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.