Humour: The five kinds of book lovers
I’m nervous already, wondering how the readers of this piece will respond to being categorised. Nervous, too, to see where I land up in this little puzzle – among pieces I like, or despise? But then writing, like reading, is nothing if not an adventure. So here I go, with my black marker, stuffing unsuspecting book lovers into labelled cartons. I suspect you, like me, will be straddling different boxes unclassifiably, like a genre-bending bestseller.
The courtly lover
Plagiarism alert: I’ve pinched this phrase from Anne Fadiman’s excellent essay, Never Do That to A Book, first published in 1995. In it, she talks about the kind of book lover who serenades a book, so to speak, treating it with a quality of respect and regard that one last encountered in an Arthurian knight. The ones for whom markings in a book are sacrilege; water-rings an abomination;
dog-ears unimaginable. They either protect their books behind glass cases or put so much thought into their display, that to an outsider, even touching them becomes an act of transgression. They’re not averse to covering books, or finding hard-to-reach places to store them. In one and only one case, have I come across the pages of displayed books being taped up, so they wouldn’t flap in a breeze coming through the window. Brrrr.
The carnal lover
Another one christened by Fadiman. This is the kind that thinks nothing of leaving haldi stains on a cookbook, cigarette ash on poetry or cookie crumbs in a romance. They freely fold pages and leave illegible squiggles all over margins. Breaking the imaginary walls between books and real life, this category of reader routinely uses a hardback as a coaster, and a voluminous paperback as a laptop stand. When books return from parks or beaches, it is often with telltale signs like grimy covers or damp pages. This kind of reader loves second-hand books with a passion – alternately smelling musty pages and popping allergy meds on a particularly bookish weekend.
The brazen borrower
A much feared and loathed category of reader, this one lurks around bookshelves with a rare mix of audacity and charm. She will throw casual glances at your bookshelf, making interesting conversation about its contents. Before you know it, you’ve handed over four titles to her, saying such preposterous things as: “Take your time, I’ve already read them all.” You will spend the week wondering what possessed you to part with your cherished anthology of noir fiction and early history of rock music, convincing yourself that pleasure and wisdom ought to be shared. You will longingly look at the empty spaces where the books once stood, but move on with your life in a matter of days. She will be back for more, with or without the previous loot.
The passionate collector
Nothing delights this category of reader more than a sense of order. Their fantasies consist of completing a series on a shelf, or a particularly tricky feat of display. On their immaculate walls, you see colour-coded classics and first editions, rare finds and eclectic favourites, all catalogued impeccably. It’s not unusual to find objets d’art around the house of this aesthetic species, from globes and magnifying glasses to bookmarks and figurines. Conversation invariably revolves around all the fuss around books rather than the books themselves. And no, this exalted species does not borrow or lend.
The digital bookster
This kind of book lover is perfectly synced with the times, happy to click an arty picture for social media feeds while turning to an e-book when it actually comes down to reading. This amphibious book lover switches from mode to mode, compulsively posting reviews on platforms while reaching out to beloved authors with enviable enterprise. Finding community among online readers, this species has no patience for the paper vs pixel debate. Nor does it bother with guilt, when it comes to books bought, but not read: there’s always something to talk about, from the cover to the blurb.
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From HT Brunch, August 2, 2020
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