Tuesday, October 25, 2005

How to make friends and get married

If ever there were a contest in the blogosphere for the title of "the most snobbish of them all booksnobs", this man would win it hands down. He has a post up on 42 today about books, bookshelves and snobs and methinks its a good time to unveil to the world my "how to make friends and get married" formula. It involves a certain amount of snobbery, for sure, but stay with me and you will see that its all very much warranted.

What's the first thing you look for when you enter a stranger's apartment for the first time? I almost always look around for the bookshelf. No bookshelf? Okay dude, see ya, or rather, not see ya. Wait, you say there is a bookshelf? Good. Next time I see you in the street, I will nod. Now, what books does it hold?

Needless to say, this is the round where most people get eliminated(or saved if you want to think of it that way). Some usual suspects:

1. Java programming, The complete SAP guide, The Little SAS Book - "Oops, wrong apartment, sorry" or "You have an extremely boring roomate?"

2. Rich Dad Poor Dad, Barron's GMAT types - These people are actually the easiest to spot so you can avoid going to their apartments in the first place. Any conversation you have with them will start with their business school plans and their investing interests. They will give you investment advice which they read on Motley Fool an hour ago and will go on and on about Mr Buffet. But if you ever ask them whether they have read The Intelligent Investor, they will look at you like you just landed from Mars. These types also tend to talk about popular TV shows and football games, another sign that one should stay away from them as much as possible.

3. Dan Brown, John Grisham, Sydney Sheldon et al. - These readers(if you could call them that) are quite funny. Once they see you looking at their books, they will immediately start a conversation on the latest Dan Brown - "I thought it was interesting how he talked about the Golden Ratio. What do you think? Oh, have you read the book? I just assumed you did. You see, I am a voracious reader and I usually forget that people have other priorities". My reaction usually goes something like this - "Did you find me lying on the street completely stoned and bring me to your apartment? If so, thanks but I gotta run."

4. Richard Bach, Paulo Coelho, Kahlil Gibran and an occassional Ayn Rand - These types are actually quite dangerous as they will not only go on and on about what they call their philosophy on life in general and themselves in particular but will expect you to listen to them and agree to whatever they say. If you ever find yourself stuck in an apartment belonging to one of these types, the best thing to do is to keep nodding your head and pray for a terrorist attack.

5. Booker, Nobel winners etc. - These people can be easily made to shut up. They just buy books, never really read much. All you have to do is to make up some nonsense about what happens in the latest Coetzee on their shelf and they will just keep nodding. When I am stuck in such an apartment, I also try to play a game - I try to guesstimate what percentage of the books in their shelves have actually been read. Note: It's not really necessary that you should have read the book. It actually works better if you had not as you know for sure that the person concerned is agreeing to things that you are making up on the fly.

Let's say for a moment that the stranger in question passes this round with flying colors. Say he has the required Henry James and can talk about it intelligently, quotes from Auden multiple times and actually knows who Gwaihir is. This is when I know that the man in question is definitely friend material and that this relationship could be pursued.

The next step is to figure out politics. Shakespeare is all fine but he should also be able to talk Plato and Chomsky with equal ease. Otherwise what's the point? Once I get past that point, we get to humor. In my opinion, this is where most book snobs go wrong - they assume that humor ain't that important and end up regretting it later. If you have to take away one thing from my guide, take this : If the bookshelf does not have anything as basic as Wodehouse, Wilde or Nash, I suggest you start making for that door. Now.

Once this stage is crossed, next step is to figure out whether he is another of those colonial hangover types who just reads what's been generally prescribed or whether he actually has any variety. This is a good time to look around for the O. Vijayan translation. If you find it on the shelves, its recommended that you try to have a conversation about it as most people just consider these books coffetable material. I have come to understand that people who get to this phase are almost always smart enough to exhibit the Thirukural translation but very few of them actually read it. Case in point - any visitor to the boy's room would see the beautifully bound Tagore on his nightstand. But I know that he hardly ever reads it.

