Friday, November 7, 2008

Judging people by book covers - do you do it?

When packing for a recent trip to Melbourne, I found myself spending as much time choosing my reading material for the flight as I did on the rest of the packing.

I could tell you it was all about finding the right book in my to-read pile best suited to a plane trip, but that’s not telling the whole story. Because, in truth, I was also making my choice based on what it would to say about me as a reader.

This is based on the irrational – and somewhat self-indulgent – assumption that complete strangers are as interested in my reading choices as I am in theirs.

I realised, on reflection, that I was putting more thought into the choice than I might if I was just going to carrying the book into the next room. So my selection wasn't just about what I felt like reading (and what would be a good distraction on a two-and-a-half hour flight), but what judgements other people might make on seeing the book in my hands.

I probably should clarify (as I suspect this may be one of those “honest reflection” posts I come to regret!) … I don’t spend every waking moment worrying about what other people think – I’ve happily outgrown that level of self-consciousness – but there’s definitely still a small, quiet voice in the background that speaks up when I pick a book off the shelf.

Most people make almost sub-conscious judgements on people based on clothes or appearance (remember Josh Weinstein’s documentary?). Some of us also do it with reading material (for others, it’s the DVD a person is holding in the shop, or the CD playing in their car).

It’s a single choice in a moment of time, which shouldn’t define us – but often does.

Regular readers of this blog will – I hope – know that I’m not a literary snob. I have wide and varied tastes in fiction. But, I must confess, if someone is going to make a snap judgement about my reading habits, I’d rather it be while I’m clutching a book closer to the well-written end of the literary scale, rather than something I’m reading out of curiosity or experimentation.

Is that wrong?

I wouldn’t read a book just for the sake of being seen with it, but I found it interesting how much of my view of myself these days is linked to my literary life – and how I want that literary life to be perceived by others.

In case you’re wondering, I resisted the urge to attempt to finish Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (which has set half-read on my bedside table for about a year now), and chose Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity – the repackaged Penguin edition (post to come on my thoughts) for the flight down.
For the trip back, it was Mark Abernethy’s Second Strike (sequel to The Golden Serpent, which I’m still reading due to its size and my available reading time.) Both kept me entertained and kept my self consciousness to a minimum, even though the latter has a very blokey cover...

So, the questions then, for those who wish to join me in this little exercise:
- Do you judge people by the books they read?
- Are you self conscious about what you read in public?


Rebecca said...

I think I am self-conscious. I recently had to catch the train into the city for a conference and put some thought into what I took to read. Can't remember now what I did take, but took care to pick the best from my usual trashy library books.

I'm sometimes conscious at the library too what I borrow - I sometimes wonder what the librarians think when the scan the book if they think I'm airy-fairy because I choose a whole heap of chick-lit stuff.

Bec said...

Oh yeah, I'm sure we all do it (don't we??). And I've got to admit, I even do it with magazines!!! Happy to be seen reading something a bit arty like Black and White, or hip, like Frankie, or 'Eco' like Green Living or Peppermint Mag....but there's no way in hell you'll ever catch me getting on a plane with a Woman's Weekly, or any other type of 'celebrity' mag (even thought I don't mind reading them when I'm waiting at the doctors!!!!)

Looking forward to hearing your review of High Fidelity too :)

BooksPlease said...

Yes I do it too! I look at what others are reading because I'm curious about their choice of book - I look when I'm on the train, on planes, by the pool on holiday - that's most interesting - and I'm often surprised and impressed by their choices.

I often wonder what they think in the library as I check out some of the books - mainly old books no one else has borrowed for years from the County Reserve Stock. I'm also very self conscious about being seen in public with books on religion(of different varieties). I have several friends who are Christians and I wouldn't like them to see some of my choices.

I have High Fidelity too, not read it yet -so I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts about it.

Gustav said...

I find the books people read do reveal certain clues about them.

In terms of what I take with me when in public, there are not tooo many self imposed limits. My choice is usually dependant on mood and not what anyone else thinks.