What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You?

Ever use the bathroom at a new acquaintance’s house and feel the temptation to peek into their medicine cabinet? You can tell all kinds of things about a person by the contents of that little space. Do they have tech-savvy tendencies, or are they a bit more old- fashioned? Observe whether they own an old, frayed, low-tech plastic Oral-B, or one of those fancy new vibrating, sonic-ultrasound, sing-to-you-while-you-brush numbers. Now you know whether to shop at Borders or Brookstone for them at Christmastime. What do they take for a headache? Is the shelf full of various herbal remedies you can’t pronounce or does a Tylenol do the trick for them? Now you can decide whether you’re going to suggest that great new vegan restaurant you heard about or the sinfully delicious bakery instead. Of course, if you run into a bottle of Oxycontin or some prescription grade Mary Jane, you should just head straight to happy hour.

Peeking into one’s medicine cabinet however, could be considered an invasion of privacy and won’t win you the guest of the year award if your secret mission is discovered. The bookshelf is another matter entirely. Open and on display, no one can fault you for perusing this very telling collection of clues. Many people are surprisingly unaware that guests will take an interest in the contents of their shelves, and will therefore lump all of the books they own into one easy to find space making their personality as easy to read as a page out of one of their books. Others are quite conscientious about people noticing their collection and line their shelves as meticulously as they hang their art. These folks drive the “coffee table” book market. Let’s examine a few common tendencies among today’s innumerable genres.

“The Reference Reader”

These folks are not actually big on reading. They turn to books for answers, not entertainment.  A typical Reference Reader’s library primarily consists of instruction manuals and various “For Dummies” titles. Don’t be surprised to find old-school textbooks gathering dust along with a complete yearbook compilation (a.k.a time machine) covering middle school through high school. Don’t despair if you had hoped to reveal a little more flair in this person’s character. Chances are that this person finds expression more freely through music or visual media. Just don’t expect to exchange favorite quotes any time soon.

“The Periodical Pack-rat”

Immediately identifiable at home by the knee-high stacks of subscriptions or holding up the line at the grocery store while flipping through their zine of choice to find the latest photos of celebrity babies, divorces, and weight fluctuations. Periodical Pack-rats can loosely be considered the ADD readers of the world. This is not to say that they have any kind of reading deficiency. Quite the opposite, they just know exactly what information they’re looking for- the most current info without a lot of fluff.  What can you glean from this reader’s no-nonsense style of reading? Usually, this reader chooses the shortened-and-condensed version of their info because they’re busy or get bored easily. Why spend the time to get through a big book with more info than you need when you can pick up an article whose author kindly skimmed through and picked out the most important stuff for you?

“The Self-Help Seeker”

You know them and love them. They quote Anthony Robbins and include a cheery quote in their email signature. Often, they need much less help than those who don’t frequent the self-help section, but should you ever need some help, they’re happy to oblige… whether you ask for it or not.

“The Classics Collector”

These sentimental readers like to know they’re committing their valuable reading time to a sure thing. If a work of literary art has survived the critiques of decades or even centuries of readers without fading into obscurity, it’s bound to be a good enough read for them. This type of bookworm enjoys the added benefit of belonging to a built in social network. While many of  those with the discipline to dust of an old copy of Moby Dick may define themselves as introverted, they blossom when their path collides with a kindred classic appreciating soul. There is an instant bond and “volumes” of conversation to be had.

“The Best-Seller Bookworm”

Not one to be out of “The Know”, the best seller bookworm frequents the shelves that drum up good conversation and/or controversy. Similar to the Classics Collector, this reader likes the guarantee of a real page turner, but prefers that the subject at hand be related to present day matters or at least be popular with the present day masses. If you’re looking for the latest and greatest anything, you can usually count on this person to point you in the right direction.

“The Well-Informed Wanderer”

Foreign language learning guides, map books, and “Top Ten Places To See When In (fill in the blank with whatever hemisphere this travel bug frequents)” give away this reader’s tendency toward wanderlust. On or around the Wanderer’s bookshelf, it is customary to display mini versions of cultural icons, worldly musical instruments, and other treasures that illustrate the trail the trekker has blazed across the globe. In some cases though, you’ll find a traveler in limbo, collecting all the information they need to be prepared for the day they retire, the kids leave home, or whatever milestone they’ve marked as the day they can embark upon their journey.

Now, it is important to note that while many people fit into these narrowly defined categories, there are far too many other types of readers and notable quirky reading habits to list in one sitting, and still more whose literary preferences change with the frequency of the weather. In this case, you’ll find a variety of reading genres peppering the shelves. This is a good sign. It shows growth and curiosity- two excellent human qualities if you ask me. Whichever type of person you happen to unveil, take some time to see how you can relate to their interests and start some good conversations based on your new inside knowledge. After all, you don’t want to judge a book by its cover.

Thanks for stopping by. If you can think of another type of reader that deserves some recognition, I invite you to take a moment to share your insights in a comment. Please take some time to browse my art and make a donation to my yoga teacher training fund! Until next time, may your friendships be as colorful as your bookshelf!

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