All pass, you say? Well, there's really only one thing left then. Literature is great and all but it really doesn't fill your stomach. Find out if the guy makes enough money and if he does, go get married to him as soon as possible before another snob finds out about him.

Note 1: My dear friend BM doesn't believe in buying books but she happens to be the most frequent visitor to her local public library. My other dear friend A in Austin loses books like nobody's business so if one were to visit his apartment, one would assume that he doesn't read, which needless to say, is wrong. These two people are examples of my friends who do not fit in the above framework but who said there aren't exceptions?

Note 2: I realize that I am going to get married to someone who has not read the Tagore on his nightstand. And that he is a poor grad student who makes no money. I KNOW these facts. Do NOT rub it in. Two wrong out of all that is NOT bad. But if you do know someone who scores better, please do not hesitate to let me know. There's still a little over a month to go before the wedding happens.


Ludwig said...

Gosh! What a revelation. Are you thinking like that when you eye my bookshelf? Let's see:

test #0 - pass - bookshelf exists
test #1 - fail - Java programming, J2EE programming, operations research, etc. are scattered willy-nilly
test #2 - pass (I think) -
Only have one copy of Barron's GRE thing lying somewhere, waiting to be donated, and no GMAT stuff at all.
test #3 - fail - Don't actually have a Sidney Sheldon or John Grisham, but did have a Dan Brown at some point in time. Also Alistair Maclean, Stephen King, James Clavell, Michael Crichton. But I would argue that these are in a different league than Sidney Sheldon and Dan Brown.
test #4 - fail? (you decide) - No Coelho, or Kahlil Gibran, never read either of them. No Ayn Rand. Have the seagull book.
test #5 - fail - Have Rushdie, Sen, Ishiguro, Stiglitz, Naipaul, not all of which I've gotten around to reading or understanding. So I "...can be easily made to shut up..."! #5 also contains that kicker question: What is the percentage read? Ewww. Don't even want to go there.

Who, pray is Henry James? And the only thing by Auden that comes to mind is the "Stop all the clocks and turn off the telephone..." bit. Silver lining (?): Know all about Gwaihir and Landroval and so on.

Politics: Err...yes, have heard of Plato (and Admetus, Electra, and Demeter!) and Chomsky (used to work more or less next door to old Noam, 'owz he doin'?).

Humour: Pass. Nash exists, in various bits here and there. 2-3 PGWs. Wilde exists, but haven't read all. Also (En garde counter-attack!) Lawrence Durrell, Giovanni Guareschi.

No O.V.Vijayan. But other schtuff in translation, some unread. Thakazhi S. Pillai, Kiran Nagarkar, Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman, Lee Siegel, and so on. Pass, methinks.

So, not really passing with flying colours. And I'm too snobbish to talk about money, so won't tell you anything about that.

Ludwig said...

And if that post wasn't long enough...

P.S. Find myself empathizing quite a bit with the gentleman at #42. Especially w.r.t

1. "...the rate at which I buy books far exceeds the rate at which I actually read them..."

2. "...there are all the books that I started to read but didn't finish..."

3. "...means that I have tons of books on my bookshelf that I couldn't (and wouldn't) honestly claim to have read in their entirety, but that people would assume I had read by virtue of their being on my bookshelf..."

He has put it very well, that young man of 42.

Falstaff said...

Interesting. So, if you have tons of Booker / Nobel winners and have actually read them all, does that count?

Think you underemphasise poetry in your list - anyone who has less than a dozen well-thumbed collected poems on his / her shelf doesn't make the grade for me (you see why I have no friends)

Haven't really read that much Chomsky - my non-fiction reading tends to veer towards depressing German philosophers.

And let's not even talk about making money. Sigh.

Veena said...

Ludwig: Phew! I see the beginnings of a beautiful friendship alright. Must say what clinched it was the V I missed in OVV. :)

Couple of comments / clarifications though:
1. Agree that Alistair Maclean, James Clavell etc. are in a different league from the Sheldons and the Dan Browns. The former, imho, can be read while taking long flights or in your case, while on long train journeys while the latter should be completely avoided.

