I’m afraid that, if you were to meet me as the books I have on loan from the library instead of the marvelous, witty and reasonably attractive model of humility I am, you would instantly label me an airhead or a bimbo. Try this list on for size:
Legally Blonde, novel, by Amanda Brown
He’s Just Not That Into You, dating self help, by Greg Behrendt & Liz Tuccillo
Isn’t It Romantic?, novel, by Ron Hansen
The Hell with Love: Poems to Mend a Broken Heart, anthology, edited by Mary D. Esselman & Elizabeth Ash Velez
Have you stereotyped me yet? The above list isn’t so much a reflection of my personality as it is a testament to the power of pink. Of these, three books prominently feature pink on their jackets. (The fourth boasts the word “romantic” in its title and a strip of flowers runs across the bottom centimeter of its cover. That’s practically the same thing as abusing the girliest color of them all.)
I may not be a bimbo (as one friend suggested pink wearing girls usually are), but I am gullible. Dress something—anything!—up in pink and/or modern design, and I’m convinced. I’m a marketing executive’s dream.
But I’ve lied. I’ve just given you half of my actual reading list. Also sitting in a “to read” pile beside my bed are the following:
Why Read?, nonfiction, by Mark Edmundson
Not Your Mother’s Life, sociology, by Joan K. Peters
The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers, nonfiction, by James M. Citrin & Richard A. Smith
Religion on Campus: What Religion Really Means to Today’s Undergraduates, nonfiction, by Conrad Cherry, Betty A. DeBerg and Amanda Porterfield
I’m not sure if this half of the list exposes me as a more serious, thoughtful individual or as slightly schizophrenic. Like the first half, these titles offer well designed, clean covers, though they center on more meaningful topics. (And when I say clean, I’m referring to more than appearance. I noticed some library books reek of cigarette smoke. I actually replaced a few volumes that I would have carried home if not for the stench.)
But in a collection of essays that I just finished reading, Nick Hornby (my favorite author) suggested that you’re more than what you read. You are what you buy:
All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. My music is me, too, of course–but as I only really like rock and roll and its mutations, huge chunks of me–my rarely examined operatic streak, for example–are unrepresented in my CD collection. And I don’t have the wall space or the money for all the art I would want, and my house is a shabby mess, ruined by children… But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.
Perhaps I’m biased because of my own reading/shopping tendencies, or maybe because of my unshakable allegiance to anything Hornby writes. In any case, I much prefer this theory to judgment by library card. Take a look at my most recent purchases:
Searching for God Knows What, Christian nonfiction, by Don Miller
The Polysyllabic Spree, literature essays, by Nick Hornby
Cash: The Autobiography, musician autobiography, by Johnny Cash
Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs, pop culture essays, by Chuck Klosterman
Songbook, music essays, by Nick Hornby
I’m far more selective about my bookstore purchases than my library selections; in fact, these are the only books I’ve purchased since returning to Alabama in August. (Compare that to upwards of 100 books I’ve laid down the library card to obtain.) Buying a book is a commitment, something of a claim that “this is me.” The books on my shelf mark my territory: I see myself as something of a pop culture observing, music listening, God fearing Christian twenty something. Legally Blonde won’t merit repeated reads (20 pages in and I can see that the movie didn’t stray far from the book), and He’s Just Not That Into You makes its point without even opening its pages. I may judge a book by its cover, but if you’re going to categorize me, at least take the entire contents of my bookcase into account.