You Are What You Read

is a quote from the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail. Is that true? Joe Fox (corporate big box bookseller) says that to Kathleen Kelly (independent bookstore owner) as they banter in this RomCom that is now historical fiction. [It describes the incipient impact of the internet.] The film was an adaptation of an earlier film (1940) The Shop Around the Corner. It is the “enemies-to-lovers” trope. (Which  happens to be my favorite.) The book Kelly is reading is Pride and Prejudice (1813). It’s an old story.

The novel shows the enemies-to-lover trope
Elizabeth Bennet in 1995 film adaption of P & P

Let’s get into it.

Can you tell a book by its cover?

Is the plot of Jane Austen’s classic novel. Moreover, a person by their cover? What they look like? How they present themselves? By extension, can you tell who a person is by the books they read?

the Book Leo is on Youtube. She's well worth a visit. Reads a lot and is quite smart.
The Book Leo

Recently I watched one of my favorite Book Tubers: (The Book Leo) talk about what it is to be “a reader”. Moreover, that young people today have assumed “reader” as an identity. Part of that identity is what books they read and display on their bookshelves. These bookshelves are either real, or located in online book communities. Such as Goodreads or Booktok.

Sadly, what seems to be happening is a lot of Readers are reading the same books. And they are not the classics, or other books of high quality. Instead they are  new genres. Such as Monster smut, Cozy fantasy, Magna, Paranormal romance, Magical realism, Urban fantasy, and so on. Books with colorful and provocative covers. The bookshelf even has a name: Rainbow. The Reader’s room, too, has an aesthetic, or look. It must have lighting of a particular style, candles, plants, postcards and posters on the wall, sometimes a world map, and of course cats. In addition the Reader drinks tea and coffee. Rarely alcohol. Alright.

But sometimes these ‘Readers’ don’t have real books or bookshelves. Everything is virtual [Internet based.] They buy or rent ‘books’ via their phone, tablet, or computer.

Below is one of my virtual bookshelves (Favorites) on the Goodreads website. In some ways, I resemble the ‘Reader’.

Are we what we read?
My Goodreads “Favorites’ bookshelf. 90 in all

The difference between myself and the ‘Reader’ is – all these books are real. They are on real bookshelves in my apartment, or my garage.


Okay, we have a lot in common regarding aesthetics; but not with who we are. If
In-real-life bookshelf in my apartment

I AM Here

in real life. And so are my books. Furthermore, yes, I am who I am partly, not wholly, because of what I’ve read. What you read matters.


seems to be the theme, or big idea, of the Readers’ books’. Judging by the genres and the named bookshelves. I can’t be certain because I’ve not read any of them.

I get escape. I use whiskey and move a lot. Indeed, I’ve been named “Drinking Writer Man”. However, I’m more than that. I, too, am a reader. In addition, a thinker. So I might be a reader, writer, thinker, drinker. Now.

But I’m old (seventy-three) and retired. I’ve been many different ‘things‘ in my life. People are often defined but what they do. If all you do is read? Sure, reader fits. Taking ‘Reader’ as your identity works. Because that is what you do.

However, can you make a living reading? Today, seems like some are. Like The Book Leo. I like that idea – of people being able to make a living doing what they love. But, it can also be a pipe dream. An escape. Moreover an unrealistic fantasy. A fantasy wherein one lives in a dream world at the cost and expense of others.[Society in general.]

In Conclusion

I’d say the answer is a qualified yes. You are what you read. Therefore, read well. Meaning make your reading matter.

I shelve my books sans jackets. It's an aesthetic. But I save the covers and make poster collages of them.
Book covers Poster of some of my favorites.

Don’t read only for escape, but also to learn about the real world – the world we live in. It’s a chaotic, hostile, dangerous world. Yet full of beauty and awe, too.

Eat, drink, and be merry. But also be tough and strong; and kind and gentle.

Who are you?

Are you reading now? What books are on your Favorite bookshelf?

Do you agree?

What books, if any, have influenced who you are?

Most of these books have been 'lost' or I gave away. I still have a few of them.
My book list, 1971


24 thoughts on “You Are What You Read

  1. Barnes and Noble, with a new CEO, has decided to imitate the Indie Book shop. They’re transitioning away from the huge, big box store to a smaller, personality driven store – letting the individual owner dictate the style and books.

  2. One more comment: I recently was called for Jury Duty. We had to fill out a questionnaire for the lawyers. One of the questions was: What are your favorite books?
    So the justice/legal system here in Colorado thinks what you read matters, too.

