s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: You are what you read

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

You are what you read

I have a habit of judging people by their books. First, you have to have books at all. (It’s unlikely we’ll ever be good friends if you don’t meet this requirement.) Second, you have to have a lot of books. You will preferably have more books than bookshelf space. (It’s an indication of priorities.) You may deal with this by stacking your books two and three deep, by creatively using other types of furniture for book storage, or both. Third, you have to have good books, such that I can determine that you are a kindred spirit in some respect.

I should clarify that bookshelf contents aren’t make-or-break as far as friendship potential goes (although I reserve the right to make a premature assessment if your personal library consists mostly of the Left Behind series). Rather, they’re an opportunity to peek inside your mind, a possible shortcut to finding a common interest or to learning about your past.

For all these reasons, I was rather disturbed when I recently noticed that the books I own and the books I read (as recorded in my book journal), don’t really match up. There is no evidence of some of my favorite books (Le Ton Beau de Marot, Faster, Six Degrees of Separation). Neal Stephenson, Simon Singh and Jorge Luis Borges are not represented. Oliver Sacks and Kurt Vonnegut get only one book each, and the latter only because I had to buy a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five to answer a Board question.

To be sure, the books that are on my bookshelf do represent various aspects of me. I have an entire shelf of foreign language reference books, a couple of knitting books, a monster physics tome and a growing collection of library science texts. Given the number of reference books, though, you’d think I never read for pleasure. (Or that I read reference books for pleasure, which I don’t. Much.) Even worse, I’m buying an increasing number of books for various book clubs, meaning that I am most actively acquiring books that reflect other people’s tastes.

The simple truth of the matter is that I read much more than I could ever afford to buy, and if it’s a question of buying a novel or buying a reference book, I’m more likely to buy the latter because I’m more likely to want to refer to the latter on short notice. Still, I should probably make a point of buying more of my favorite books, if only to reassure myself of my compatibility with . . . myself.


At June 28, 2006 3:54 PM, Blogger Lindsay said...

Sometimes I like to sit on my couch and look at the shelves and shelves of books that surround me. It's fun to look at them all and see reflections of myself in each book. Yes, they are a pain to lug around (when we moved 'cross country, books accounted for half of what we owned), but they're beautiful. And I just can't part with something that's become such a part of me.

At June 29, 2006 3:29 AM, Blogger Thirdmango said...

I often do the same thing with movies. But hey, if you ever get married maybe he will have those books you want. I don't buy certain movies due to the fact that if I ever get married they would probably own those movies. Ha Ha.

At June 29, 2006 8:46 AM, Blogger Miss Hass said...

mmmm....books... I love the way they look. I love the way the smell. I love the way they make me look interesting all stacked on my shelves, the floor, the coffee table, the kitchen counter. Sometimes I feel like the books are caving in around me. There are even books in my closets and my pantry. But I love them.

At June 29, 2006 11:42 AM, Blogger Melyngoch said...

So if q(bookshelves)=0 and q(books)=4, then you'll be impressed so long as the books aren't Charlie and Men are from Mars?

At June 29, 2006 8:42 PM, Blogger Th. said...


But if they were Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and The Martian Chronicles?

I do this with all media--books, music, movies.

The strange thing is how people look at our hundreds of books and somehow manage to all say the same thing:

"So you like Stephen King, huh?"

I guess it's because they always printg his name so big....

At June 30, 2006 10:29 PM, Blogger Saule Cogneur said...

Actually, non-self compatibility is good, right? You wouldn't date yourself would you?

I guess you would want to be friends with yourself however. Maybe it's about time you had a chat with the girl in the mirror to sort out your differences. I suggest doing it in public.

At July 01, 2006 4:01 PM, Blogger Katya said...

sc - Good point. "Compatible" is possibly the wrong word, but I'd at least like to be able to recognize myself as a kindred spirit.

And I'm not sure that I could.

At September 06, 2006 6:36 PM, Blogger Queen Zippergut said...

I realize you wrote this long ago, but I had to comment because I just cleaned up my side of the bedroom and had to restack and reorganize the 15-20 books scattered there. And...when I moved to England, I left just about everything...except my books.


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