What The Books On Our Shelves Really Say About Us

Lesly Juarez / Unsplash

I was watching some early episodes of Maron recently. I was watching them because I’d been enjoying his podcast, and one reason I was enjoying it was that he’s a surprisingly literate guy. He seems like a guy who has read the right books and might be expected to own and reread those books.

There’s a scene in which he prepares dinner at his house for a woman who’s trying to seduce him. This is supposed to be his real house; he’s playing himself, which means that when she praises the décor because it’s so him, she’s saying that it seems appropriate, given what she thinks she knows about him, that he would live in a house like this, among these things. She makes special mention of the fact that there are books in the house. She even makes the speech in front of a bookshelf.

This isn’t Marc Maron’s house, and the Marc Maron we see on screen is inevitably just the real Marc Maron’s fictional representation of himself. The books aren’t books either; the books are props. But they aren’t fake books. You can read the titles. He has two copies of Vince Flynn’s Protect and Defend: “No longer willing to wait for the international community to stop its neighboring enemy, Israel brings down Iran’s billion-dollar nuclear program in an ingeniously conceived operation…” He also had a few titles by Janet Evanovich, including Three to Get Deadly: “Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is back. The brassy babe in the powder blue Buick has been given the unpopular task of finding Mo Bedemier, Trenton’s most beloved citizen, arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, gone no-show for his court appearance.”

These don’t seem right for Marc Maron, given what I think I know about him. The big Mary Cassat book doesn’t seem right either. He also has Janice Y.K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher—also unlikely—and a book called 1001 Albums. There’s a D.H. Lawrence novel whose title I can’t make out, and maybe this is the most plausible one on the shelf. It’s not hard to imagine him buying it in college and carrying it around ever since. He also has a large hardback: Adams v. Texas. This was a 1980 Supreme Court case in which the court found that it was unconstitutional to require jurors to swear that the mandatory imposition of a death sentence would not interfere with their deliberation of factual matters. But this book is actually less implausible than it seems, because the defendant in the case, Randall Adams, was the subject of Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line. It’s not impossible that Marc Maron would be interested in the story.

I don’t know what to make of Euthanasia. There are lots of books by that title, and I don’t know which one this is.

Again, I’m evaluating these books in the context of some underlying assumptions I’ve made about the real Marc Maron. But I’m only doing that because I know that this is a television set. If I were in the real Marc Maron’s real house and it looked exactly like this, with the same books on the shelves, I’d have to revise those underlying assumptions. The books would cease to be props and would become real books, and in that way, even though they remained outwardly the same, they’d communicate different information.

Marc Maron is a celebrity, and the agreement we’ve made about celebrities is that we’re allowed to think anything we want to think about them. They are not people but characters in the larger drama of American culture. The person I think of as the real Marc Maron is actually just my own interpretation of Marc Maron’s public persona, which is not the real real Marc Maron at all.

But celebrity is only an extreme example of the dynamic we all struggle with our negotiations with the outside world. I have a lot of books in my own house, and certainly, conclusions can be drawn from them, but these books don’t tell the full story. I have a copy of Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus on my desk right now, but I don’t have her later novel, The Great Fire, which I very much prefer. I don’t have any of Eric Newby’s travel books, which made a great impression on me at one time. I have lots of DVDs somewhere, but they’re hidden away in a box, so there’s no evidence of how my literary sensibilities were shaped by film. And I have a ton of books that simply appeared, in just the way prop books appear, and which mean nothing to me and don’t speak for me.

And yet all of this inevitably does speak for me, doesn’t it? Like my clothes, my furniture, the stuff on the walls, even the things I say. All of it has to be taken as evidence of who the real Aaron Thier is.

I want to wear a T-shirt that says: This is not me. But a T-shirt like that is also not me. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Aaron Thier is the author of The Ghost Apple and Mr. Eternity.

Keep up with Aaron on Amazon and aaron-thier.com

More From Thought Catalog