    1. Lucky you. In Idaho anyone over the age of sixty-five (65) is exempt from jury duty. Too old, too slow, too stupid for jury duty. No need to worry, Idaho just passed a law allowing execution by firing squad. This is just in case drugs used to euthanize prisoners is unavailable or becomes too expensive.

      A jury of your peers in America is a group of individuals who are psychologically profiled……. What a country!

      1. “A jury of your peers in America is a group of individuals who are psychologically profiled……. What a country!
        Indeed! But what’s the alternative? Lawyers are, for the most part, the smartest of people, because they have to make an argument to persuade other people (all 12 of them) that their client was harmed, or is innocent. So they want persuadable people – not really smart, independent thinkers.
        Books can tell you A LOT about a person. Maybe more than any other single thing? They also asked about movies & TV shows. The whole jury thing is almost farcical.
        Here in Colorado the age is 75, because, as you know Colorado folk age better than folk in Idaho. 😉

  3. One of my all-time favorite quotes: “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I would guess that for long-time readers, those who’ve been reading from an early age, Emerson’s quote definitely applies. Most of my science and technical education came from books. Some of my earliest science education and interest came from science fiction. There is also that well-written fiction introduces one to a much larger group of fellow humans than one normally meets IRL.

    Like you, I own a lot of physical books. They’re usually most of the boxes I have to pack when I move. But I’m pretty sold on electronic ones now. Love the ability to search the text, highlight interesting bits, and carry them everywhere I go (on my phone). Electronic library books are pretty awesome, too.

    FWIW, I’m reading a pretty interesting book: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind I’ll post about it at some point.

  4. I’m looking forward to your post on SAPIENS. I AGREE, the ability to jump to a point in a book is useful. But sometimes becomes time consuming.
    I like walking into a person’s home and checking out their bookshelf. And also their music library.
    And then … 😉

    1. (Sorry, didn’t notice this one.) Yeah, I learned long ago that dating a woman with no books in her home probably wasn’t going to work out.

      The more I read of Sapiens the less impressed with the author I am, but the first third or so of the book offers some good food for thought (mostly about the spread of homo sapiens compared to other species of homo and about the Agricultural Revolution).

      What did you mean by ebooks being time consuming?

      1. Well say I recall an author saying something about a subject, or even a phrase and I want to go back to it so as to get it right? I type in the keyword or words and back comes every where in the text it appears beginning from the preface. There might be 50 instances. I have to pursue them till I find what I’m looking for.
        When I read a book I highlight, write in the margins, and at the top of the page- keywords, subjects, and themes. I can find what I’m looking for in seconds by just fanning the pages.
        Just the way I work. Or, can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

      2. Okay, I see what you’re saying. If one does annotate their books as you describe, that certainly makes it easier to find relevant parts. (So long as one owns the books. Library books, not so much!)

        FWIW, a new trick for the old dog, every electronic reader I’ve used (Apple, Kindle, Libby) has a highlighting feature (usually in multiple colors) as well as a bookmarking feature that tags an entire page. One can also add a note to one’s highlights. In all cases, one can easily list the highlights and bookmarks (and in some cases even export them). Pretty much the same thing you’re doing with paper books.

  5. Still another comment. I just had occasion to revisit David Foster Wallace’s utterance that books are written and read to combat loneliness. It is a solitary act. But now, more than ever, we get to talk about them. And you don’t even have to leave your home!

  6. Intriguing and thought-provoking post as usual, brother of mine. Made me think of a list of books to read I compiled in college from Ken Kesey’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It kept me going for quite a while: included Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, a couple Herman Hesse books, I think Fountainhead by Ayn Rand… It would be interesting to see if I could find the list and see how many I actually did read. Oh, I’m sure Kerouac’s On the Road was in there, and probably Catch 22 by Joseph Heller…Kesey’s other books, Cuckoo’s Nest & River Runs Through It… Richard Bratigan… one more is lingering just out of reach… book about an irreverent modern Tom Sawyer-type… why can’t I think of it? The kid had a potty mouth… makes me think of Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up… ah well. This has been fun. Thanks for the stimulus.

    1. We read many of the same books back in the 70’s. I just added a pic of my book list from 1971. I read a lot living in the canyon.
      Many wildlife books, history of the West and the world. I still have a few of them, wow! 50+ years old.
      What 20 somethings are reading today, the self identified ‘Reader’, IDK troubling?

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