I judge people by their books

Most people, if they’re honest, will admit they judge others for something, even if they aren’t “supposed” to. Whether it’s a particular kind of haircut, poor grammar, or collection of bumper stickers, we all have something that fills our heads with potentially false, though not necessarily baseless assumptions.

I judge people by their books – especially if they don’t have them. I’m that person you’ll find at house parties squatting by the living room bookshelf (because introducing myself and making small talk are not my spiritual gifts), looking for titles I’m familiar with, or titles that say something about the owner’s view of the world and personal identity.

Not too long ago I made a post on my Facebook page asking people to share a handful of titles that say something about their personalities. These were mine:


You may notice that most homes have a Bible, whether they are religious or not. I wonder if this is to say something about the cultural importance of faith: it’s one thing to not believe in it, but it’s essential to make people think that you do. Or maybe some families have heirloom Bibles. I’ve seen shelves containing heirloom classics and first editions, but in most cases, they are intended for display, not to actually be read.

Of course, I’m well aware that people will judge me for my books, too. I wholeheartedly welcome this; I have read every single book I own, and am prepared to justify owning a few that serve no purpose except to mindlessly entertain (we all have those – it’s okay). I won’t judge people for owning the entire Twilight series, but if those are the only books they own…well, then maybe a little.

I’m aware that some titles in my shelves seem a little contradictory. What assumptions can you make about a person who owns two books about women’s reproductive rights that completely oppose each other?


Truthfully, I enjoyed reading both kinds of books. I have agreements and disagreements with both, but I am a firm believer in being educated about both sides of an issue. Both books were helpful in eliminating ignorance about the values of each side. But I’m still somewhere in between.

And then there’s my collection of Jewish and Christian books, with shelves right on top of each other. I guess it’s safe to assume I’m just really into religion, or have a spiritual identity crisis (and both would be correct).


Then there are shelves of YA and Adult fiction titles, which could indicate I’m still an awkward teenage girl trapped in an adult’s body (that still looks like it belongs to a teenage girl). Or maybe it is evident that I write this genre, since there’s another shelf of books about writing both kinds of fiction.

Whatever assumptions people might make, it’s always good fodder for conversation.

But I must confess…when I see shelves filled with blockbuster “It Book” titles – think Gossip Girl, Divergent, or basically any book that is made into a TV show or movie – I get the impression that the owner isn’t really a devout reader, but likes to stay on top of what’s current. Which isn’t bad, but it doesn’t tell me this person loves reading for reading’s sake.

If a shelf has blockbuster titles with a smattering of classics like Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Great Gatsby, I wonder if this person wants to be seen as fun and intellectual, but those classic titles don’t fool me. We all read those in high school, otherwise they likely never would have been bought. And if the person’s name is scrawled on the inside, that’s a dead giveaway.

So I know I can’t be the only one who does this. What assumptions do YOU make about people based on their books (or other things)?


11 thoughts on “I judge people by their books

  1. I have a big shelf of books, and even more in boxes because I ran out of shelf space. Academic stuff, the classics, things I use for school are displayed rather prominently, while Eoin Colfer and my collection of Star Wars novels are tucked away deep in my closet — what does that say about me? Perhaps that my literary tastes changed over time? Or perhaps that I’m a pretentious pseudo-intellectual desperate to feel smart? But I dunno. Maybe I just like books. (I also have Ayn Rand sitting next to C. S. Lewis. Funny, ’cause they hated each other.)

    I read “Quiet” by Susan Cain. Good stuff. Your blog is good too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article. I love looking at other peoples’ book shelves too!! And it’s surprising and disappointing the number of people who barely have any books displayed in their homes at all. And when someone says they don’t like reading or they’re ‘too busy to read’ (but not too busy to watch TV), then I find that really sad.
    So yes, when someone has an eclectic display of books, they are great conversation starters!!


  3. My shelves have a lot of everything though I have a shelf devoted to Star Wars novels only (not including the artbooks). I have shelves with tons of research books (mythical studies, fan studies, gender studies, film studies, TV studies for the most part) It took me years before jumping into Harry Potter but I love the edition I have! I have books in French and English (I know some people think that reading French translation or watching movies dubbed in French shouldn’t be something I do being bilingual, but I don’t really care especially as watching things in French is sometimes of easier access, which can be a bonus).

    I also have Quiet by Susan Cain in my shelves! And I am hoping to get Bad Feminist and Jesus Feminist (I have several books I hope to get about womein and the Bible, especially but not only for a future book about Scully from the X-Files).

    At this point, what matters to me is to see books in a person’ place. I have been judged so much for being a huge Science Fiction fan and reading my Star Wars book (for example) in high school and even in cinema school, even when I said I could enjoy a big blockbuster as much as The double life of Veronique by Kieslowski. If I see books on someone’s shelves, I’m happy. It’s when I don’t see more like a dozen books (or even less, yes it happened) that I can be judgemental.


  4. That’s a great question. Invariably I’ve been the only person I know with enough books to fill a bookshelf. And I have filled two bookshelves to overflowing. I have books on so many topics – theology, languages, some fiction – I love those big visual reference books on various things that live on the Barnes & Noble bargain book tables. In fact, I haven’t been in a bookstore in at least a few years simply to avoid being irresistably tempted to spend more money on books.


  5. Hi Sarah Beth. Sorry I’ve been out of touch for a while. (Family illness). Really liked what you said here, especially what would one think if they saw your books on opposing sides of the abortion issue? I liked your explanation about wanting to be informed. I would have assumed something similar: you wanted to understand both points of view. I think that’s a good quality to have.
    What judgments would I make about people’s books? Not enough room here to answer, so I’ll blog it on Monday. See you there. God bless, or Jehovah bless. (same God, different language)


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