Judging People By Their Book Covers

I am not proud to admit this, but I am a former book snob. Through my 20s and early 30s I openly judged people by the books they read— books I’d never even read myself. I wrote off entire genres with a wave of my bachelor’s degree. My addiction wasn’t made clear to me until I started working at the ultimate breeding ground for people of my ilk: a bookstore.

Pretty early on, I noticed a pattern in the regulars’ tastes. Tweens asked for the  bubblegum colors and racy plot lines of Manga. The stylish au pairs asked for the newest Oprah book because— I snidely presumed— they just wanted someone to tell them what to read. Disheveled college students demanded MBE books without bothering to lift their cell phones.

And then there was the Tuesday morning crowd.

They were the women with small dogs in their large purses who never needed to ask for the location of the pink and purple shelves of the Romance section.  When the doors opened at 9 am,  they performed like a ballet performance— executing perfect pliés over to the stack of shopping baskets,  bounding jetés to the wire mesh rack, and pirouetting while scooping up several new Harlequin books. I was always surprised when they left the final dance to me, scanning and slipping the thin books into a bag decorated with the bust of William Shakespeare.

One Tuesday morning, I said hello to a familiar member of the crowd. Her name was Jeanine; her chihuahua was Huey. Jeanine was pale with a curled-under bob. She always wore a long, cream trench coat. Her scarlet lipstick matched her fingernail polish perfectly. She reminded me of the woman that ran the bake sale at church when I was little. As I began ringing her up, I noticed the women on the cover of her books— all languishing in heather and the arms of kilted men.

“Wow, these must make some. . . interesting reading,” I said.

Jeanine politely acknowledged the edge in my comment. “My guilty pleasures. I’m a sucker for books about Scotland.” She smiled and blinked her long eyelashes.

“I thought those books were more about, you know, passions.” I slipped the first book in her bag.

“Well, there’s that. But there’s always descriptions of lochs and burns. My mom likes me to read those parts to her.” She placed her hands on the edge of the counter.

“Oh, your mom reads them too?”

“Kind of. She has Alzheimer’s, so I read them to her, but the words don’t really stick.” She wiggled her fingers and then laughed as if what she’d said was a punchline. “I think she just likes the interaction, you know? Means she doesn’t have to talk, and talking for her means getting anxious and I. . . I get to escape into them for a while.”

I gave her the total and handed her the bag. Jeanine walked away, thanking me over her shoulder. As the next customer placed a Charlaine Harris book in front of me, I silently vowed to never judge another person by their book cover again.

This is a response to Day 7 of this Book Challenge: my guilty pleasure book.



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I am a writer for an e-Learning course vendor near Chicago.

17 thoughts on “Judging People By Their Book Covers”

  1. Excellent post here and so true , our judgements are so wrong most of the time ; this post certainly shows the true meaning of the phrase ‘dont judge a book by the cover.’
    Kind Regards and happy days to you. Kathy

  2. I love this! While not a book snob (I read as much trash as the next teenage girl, so I can’t be judgey), I understand the impulse to be one, especially the deeper I got into my education. Now, I just love books all around.

  3. I’m a book voyeur. If I see anyone, anywhere holding a book, I crane my neck to figure out what they’re reading. I don’t know why I’m so curious. It’s a little embarrassing.

    1. I do that too! Especially on the El. I used to tell myself it was my job as a bookstore manager to know what people are reading. Six years later, I know I was just nosy.

  4. As someone who reads pretty much anything that holds still long enough, I’m delighted you’re no longer a book snob! What a terrific lesson to learn, and what a wonderful way to learn it.

  5. I think I’m kind of a book snob too. But kind of in reverse. I know I could stand to read books with more substance, but I’m kind of a sucker for humor and biography. 😉

  6. I have a Harlequin Romance. I’ve never read it but I had to buy it when I saw it at a used bookstore because I’m in it (it was called “Miss Dalrymple’s Virtue.”). Judge away! Seriously though, it’s so easy to jump to conclusions and so important not to. Love this reminder.

  7. My co-worker also worked in a bookstore and she still tells me stories about how she judged this way. Too funny. I have to share this post with her! She’ll get a kick out of it.

  8. I have found one of the few benefits of aging is my expanding tolerance for peoples’ tastes in almost anything (excluding of course things like child porn), and with that has come a lot more kindness with my own flaws and foibles. We’re all so much more than we seem on first inspection.

  9. I’m a book snob, too… and a music snob…. and a film snob. Hell, maybe I’m just a snob.

    I don’t really have guilty pleasures when it comes to books, although I did go through a period last year where I read a bunch of bizarro fiction. Bizarro fiction doesn’t have much nutritional value, so I’ll claim it as a guilty pleasure… although i didn’t really get much pleasure out of it.

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