Monday, October 24, 2005

Vanity book purchases?

I am not British, as this recent discussion on pants clearly demonstrates (do not miss the readers' comments), but The Guardian is one of my daily stops in the blogosphere because I love quirky book articles like the one they published this morning:

Books are the new snobbery, according to a survey today. Social competitiveness about which titles we read has become one of the new mass forces of the era and only middle-aged people are relatively free of it.

Driven partly by pressure from incessant literary prize shortlists, more than one in three consumers in London and the south-east admit having bought a book "solely to look intelligent", the YouGov survey says.

It finds one in every eight young people confessing to choosing a book "simply to be seen with the latest shortlisted title". This herd instinct dwindles to affect only one in 20 over-50 year-olds.

As a rule, middle-aged romance writers don't bother trying to impress the impressionable with their reading lists, which frees us to read the books we like rather than the ones we "should" like. We're also free to laugh at the books the rest of you slap onto the counter at Barnes and Noble when you think somebody might be looking.

So. Who's gutsy enough to admit having bought a book to make yourself look cool? Maybe you did it just last week or maybe it was way back in your college days, but tell us, tell us. Have you ever tried to interest girls (or guys) by carrying around a slim volume of verse that you never actually read? Did you try to look smarter by leaving Hawking's A Brief History of Time on your coffee table when you had friends over?

Don't worry; it's not like your confession is going to be splashed all over the internet. This blog doesn't have nearly as large a readership as I like to pretend. But if you're still worried, feel free to post anonymously.


Chris said...

I bought Tough Guys Don't Dance by Norman Mailer in '85 because I thought, "since you can't dance, maybe you can persuade people it's because you're a tough guy."

I never finished the book and haven't tried to persuade people I'm a tough guy since.

(Don't ask why I bought the Apple PowerBook way is it because I wanted people to think I was a cool writer.)

--Chris (dFm)

Ric said...

I sheepishly admit to having purchased The Prophet in college to attract sensitive female types.

Worked, too.

Brenda Coulter said...

Sorry, Chris, but I'm just not buying that disclaimer about the PowerBook.

Ric, how very practical of you. Other guys waste money on flashy cars and guitar lessons in their efforts to get chicks. You found success by dropping a few bucks on Kahlil Gibran.

Dude, I think you ought to write a how-to book. ;-)

Julie said...

Never bought a book to be seen with it, but I have hidden books under my bed, in my backpack, or in a rarely-opened drawer in order to not be seen with them. And I cheerfully allowed my husband to buy me a laser printer, just because having it in my office makes me feel like a Serious Writer. I think I've printed a total of four pages in as many weeks.

Kristi said...

And here I thought no one would ever call me on this. Okay, I did it. I did, and more than once.

You've shamed me into answering that I bought Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber because all my friends were raving about it a couple years back. Oh the horror of actually having to read it. Then, in high school, there was the copy of Jack Keruoac's Road book that I actually had to dog-ear myself because I couldn't bring myself to read it. I had a huge crush on the football quarterback (who didn't?) and it's all he talked about. And in elementary school, I bought all the Ramona and Fudge books just because my friends had them.
And then, a couple of weeks ago...Nevermind, confession isn't nearly as good for the soul as I thought it was...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

This is the one thing I can emphatically, unequivocally declare that I have not done! At my age, I could give utencil what anyone thinks about what I'm reading. And when I was were way ahead in my neighborhood if you could read, let alone carry a book.

Although I was one of the girls who would be smitten by a guy carrying Kahlil Gibran or Rod McKuen!

Julie said...

Back in high school I remember carrying books that were assigned reading, just to make teachers think I was actually reading them. Some I read, some I didn't. Canterbury Tales, I read more than the assignment, but less than the whole book. Siddhartha I couldn't bring myself to finish, but I carried it faithfully for at least two months.

Marianne McA said...

No - but just as evil, I'm hosting our bible study group tomorrow and have edited my living room bookshelves accordingly. I had to edit: there was a clear health and safety risk - a plummeting copy of 'Jonathan Strange' could easily kill an unwary mummy. Still, I didn't have to leave my copy of Pinter's plays (mine in the sense that my brother studied it for his degree course) impressively on the bottom shelf, while camouflaging my (mine in the sense that I bought, read & enjoyed them) Julia Quinn's with a row of pencil pots.

jessiegirl said...

I'll admit to having bought books just because they were the "in" books to be reading. I dont carry them around anywhere but they i get to say, "oh yeah, i have that. it's on my to be read list." Usually i'll get around to it. If i dont then i am comforted by the fact that everyone has moved on to the next new book.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I admit (I can't believe I'm admitting this even with the anonymous tagged firmly to my post...) that a few years ago, when Oprah's book club first started, (Remember how she would have some of the readers come eat dinner with her and the author?) I read a few of her 'chosen books,' hoping to be inspired enough to get invited to dinner. I read "She's Come Undone," "Breath, Eyes, Memory," and White Oleander. Then I read a bunch of Toni Morrison books, too.

I learned a valuable lesson from those forays into literary novel-land... mostly that they just aren't my cup 'o tea... Sadly, I had to let go of my dreams of a free dinner with Oprah (since the books she chose didn't change my life, just irritated the life out of me... what's with the no happy ending thing, anyway?)

I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'll never be on her book list as an author, either.
And I'm thinking maybe that's not such a bad thing, but Oh, to lose the dream (sheds tear onto the keyboard... okay, not really, but there you go ;-)


pacatrue said...

I don't remember buying any books to impress others, though I might have re-arranged what I did have strategically on the bookshelves. I will confess, however, to buying a book to impress myself. I'm always buying books to improve myself - for me that's something like a Calculus textbook - that I never get around to reading.

Nienke Hinton said...

This might explain my obsession with buying books on how to write.

Brenda Coulter said...

All these confessions are starting to make me feel like a psychoanalyst.

Would you all like to tell me about your mothers now?