Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What's on Your Shelf?

The New York Times Book Review ran a highly entertaining article last weekend about how much (or little) your book collection defines you in the eyes of others. There were parts of this article that were so obviously, occasionally embarrassingly, true for me (like not being able to date an Ayn Rand lover, chuckle chuckle) that I was alternately cringing and nodding my head in agreement the entire time I read it.

To this day, I find it impossible to resist trying to see what everyone on the subway is reading, though I'm not really sure what this knowledge of the reading habits of strangers accomplishes. I guess I occasionally get a feeling of superiority that last about .2 seconds, though usually it just makes me depressed that there are so many great and entertaining books out there and at least half of the books you see belong to J.K. Rowling or James Patterson. A depressing thought that I'll put off elaborating on until another post (lucky you).

I mean, you can call it snobbery, but a big part of why people like me can't help but judge other people's choices is simply that we really, really love books. We often work with them in some capacity (I'm an extreme case: I was a bookstore employee for many years before I was in publishing and even worked in a bookstore cafe in high school) and have a vested interest in seeing books treated with the same level of love and obsession that we have for them. I care about books the way that more wiser, more compassionate people care about, say, Darfur.

Although I used to think this was a pretty common point-of-view, this essay has forced me to consider that others (even other book lovers) may not feel quite so strongly. I don't want to be, after all, one of those High Fidelity you-are-what-you-like types and I don't think that I am about most things. I could date someone that watches American Idol. I could marry someone that loves country music. But I just don't know that I have it in me to date someone with a terrible/nonexistent taste in books.

Anyway, point being: I invest books with a lot of value and expect others (or, at least significant others) to do the same. I love movies, I love music, but I don't invest them with nearly the same level of value and I thus don't really care as much if my opinion differs with someone.

I guess in the end you choose what it is that you want to infuse with value. People might think that I infuse books with too much of it, but there are countless things that people care a hell of a lot about that I don't really understand. Doesn't, for example, this get at the same values and lifestyle choices that would make a person that values healthy eating and living want to stay away from an unkempt, picky eater like me? Like Sloane Crosley's quote near the end of the essay says:

“If you’re a person who loves Alice Munro and you’re going out with someone whose favorite book is ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ perhaps the flags of incompatibility were there prior to the big reveal.”

UPDATE: I just noticed that my friend Stephanie posted her take on this article yesterday-check it out.


agingsnob said...

This is a very long post for a Josh post!

Josh said...

Does somebody else post on this blog?

Stephanie said...

This reminds me: have you gotten the chance to check out any of those Ethan Canin stories I lent you?

Also, thanks for the shout out.

Todd said...

All this chatter and yet no examples of book-inspired crushes from Josh, the Bingo Little of NYC? For shame. You know all too well of my summer infatuation with a girl sparked by a mutual love of Garcia Marquez.

Josh said...

I know, I know. I'm waiting until I'm completely out of things to write about before I spend a month on "Disastrous Crushes and Terrible Dates that Josh has been on"

Fear not, howevder, those days will probably be here soon enough.