Megan Daum’s recently run op-ed in the LA Times, alerted me to a new gadget. Kindle. Yet another ebook offering, with the difference being it’s wireless and you can also get 250 blogs on your gear. Daum’s article opens with something I’m very familiar with: checking out what people read in airports:
One of the many uses of air travel is the opportunity it provides to take a snapshot of the public’s reading tastes. Sure, bestseller lists rank what’s popular, but if you want to do more detailed market research — to know what kinds of people are reading what kinds of books, and how many pages into them they fall asleep — there is no better vantage point than the aisle of a jetliner. It is from there that my extremely scientific research has produced data suggesting the following: Readers of mass-market thrillers often wear Dockers and polo shirts bearing company logos; readers of books like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” can often be found in business class or first class (it works, folks!); and, almost without exception, there will be a young person in the last row traveling with nothing but a knapsack and reading Camus for the explicit purpose of striking up a conversation with a sexually desirable fellow passenger.
To add my own, middle-aged dyed blonde women traveling with young kids usually read self-help books about being a better lover, parent (divorce parents big!) or taking care of aging parents tops. According to my airline travels, young (under the age of 33ish) Asian females prefer to spend their time reading magazines about celebrities, unless it’s a book for school. Middle-aged black people tend to read book on Black history or self-help books on finances or entrepreneurship. Young white guys who look like they’re liberal arts majors will have a book with a “deep” subject, but will usually wind up falling asleep or playing a game. Young black guys who look like business majors usually read magazines on music or fashion.
What gets me is that what people read on the airplane doesn’t always translate to what they read at their vacation destination. Anyone who’s been to Vegas or any resort for a week sees that. That “serious” book read on the plane gives way to romance novels or something worse, like Dr. Phil or something.
But Daum’s point is that this Kindle thing will have an effect on how you judge people by the cover of their books. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m something of a book snob. If I see self-help book, I cringe inside. Internally, I call people who read Dr. Phil books for help names. If I see a person carrying a magazine about celebrities I won’t ask them for directions. If they ask me something I talk S-L-O-W, which I don’t mean to do, but it happens. I know that I get weird looks because my magazine reading are either about gardening, interior design or jewelry making.
Like other, more obvious objects of personal style, such as clothes and furniture, which have evolved from mere expressions of taste to markers of character, books provide the outside observer with clues as to what sort of person we are. And although these clues might be deceptive (who’s to say a Rhodes scholar can’t dip into a monster-truck magazine when he’s so inclined?), there’s no getting around the fact that, for many of us, we are what we read. Half the fun of going into a new friend’s home is surveying the contents of his or her bookshelves. It’s much more accessible than a diary — and often more revealing.
My books of choice are sci-fi or mystery, but I’ve also carried architecture, green building and design or gardening books on a plane. I think if I were a white guy, my books wouldn’t give people pause. Or maybe it’s because you rarely see black women reading at the airport that people stare. When you come to my house, you’d think that we don’t read that much because everything else is out in the garage. The books on the shelf are a good representation of who we are. There is sci-fi, gardening, architecture, ancient language books, books on Greek and Roman history and myth (useful as sci-fi references), and science books. I don’t know how to deal with people who don’t have books. I have a few friends like that and I find that I don’t really trust them. I mean, who doesn’t read? Maybe those people have always had Kindle and I just didn’t know. Hmmmm….
Daum mentions that Amazon sold out of Kindles while she was writing her article and put them on backorder. That sounds like a lot of people eager for an ebook. I think I’ll stick with my phone. I can access the entire internet over it, read ebooks, do spreadsheets, email, take pictures and listen to music. Granted the screen on my phone is like 1/6 the size of Kindle’s but I’ll also save $400.