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.