Friday, May 2, 2008

You are not your bookcase

Megan Hustad at Salon writes about how we over-rely on media in online profiles. To paraphrase the line from High Fidelity, it's what you like, not what you are like. The issue was also visited last month by the New York Times (along with a good discussion at Feministe.

I'm certainly guilty of this. My OKCupid profile is still mostly a list of media, and I'll certainly ogle someone's bookshelves in person - while acknowledging that they're not always representative. (Mine certainly aren't; for a bookworm I don't actually *buy* a lot of books these days. The Books application on my Facebook profile is a much better sample.)

And I believe there *is* something to it - not that tastes have to overlap, but that because media is important to me, if someone appears to particularly avoid reading any SF, for example, that's gonna put a strain on things.

But I think the panic in Hustad's article is a bit overblown:

We're also keeping our distance from a whole array of cultural output because we think it sends the wrong message about who we are and what we want to be.

In Hustad's "pretentious literary circles," perhaps. Personally, if I'm scanning someone's bookshelf and I don't see any sort of "guilty pleasure" reading, I'm going to assume that either (a) it's "fake," assembled to impress guests rather than hold the books they actually read, or (b) they really don't have all that much in common with me.

Apparently the secret shame of most bibliophiles in Husted's social circle is self-help; she gives several accounts of people hiding self-help books as if they were porn. I'm not sure if this is because, as Hustad implies, they're shamefully lowbrow, or simply because it's seen as broadcasting one's flaws. (I don't have much in the way of self-help books, but that's less because I don't find the concepts interesting and more because Internet forums scratch that particular itch.)

Of course, I'm not writing articles for trendy Internet magazines, so I don't have too much at stake when it comes to people evaluating my tastes.

EDIT: Apparently Megan Hustad has published a self-help book targeted at the literary set. Color me disappointed that this was never actually acknowledged in the article.

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