Judging people by their covers…

There are things you notice about someone’s house when you go over for the first time. Maybe you always scope the kitchen. Maybe you are interested in the sound system. Maybe it’s what DVDs they have, what CDs, what’s hanging on their walls.

Me? I scope the bookshelves. When I get tours, I compulsively read the spines of books when walking by shelves. I don’t even realize I do it. I’m not the only one.

What books people own say a lot about them. What their interests are. Their guilty pleasures.

I judge people by their books, and not always fairly. I will mildly scorn a grown woman reading Gossip Girl in public. And I LOVE Gossip Girl. If you’re reading the latest best-selling mass-market paperback on the metro, I will peg you for a tourist. If you’re reading Ulysses, you’re a student. Or pretentious. Or both.

Of course, I assume that other people judge me by the books I’m reading, so it creates a bit of pressure.

I go through a minor freakout when I take the metro into town, because what will I read?! DC has an unwritten code that during the rush hour, one must read the paper, The Economist or something similar. Not a lot of books to be seen, except in the hands of tourists. Outside of rush hour though? Do I really want to be caught reading Clarice Bean Spells Trouble? Even though I have to read it for work? Or should I save that guilty pleasure for the confines of my house? The latest biography of Mao would be a good choice, but is way to big to fit into my cute purse. I need something smart, hip, cool, and small. Banana Yoshimoto usually fits the bill.At the coffee shop, I can bring whatever. Sometimes I will bring Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood and you can think of me what you will. But I’m much more likely to grab whatever the latest literary fiction bestseller I’m reading. The Kite Runner or Special Topics in Calamity Physics. (Actually, I highly recommend you leave that last one at home. I really didn’t like it.)

This might just be my own paranoia, but there has to be a reason that cross-generational favorites, like Harry Potter and The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson get released with multiple covers– the regular “kid” cover and a boring, sedate, I-swear-this-isn’t-a-kid’s-book “adult” cover.

One the other hand, I kinda like the pressure. It makes me read adult books.


5 Responses to Judging people by their covers…

  1. Dana says:

    I definitely do that. As soon as I go into anyone’s house or office I find myself checking their bookshelves. I feel good when I find one we have in common, or if I see one I’m interested in but haven’t read yet.

    Alas, here in NC, there is no real public transportation to speak of, but I was just working at a conference, and I admit I did think carefully about what book to take with me to read during slow times. I settled on The Bookwoman’s Last Fling, because it’s about books, but fiction, and I can’t concentrate on nonfiction when people are going to be interrupting me all the time.

  2. akdmyers says:

    I also enjoy seeing what other people have on their shelves, and get totally distracted by bookshelves in movies, trying to see what’s in the background there. I am always pleased when a visitor to my house shows an interest in what’s on my shelves.

    I’ve also had the problem of what to read in public. I usually bring a book to work to read at lunch, and while I have yet to leave a book at home for fear of what my coworkers will think of me reading “kids’ books”, there have been books I was careful to leave face down when I wasn’t reading them. And I have yet to convince myself that it’s ok to read graphic novels in public.

    I’ve got a lot of travel coming up this summer, which means careful book selection – not only must it be the right level of engrossing, but the right size to fit comfortably in my bag and nothing that will make me cringe if someone else notices it. I’m almost as worried about that as I am about what clothes to pack.

  3. kidsilkhaze says:

    I *always* spend more time agonizing over which books to pack than which clothes. How many will I need? I want something big enough that it will last most of vacation, but small enough it goes into my carry-on easily. Something to entertain me on a long flight or drive, but nothing that will distract me when I am wherever I’m going…

    As for graphic novels in public… it totally depends on the novel. I have no problem reading Fables in public, except that the format is too big for anything besides my messenger bag.

    I’m lucky in that it’s completely OK for me to read kid’s books at work. I work with kids! I’m supposed to!

  4. Erin says:

    Interesting food for thought. 🙂

  5. […] I’ve posted before about judging you by your books. […]

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