Choosing Books – Part II: Identity

If choosing the books you read is a moody and dangerous business, then choosing the books you own is even worse.

I’ve seen scores of men and women reading on BART or in coffee shops, and I always, always, try to sneak a look at what they’re reading. The only time this has really paid off was about two weeks ago, when it turned out that the person sitting next to Kyle and me was actually reading the exact same book (like, what?). Besides that interaction, though, I’m always so amused by what people read: lots of romances, lots of titles I don’t recognize, and honestly not much that really looks like it’s worth it. In my head, this actually says a lot about them as people—it’s like an overly personal, unsolicited first impression.

If just one book does that, what could a whole library do?

The first time I went over to my boyfriend’s apartment his senior year of college, I was immediately intrigued by the books he placed on the bookshelves in the living room. Since we were both Torrey students I was aware of what a senior’s bookshelves should look like, but I only saw a select few on display, spanning over all four years of the curriculum, as well as others I didn’t recognize—Christina Rosetti, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Thucydides, How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, among others. My curiosity was piqued by this intentional selection, and unknowingly I had walked right into the trap he set: Kyle told me later, with some triumph, that he chose those books specifically in order to entice his guests into observing them and hopefully inquiring after them. It was a secret ploy to get a conversation going, because by asking about the books, his guests were actually—inadvertently—asking about him. Kyle treated his shelves like a biography, or a resume, or a speed date, if you will.

As soon as he told me this secret plot, I was in love (…with the idea). What a delightfully introverted and book-loving thing to do! I immediately went home to do the same before I realized that I had already done it, subconsciously, to a degree. This is what I found:

On my “Shelf of Honor”—my equivalent to Kyle’s living room shelves—I found Harry Potter, Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, TH White’s The Once and Future King, Torrey’s Junior Fall curriculum (which includes Moby-Dick, Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, Thomas Traherne, and Aristotle’s Physics), Dostoevsky, my selection of plays (including those I stole from Mrs. Jung—sorry/not sorry), and all the books I own from 1880 to 1960. Little did I know, I had already created my own biography, or resume, or speed date, without even trying.

But what does it say about me, exactly? Whether I like it or not, it says a lot. First off, the obvious one, I like to read: I like the fantastical, the magical, and the difficult; the long-winded and the quick punches; the existential and the intentional; the breathtakingly old and the intriguingly new. Second of all, it tells you that I like to think—Aristotle’s Physics, #amiright—but perhaps more importantly it tells you that I want you to think, particularly about getting to know me. It’s such a shy, introverted thing to do, honestly: it reminds me of a small child, sidling up to her father’s side with a new drawing in her hand, gingerly placing it on the table in front of him, sliding it into his view, silently waiting for him to notice, and then—ah! sweetheart! it’s so beautiful!—she beams with pride. That’s kinda how I feel. It’s the epitome of subliminal messaging. Books are perfect for introverts, honestly, they silently offer you the chance at a conversation, if you’re so willing. Reading for me is a solo act, sure, but I’ve never, never been upset when someone has stopped me in Commons to say, “Aristotle today?”

Yes, I’ll say. Wanna hear about the Four Causes? Please please please let me tell you about the Four Causes…

This is actually the very reason why if you look under the tab in my blog marked “About” you’ll see a list of authors and nothing more: it’s an invitation to get to know me. Not all of you have the chance to see my library in person, but that won’t stop me from showing it to you any way I can.

Books, for me, are a source of identity. Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do,” and since I am repeatedly opening covers and flipping pages, it only makes sense that I become who and what I am reading. If I could be half the woman that such authors were, it would be a life well lived.


One thought on “Choosing Books – Part II: Identity

  1. Pingback: Choosing Books – Part III: Aesthetics | Words, &c.

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