What’s the first thing you do when you get into someone’s house? Assuming it’s not pee in the corner and/or that you didn’t come in through the basement window with a dollar sign-decaled sack, I suspect it’s check out the bookshelves. But what happens when you don’t like what you find there? How much can we judge people by what’s on their shelves? Personally, I’ve condemned people to the scrap heap of friendship for even the slightest transgression. Danielle Steel? See ya! Anne Coulter? Sayonara, suckah! Dean Koontz? May your armpits rebel and cover you in a carpet of sweaty hair. Dan Brown? Look out in the field there, Old Yeller. (Okay, you get a hype pass if you have the Da Vinci Code, but if you bought Angels and Demons after, you deserve whatever karmic train accident you get smushed in.)
Judging character from someone’s reading habits is a favourite game in the media. Can we tell something about the deep heart of Gordon Brown from his love of Lewis Grassic Gibbon? Is it revelatory that Tony Blair insists his favourite book is Treasure Island? There was a frenzy among columnists when Dubya revealed that he settled down after a hard day on the ranch to a close study of L’Étranger: the idea of the president indulging in a discussion on the origins of existentialism was met with howls of derision. Biggest laugh of all came when the leader of the free world insisted that his reading list was “eckalectic”.
Most of us aspire to a bit of an eckalectic bookshelf. A central part of the dating ritual is the inspection of book collections. Any self-respecting man might well be put off by an A-Z of self-help manuals; all but the most understanding women would run screaming from rows of science fiction and motoring books. I once had to call on all my reserves of tolerance when a brilliant friend with degrees from Harvard and Oxford and a job as a top political operative brought the newest and fattest Harry Potter novel with him on holiday. There is something disconcerting about grown men reading children’s books. (I also have a lot of trouble with orcs.)
Trouble with orcs? What you need is a elven host. That’ll take care of em.