When you see a photograph which contains a bookshelf, can you resist trying to figure out what the books actually are? I can, but David McKie can't, the poor bugger:
Whenever I see such pictures I have an uncontrollable urge to seize the nearest magnifying glass and try to decipher the titles. What is it that drives some people (I know others who confess to this failing) to devote their time to such snooping when we could be walking the downs, or exploring the music of Medtner, or deconstructing the latest piece about Paris Hilton?
In part, it's just an addiction to books. When visiting stately homes, the bits that intrigue me most are the libraries. While others gasp in awe at the ormolu washstands, I eagerly examine the titles on the shelves - though often of course the books have been put there purely for show by later custodians, or are sometimes simply mocked-up covers with no real books behind them. But other, less healthy, instincts are operating here too. Perhaps it's a form of voyeurism, a lust to discover guilty secrets. What I really hope to discover is that someone like Roger Scruton has shelf upon shelf of chick lit; that Jeremy Clarkson can't get enough of the novels of Margaret Drabble; or that the dainty aesthete Roy Strong is harbouring a stack of books on motor-vehicle maintenance, one of which is a dog-eared volume entitled The Sump.