I may not judge a book by its cover but I tend to judge a person by their books. This illustrious opportunity typically strikes in one of two places: when visiting a person’s home or when traveling. Standing in Hudson’s News waiting for a flight to board is the perfect place for me to start summing up those around me without even speaking to them. A news stand is more ideal than say a bookstore because all the genre’s are lumped together: the Oprah biography is next to the most recent Sophie Kinsella tale which is next to William P. Young’s the Shack (still!), which is next to everything by Nicholas Sparks. So, while I pretend to read the back of David Remnick’s The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama or another such recognizably pedantic book, I can actually watch you as your hand reaches for the latest novel in the Twilight series. I can then presume I know the type of person you are.
Another favorite place of mine to create great expectations from books is from the shelves within someone’s home. If there are no shelves? – ghast! If there are a few shelves but they are speckled with Ludlums, Sparks, Kings and Patterson’s this person enjoys reading but only if the book is willing to cater to a short attention span. And so on and so forth as you choose. What is more interesting though is when you are welcomed into someone’s home in a magazine. For here the presenter is well aware that he is creating a first impression. There are no accidents – the Kama Sutra or Joy of Sex is hidden in another room, the Kinsellas and Meyers put away while books on Design, Architecture or Politics are brought to the forefront. With a malleable audience the presenter can set the stage and almost direct our assumptions.
Okay, so these assumptions, as all stereotypes and judgments, are not fair nor are they kind but it is our nature as humans to use whatever information is available to us to size up a situation; it is survival of the fittest.
Don’t believe me? Picture this: you are sitting in an airport terminal and there is an attractive man (if this works for you) sitting across from you. To me, this man is slight in build but rather athletic looking, has dark hair and is tanned like he has been in the sun (not the tanning beds). Perhaps he is wearing a checked scar around his neck because he has recently returned from Yemen where he was writing a story for an online magazine. He has 3 days worth of stubble that coats his lower face perfectly and he is deep in concentration in a book. My guess, of course, he is reading a journalist’s (a co-worker’s?) account of the economic/political/religious turmoil in the Middle East. Now imagine that he looks up and places said book next to him so you can clearly see the title. It’s the Da Vinci Code. His illusiveness and air of academia (to each his own) instantly fades. There is nothing wrong with reading the Da Vinci Code of course, I read it and quite enjoyed it. However, first impressions mean a lot and Man X has presented me with: the Da Vinci Code.
What if he had put down The Road by Cormac McCarthy? His mystique would have only heightened and I could continue with my fantasy. Now imagine instead that the book he put down was in fact the Bible?
If you had to choose one book to set your precedent, for your first impressions, what would it be? Mine changes by the hour and the audience.