Thursday, May 6, 2010

Stalking the Stock

"Birds of a feather flock together," the saying goes. Translation: you can judge people by the company they keep. I've taken this a step further: I cop to judging people by the literary company they keep.

The first thing I'm drawn to in someone's apartment, or house, or office, is their book collection. I can't help but pass some light judgement based on their reading material. The New York Times' Book Bench blog has a feature called The Subconscious Shelf wherein readers submit snapshots of their bookshelves for analysis.

The "Subconscious Shelf" bolsters my view that you can judge people by their (book) covers. You can glean what genres and time periods and authors interest them most, yes, but you can also gauge their personality: a Dave Barry collection amid the great classics suggests a sparkle of wit in an otherwise serious academic; a Dan Brown novel among contemporary Pulitzer- and PEN/Faulkner- winners conveys a desire to treat the modern literary landscape democratically, politics-driven award committees be damned. The way a reader organizes their shelf also speaks volumes: are they scatter-brained-professor disheveled, fastidiously color-coded neat, architecturally inclined?

Stacked Up TV Productions is another initiative in highlighting readers', in this case specifically writers', shelves. The company's blog explains,

"A mashup of MTV’s Cribs, Oprah’s Book Club and The Paris Review, each five-minute Stacked Up episode features one of your favorite writers giving an insider’s tour of his or her library. We’ve found the best way to know writers is by the books they keep."
Readers beget writers, so what better tool of analysis of a writer than to "read"- evaluate- their collection of books? Of course, this appraisal is lost with the advent of eReaders. With covers masked and physical book collections dwindling in favor of Kindle- and Nook-loadable texts, the opportunity to uncover even a tidbit of insider information about a reader is dissolving. That is, unless we can outpace technology's seam-ripping of the integrated reading community and simply ask someone, "What do you like to read?"

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