It’s a tense moment, the first time you bring someone you’re dating back to your apartment. Even for the most unremarkable, straight-laced person, your living space speaks about you in a thousand quiet ways. And you’re far from straight-laced and unremarkable, right?
You see your place every day, so you’re blind to all the quirks and peculiarities it reveals about you. So even if you’ve made the sensible precautions – washed the sheets, vacuumed the carpets, moved the pile of dirty dishes from beside the computer to inside the closet – it’s easy to get blindsided by some little confession your apartment makes on your behalf. And nowhere is more revealing than your bookshelf.
Bookshelves are mysterious, intriguing things. They are simultaneously very personal and completely open. Each volume reveals a series of choices on your part – to buy, to read, to display – and speaks to what you find beautiful, sublime, exciting and worthwhile in the world. Yet, when it comes to first-date snooping, nothing could be fairer game.
Even the politest guest will take a lingering look without feeling they’re invading your personal space, and less scrupulous dates will take a detailed inventory before rifling through your underwear drawer the first minute you’re out of the room.
So it’s important that your bookshelf shows off the best of you. Even the most well-read single person could do with the occasional bookshelf manicure. Here are some basic tips to get you started.
Have a bookshelf
To paraphrase John Walters: if you go home with someone and they don’t have any books, don’t fuck them.
I know, I know. Not everyone has space for something so ungainly and old fashioned as a bookshelf. So have a book nook. Or a book pile. Even a book bin. Have something. Just to tell the world (or at least, that small subsection of the world you invite back to your apartment to fool around with) that you’re a curious, contemplative person who’s engaged with a world beyond your job, your computer and your TV.
Have some books
I’m the first to embrace new technology. I love e-books and e-readers.
But having, you know, actual books shows people the stories you care about. It shows you appreciate the little things, that you have time in your life for the small pleasures of rough paper and dog-eared pages. It shows you’re all romantic and shit. That’s good.
Make sure they’re interesting
It’s great that you’ve read Paris Hilton’s autobiography or Farmville for Dummies. (It’s not actually great, but let’s just pretend it is for the next five minutes.) That doesn’t mean you want to create the impression these are the books you consult on a daily basis. Consider moving them to a more appropriate storage area: a filing cabinet, a closet, the donation bucket at your nearest Goodwill.
Your bookshelf should be reserved for volumes that reflect something about who you are – for books you’ve had a profound connection with. It’s a little like choosing topics of conversation for a first date; you don’t want to lie exactly, you just want to present the most interesting aspects of yourself. Backpacking through the Himalayas? Good. The intricacies of hand-painted commemorative wooden dolls from the 1800s? Perhaps save that for a few dates down the line.
But not too interesting
If you’d be embarrassed to be seen reading it on the subway, your bookshelf might not be the best home for it. Suspect categories include self-help, pop-psychology, DIY-medical and anything with “dating rules” or “pick up artist” in the title.
And however self-actualized and comfortable you are with your sexuality, this is probably not the place for 50 Shades of Anything. If you’re going to show off your deviant sexuality, at least have the courage to be original about it.
Make sure you’ve read them
Nothing hints at complete intellectual vacancy more urgently than a shelf full of like-new books you know absolutely nothing about. There’s nothing wrong with a few books you haven’t found time for yet, but if it takes you longer than a second or two to locate a book you’ve actually read, you’re in trouble. You should be able to reel off a few brilliantly insightful comments about most of the books you keep out in the open.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which books you want potential dates to see. But if micro-managing your bookshelf seems petty or conceited, consider this: no-one is completely open when they begin dating a new person. If they were, dating would likely be even more scary and fraught with weirdness than it already is.
If you’re an illiterate bibliophobe, a superficial entertainment junkie or even an enthusiastic consumer of explicit erotica, there’s nothing wrong with having the books you choose to read (or not read) reflect that. All I’m saying is: don’t leave them out there for the first date. Leave that side of your personality as a happy little surprise down the road.