I am primed to explore another man’s library. On four separate occasions this summer I have been in his house, sometimes left by myself in one of the rooms where his books stock multiple shelves, sometimes seated across from him, able to glimpse over his shoulder the titles in a bookcase.
I can joke, one man in his sixties talking to another man in his sixties, and threaten to abscond with a volume he will never miss once I am gone. He laughs, waves his hand at the shelves around him and across the room, and lets me know I am welcome to take anything.
I laugh with one part of my brain and surprise another part already planning my moves.
All scholarly insight and humor, we might be Alec Guinness in conversation with Ian McKellan, each eyeing the other behind a gentlemanly white beard.
As I write, I look over the books on some of my own shelves. I know why the books are where they are, why some stand and others lie stacked. To which of these many might he be drawn when he has visited me?
Will their interest for him be anything like the lure of his books for me? Will he reach for a familiar cover and enjoy watching pages open where last I read from them – a month ago, a year ago, two decades?
Will we both get to wonder what the other had been like then, at a time closer to the original publication of a particular book? When one of us read just that page, might he have been picking up a wedge of orange, sipping a cold beer, biting into a slice of dry toast?
Will we both get to wonder what the other had been like at an age when being older than fifty would have seemed to either of us an unlikely event in an unimaginable future?
But here we are.