2. Glad to know you know all about Gwaihir and Landroval but here's the question - are you one of those people who memorizes names of these characters so that you could win the next trivia event(this is esp true of people who supposedly get educated in certain "institutions") or do you really like the book(s)?

3. Reg the young man at #42 - Concur that he has put it very well as he almost always does on whatever he writes about. But the key here is not to tell him that often as its prone to get to his head(if you know what I mean)!

Falstaff: No, if you have read all the Bookers and Nobels on you shelf, it only means that you read stuff which people think are good. But yes, its definitely way above the Dan Brown types.

And really, I don't think my formula can be applied in your case. You see, you are so much of a snob that if you were to find someone who has all the books you want and more, you would run away and read more obscure stuff. Come to think of it, think you are a masochistic snob.

Falstaff said...

Veena: You wrong me. I would never, ever run away to read more obscure stuff - I would just switch the conversation to something else - like music, for instance (say something like "And speaking of fantasy tales, don't you just love Zemlinsky's setting of the Little Mermaid"). There is more than one way of being a snob. :-).

And how about if you can prove that you had all the Nobel / Booker winning books on your bookshelf BEFORE they won? Like my Coetzee collection, for instance?

Sunil said...


you might enjoy this recent post by my old pal, lahar, here

Veena said...

Falstaff: That there are different ways of being a snob is besides the point. The point is that you will always find a way to be snobbish about some obscure thing or the other, so there's really no hope for you.

Well, if Roth were to win the Nobel Prize in a couple of years, don't think I can claim to be all original and stuff since I had the entire Roth before he won the Nobel. Long before these people win Nobels, everyone talks about them and they win other minor awards, so you are only listening to the critics anyways.

Sunil: Thanks for the link. I can relate to Lahar alright!

Quizman said...


I've discovered one way of getting around the problem of reading difficult books that everyone says that one should read. I don't read them. I listen to them on my way to and back from work.

So before you make up your mind hastily about a sparse bookshelf, do give your friend's car, a peek. :-)

abhishek mehrotra said...

How does this collection sound:
1. Edgar Allan Poe Collection
2. Douglas Hofstadter (there is one of his pulitzer winners, but i see you have something against techies)
3. Autobiography of a Yogi
4. Chekhov
5. A few puzzle books and one on Fermat's Enigma
6. And finally my favorite, all Calvin & Hobbes.
Guess what I am planning to add now: All of Asterix, O. Henry and Kipling.
What kind of snob does that make me ? This is actually fun, we can make up formulae based on CD collection, DVD collection, wardrobe, silver !

meditativerose said...

Nice ... the Dan Brown types are esp annoying ... and sadly, far too numerous.

One question ... what if certain friends plonk themselves down in your apt for an entire week, and spend all that time buying books (that they obviously can't cart back), taking down your % read metric (who wants to read depressing German philosophers) ... methinks that should be excusable .. at least you have THE booksnob for a friend :)

Ludwig said...

Ah, so you did spot the italicized V. :)

1. Alistair M (atleast his WW2 and his nautical ones), somehow, figures quite high in my list. I find that I keep revising such ones as 'H.M.S. Ulysses', 'San Andreas', 'South By Java Head', 'Ice Station Zebra' and the Navarone books. Stephen King, I also find revisable. "Salem's Lot", "Needful Things" and so on. Not so much for the cheesy horror, which is good per se, but his descriptions of small-town New England. Very Grace Metalious.

2. Hmm. I do really like the books. Which helps memory. However, yes, I do enjoy the trivia thingies too. I am not sure if I was educated in certain institutions, but I suspect I fail at this obstacle too. Errare ludwigum est.

3. Agree completely about the writings of the young man of #42, but cannot join you in the rest of your comment, not knowing him at all!

Must trundle on now.


Abi said...


Oh, dear!

You actually do all that? When does the, um, other -- rather less fun -- things start? You know, like, going out on a date an' stuff? At 60?

