When I was 15 or so I babysat once or twice for a family I didn’t know very well. One night after the kids had gone to bed I sat in the living room and picked up an old book sitting on a side table. A romance novel from the 1950s, similar to a stack I had at home. I was probably a quarter through it by the time the parents came home.
"Oh," said the mother when she saw what I was reading. "I have no idea what that book is." She seemed embarrassed, as though she was worried the book might be in some way inappropriate. That was confusing, and embarrassing for me, because it had just been sitting on their side table. Then she said, "It’s just for decoration."
It was a jarring experience because I, at 15, was familiar with far more fictional characters from books than actual people from real life. It seemed like setting out a plate of very real, delicious cookies, only as decoration.