Bookshelves and what they tell others about ourselves

I used to have many physical books and bookshelves along with DVDs prominently displayed in my living room. A colleague mentioned their bookshelves recently and while there is a quote I like:

“We enjoy dreaming up a library that reflects every one of our interests and every one of our foibles—a library that, in its variety and complexity, fully reflects the reader we are.” Such a library is “an assembly of titles that, practically and symbolically, serves [to define us].”

Alberto Manguel (via Lucas Cherkewski)

Interestingly enough, that is in part why I gave away all my books and all my DVDs. While yes there was a practical reason to it, I never really re-read a book and the movies I had a copy on a hard drive. The real reason is that I was using it as a way of defining me to others.

At first blush there doesn’t seem to be anything sub-optimal with that, but I realized that for me, it was a vanity project. I wanted to appear erudite (smart, but like, for wankers), to show off my “depth”, how intellectual I was, how well read, how spiritual, how pragmatic, how emotionally mature etc etc.

And the problem with that, with culturing the image you want to project is that, for me anyway, it takes the focus away from being that deep, emotionally mature, intellectual person to giving that perception.

I don’t need folks to see my library, (I need to resist name dropping “smart” books here that would only serve the exact purpose as what the paragraph above talks about) for them to know who I am. They can figure that out relatively quickly.

I understand the appeal of signalling and it’s benefits. Yes it’s easier to know who you’ll have many things in common with. But does that actually grow my understanding of the world? Will it help me be exposed to new ideas and new opinions if I only interact with folks I think are like-minded.

I know that last paragraph is a bit of a jump, from the image we project with our bookshelves to getting out of our filter bubbles. But I think it’s related in that if we want to better understand the world, we need to let others better understand us, and that means not necessarily using simple signalling to categorize and simplify what is at it’s core an incredibly complex individual.

Edit: I realize this may seem like a hit piece against people who have bookshelves prominently displayed. That’s not my intention, if you have bookshelves that’s great, I just wanted to talk about why I no longer do, doesn’t mean I think you’re vain if you have bookshelves.

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