Karthik said...

Hmm.. I've thought about it quite a bit,and suggest you hold on to that boy of yours tightly. There are only thirty seven people in the world that fit your bill, but the smell of rotting pizza and unwashed plates means you'll never be able to enter their houses and find out for sure.

greensatya said...

For record, I don't agree with your classification.
John Grisham can be coupled with Ayn Rand and sharing space with Hemingway in my bookshelf. Readers of Orwell also read Adam Smith and all these does not need to be in the bookshelf, library is enough. Ah yeah, did I forget to mention Nabokov with Naipaul...
Left out is 'Imre Kertesz' don't know to fit with whom, may be 'Mein Kempf'

And I read books not for making friends or getting married.

happy reading.

Übermaniam said...

Umm, would it be too forward of me to ask you to cxome and please be kind oenough to give me your valued comments on where I stand. And while you're at it, how about a date? Hmm. Shite!

Veena said...

Quizman: Yes, I did forget audiobooks! I thought the whole idea of listening to a book was quite stupid until I spent an enjoyable six hours(driving from NYC to Pittsbugh) listening to a good part of War and Peace.

Abhishek: Not a big fan of Kipling or the Yogi book but the rest seems like common ground!

MR: We will discount such books while we calculate your % read metric - don't worry. My new theory is that some people strategically plan and leave such books in Chicago so that they have an excuse for not reading them. Btw, if such people were to read this comment, they would run away and write a post about how they really really read depressing German philosphers :)

Ludwig: Thanks for your comments and hope you visit us here often!

Abi: Say you go to a nice restaurant with dim lighting and all that nonsense, have wine and fondue and then what? You talk about books anyway so might as well do it at home, don't you think?

Karthik: You remind me of why I am really going to get married to the boy. He cooks, he washes dishes and he does my laundry. Did I mention he cooks? Yeah yeah yeah..(running around my cube)

Greensatya: Don't think any of us here read books for making friends or getting married. The point is how to be friends or get married to someone who also reads :)

Daily unusual: Let me ask the boy and my mom while I am at it :)

Red said...

Following up from Ludwig

test #0 - pass - bookshelf exists
test #1 - pass. No technical books ever. Does Shariat Law and Society and Constitutional History of India count as technical works?
test #2 - pass. One battered LSAT book
test #3 - fail -Have Dan Brown, Maclean, John Grisham (can I plead professional reasons),
test #4 - Pass. I HATE AYN RAND and I had a roomate who carried a copy of Kalhil Gibran to impress the ladies. That put me off.
test #5 - fail - Damn. I read the entire booker list, or as much as I can get hands on. But I read them, if that helps.

What about genre based writing? Is'nt reading science fiction a stamp of respectability?

Also, have to confess own a Tagore which have barely skimmed through. Maybe thats a Bengali thing

Emma said...

Came here via desipundit, and I was like WOW! Truly interesting post. And to take off from ludwig and red, here is my take:

test #0: bookshelf exists
test #1: a lot of java, j2ee programming stuff. Paapi pet ka sawal hai
test #2: No GRE, GMAT or Rich Dad Poor Dads. Does that mean I will never make any money in my life? :(
test #3: Sidney Sheldon, Dan Brown, Alistair Maclean and even Erle Stanley Gardener (if he counts). There have been times when I have enjoyed reading them as well.
test #4: Coelho, Kahlil Gibran and Ayn Rand, yes. And Milan Kundera as well. But no, I don't start enunciating on philosophy at the drop of a hat!
test #5: Have some of Rushdie, Sen, Naipaul, Toni Morrison (have done my research on her works), Wole Soyinka, Gunter Grass and other Bookers and Nobel prize winners too. Have read some of the others, though don't have the books. Have also not read quite a lot that I possess. The percentage - don't really want to get into that :). Ehem... the books that I buy are sometimes "retirement" plans.

Yes, to Henry James; have read Auden can't really quote on the fly though.

