partners, but just because you didn't grow up together doesn't mean you can't bond over your shared history. Take a moment to scan any shelf you find yourself in front of for YA classics, textbooks, or any suggestion of a life well and fully lived, you're sure to find some hint of where your host has been — and who knows, maybe you've been there, too.

5. What She Needs

A quick glance at the shelf can offer immediate insight into a person's aspirations. Are there Paleo cookbooks? Travel guides? Coding manuals? Religious tracts? Maybe you'll find a shared passion you can pursue together, something you can learn, or a few tips you can pass along; either way, you'll be one step closer to a lasting friendship.

6. What She Wants

A living room shelf is not a magic mirror, but a well-curated collection of books can be the clearest way to your host's heart. Of course there are inferences to be drawn if all you find are sappy love stories or brutal murder mysteries, but you can just as easily discern a clue in the slim volume of Gertrude Stein poems or the collection of children's classics — the key is just to ask. Take what you see and use it to spark a genuine conversation. You can never go wrong if you start at the shelf.

7. Where She's Going.

A bookshelf is so much more than simply a record of a life well lived — a well-honed collection of texts is better (and cheaper) than a few hours with a psychic when it comes to predictive potential. Is this someone you could spend long nights with over a steaming mug of hot chocolate? Is this a person who will share your loves and commiserate over common enemies? Is this a relationship with growth potential? Only the shelf can tell.

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