18 February 2012

You can't judge a book by its cover. Oh, yes you can!

Many people who commute while away the interminable journey to and from work by reading.  Whether it's the daily newspaper or a paperback, most travellers have their noses stuck in a book.  Those not so literate, prefer the loud noises (I refuse to use the word 'music') emanating from their MP3s or perhaps a game of Solitaire or Pacman on their smartphones.  But this is material for another post.  I shall restrict myself today to readers.

I've noticed a growing number of book readers have started to cover their reading material either with a sheet of plain paper or one of these fancy fabric book covers, complete with ribbon bookmark.  Ostensibly, these serve to protect books as they get shoved into briefcases or pushed next to the lunchtime sandwiches in a rucksack.  But there is another reason why people cover their books: no one else can see the title of the book you are reading.  The first time I saw a covered book on the train, I assumed its owner was simply a bibliophile who didn't want to damage his book in transit.  After a few more sightings, however, I figured that readers didn't want others to know what they were reading.  The books covered looked like library books - grubby and dog-eared.  But why?  Were they ashamed of their reading matter?  Was it something smutty?  Radical?  Puerile?  A bodice-ripper?  

If you're anything like me, you can't help judging someone by the kinds of books he chooses.  You visit someone at their home or office and are shown into a room with a bookcase.  What is the first thing you do?  You walk over to examine the spines and draw immediate conclusions about their owner.  When you see that smart business lady/commuter engrossed in her Harry Potter paperback, then you very quickly revise your first impressions downwards.  She does well to cover her book.

I also read while travelling.  The frequent delays and disruptions on public transport these days mean I get through more reading while on the go than when at home!  Much to my surprise, I found myself covering my books as well.  I wasn't reading anything that I could be ashamed of - it was most likely something arcane and in English, and a bit of a challenge for my fellow German co-travellers (a bit of a challenge for me, too, now that I think of it).  I thought about why I had done this and thought perhaps I had been unfair and a tad hypocritical about the book-coverers I mentioned earlier.  I came to the conclusion that I cover my books in public because, quite frankly, it's none of their business to know what I'm reading.   With friends and acquaintances one can be quite open about literary preferences, but not with strangers on the station platform.  Maybe book choices fall into the same category as religion, politics and salaries; they are taboo subjects to be avoided.

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.