Politics - not really much, though I have read Chomsky and Plato as well.

Humor - a lot from P G Wodehouse to Oscar Wilde. And yes to desi literature too - from the comprehensive two-volume Indian Women Writing in India to Telugu writers such as Chalam.

Yes, there is a whole lot of stuff I have on my bookshelf that I haven't necessarily read; but then there is a whole lot that I don't possess but have read. So, how does one do here on your rating scale?

BTW, would the complete collection of Asterisk and Calvin & Hobbes count? Also Tintin.

Jagan Mohan said...

The 'Rules/tips to Date a Nerd 101 and/or look snobbish' will hence forth have the first rule as follows [hattip:Veena] :

1. Pull out this list and hunt for SECOND HAND books at the local flea market (make sure the books are well thumped to look 'well-read' several times over). Marking all over with your illegible scratchings will do the trick too, but don't over do it. Strategically placed, on the borders (# should be ILLEGIBLE if you don't want to start a conversation on the context of some post-modernist sub-altern topic - yuck!).

2. Put them all over the book self, throw a few on the bed and one in the closet for that extra authentic effect.

3. Answer any philosophical question with a declaration that you are an ardent believer in Anarchy. Total Chaos created this universe and it should remain so. Blabber about entropy and so on. Will make you look good no matter whatever you say after that.

Veena said...

Red: Can hardly cite professional reasons for reading Dan Brown? C'mon.
As for SF, it depends on what kind of SF you are reading - genre by itself doesn't guarantee any respectability :)

Emma: Complete Asterix and Tintin? Yoi don't need anything else. We are friends for life now. :)

Jaganmohan: So nowadays people want to date nerds? What's the world coming to? :)

Neela said...


Just realized that I failed every single one of your tests.

1. Am going to acquire book on Visual basic and Java programming soon. I could keep it in my shoebox but the bookshelf is much more convenient.

2. Hv read all Rich Dads, Millionaire next door - give me an easy way to make money and I'll buy your book. Intelligent Investor is like those programs on Discovery Channel- nice but dense. Hv a couple of GMAT/GRE books that are marvellous coasters.

3. Have read all of the authors you mention. Worse, I like them. Thought Da Vinci code was an extremely entertaining read. Liked Sheldon's Master of the Game and If Tomorrow Comes. Think Grisham has sort of degenerated now, but was good in The Firm. Since we are at it have also read Harold Robbins, Wilbur Smith, Robin Cook, Henry Denker, Agatha Christie, Erich Segal, Danielle Steele, Scott Turow, Belva Plain, Judith Krantz, Jackie Collins, Shobhaa De and Jeffrey Archer.

4. I almost passed your Rand test, only I don't mind Gibran. Just think, like Aishwarya Rai, he's overexposed. You see him here, you see him there, you see him everywhere.

5. Booker Prize/Nobel Prize - Read them but don't remember half of them. Vaguely remember something Coetzee wrote. And The Innocent. got through a few pages of House for Mr. Biswas before I fell soundly asleep.

On the matter of sleep, also fell asleep reading Henry James but that is because it was a 7 a.m. flight. can I get half a point for watching the Merchant-ivory movies?

Poetry: Does The Daniel Jazz count?

O V Vijayan - I think I have this on my bookshelf - can't remember whether have read or not.

Guess you and I wouldn't be great friends. Pity. I could've learnt Plato, Chomsky and Shakespeare from you - I've always wanted to know the short versions.


Veena said...


Finally someone who seems to have gotten the point! You have no idea how glad I am to read your comments. :)


Neela said...


Such a rich vein of sarcasm (I hope?) I like! ;)). Maybe we CAN be friends, Chomsky and Auden, notwithstanding!


Neela said...


Mssrs Sheldon and Brown are EXACTLY in the same league as Crichton, MacLean, King & Clavell. You are seriously trying to convince us that Noble House is more than pulp? Or that Guns of Navarone is much better than If Tomorrow Comes?

But your "have the seagull book" is priceless. I forgive you.