I just returned from the Tompkins County Friends of the Library book sale in Ithaca, NY. It is purportedly the second largest book sale in the United States. Since I am a firm believer in “whoever dies with the most books wins” mantra, I was there on the first day.
Ithaca is the home of some Ivy League college named Cornell, as well as Ithaca University. The academic culture in this small town makes for a lovely and eclectic selection of books at the sale.
A large portion of the shoppers were, naturally, college students. I was in the children’s section when I overheard a young man emphatically say to his friends:
“Guys. You don’t know how important this is. We’re going to graduate soon. This is the time we need to really start thinking about our home libraries. Did you know you can walk into someone’s house and learn more about them by looking at their library than by talking with them?”
I’m not sure if this kid was a Cornell, an Ithaca, or even a Wells college or Hobart and William Smith college student (also close by.) I like to imagine he was from Cornell, which looks a lot like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry standing high on a hill looking down on the rest of the town. (No resentment here. I went to a small liberal arts college you’ve never heard of.) His ostentatious statement made me laugh because, yes, looking at a person’s library can tell you something about him or her, but then again…
My mother inherited some antique Hummels from her mother-in-law. They’re in a lighted curio box in her living room. She hates them, but can’t bring herself to sell them or give them away.
If you walked into her living room, you would probably jump to the conclusion that my mother is a collector of Hummel figurines. If you asked her about them, and actually watched her facial expressions and listened to her tone of voice, you would quickly realize that she feels guilty that she doesn’t appreciate them.
Books, you may argue, are not figurines. (Though someone could inherit books, display them, all the while resenting the space they take up.)
Here are some other misconception and potential truths that hide behind a person’s library (or lack of a library):
1) This person has a lot of classic literature. He or she must be really smart. Very possibly. Or this person buys up classic literature and displays it on his bookshelf to appear smart or just because he’s an especially pretentious human being. He has, however, read the first two paragraphs of Decameron, Middlemarch, and The Art of War.
2) This person has a lot of romance novels. A person who reads such garbage must be really stupid. These women would beg to differ.
3) This person has no books in his house. He hates to read. Or he takes advantage of his local library. Or, he listens to books on tape in his car during his long commute to work. Or, he buys books and immediately gives them away. Not everyone believes that “whoever dies with the most books wins” mantra. Some believe that you can’t take them with you.
4) This person has so many books! She must read all the time! It is more than likely that this person has a book-buying compulsion that she has a hard time curbing, and that she buys a lot of books because she thinks “the covers are pretty!” This person is NOT me. Nope. Not me.
If I had the chance to take this kid aside, I might have suggested to him that perhaps he should keep trying to talk to people rather than just looking at their collection of books. And I mean really talking and not just gazing into the distance until the conversation drifts back to the subject that interests him the most- himself.
What does your library say (or not say) about you?