I had a “gotcha” moment this past week. I was reading a review of a new book by Lauren Leto titled Judging a Book by Its Lover in which the reviewer mentions the author’s lament of the advent of e-readers as thwarting the ability to “cover-snoop.” I realized there is a name for what I have done for most of my life. In the review, this seemed to be connected to assessing romantic prospects. I’m happily married, thank you, but I still stand convicted of this though not for romantic reasons.
I mentioned this to my son and he said, “that’s creepy, Dad!” If that’s so, then I am guilty as charged of creepy-hood. But here’s what it comes down to–I am a bibliophile and a book I haven’t seen before in someone’s hands is something like raw meat to a dog. It’s actually not so much about the person as the book–as callous as that sounds. Now, if it is a romance novel, or some arcane technical book, that’s all she wrote as far as my interest. And I don’t go up to total strangers and start talking with them about their books.
There are times when I’ve struck up a conversation with seat mates on a plane or similar contexts asking “what are you reading?” if they seem disposed to conversation. If they are they usually tell you more than the title. I’ve been asked this as well, and have had some fascinating conversations. Creepy-hood is when it is clear that the book is their shield from conversation and you intrude.
The other place I cover-snoop is when I see books lying around in a friend’s homes or on their book shelves. Again, some is just curiosity about books. Beyond that though, cover-snooping is a way I learn about what interests my friends and what interests we might have in common or even what books we’ve both read.
Of course, now we can do this electronically on Goodreads, which even has a heuristic that allows you to see what books both you and your friends have read. I suppose the creepiness of this is removed by the fact that when we sign up for these things and accept friends we invite people not only to cover-snoop our books but to read whatever thoughts we care to share about them.
My defense of cover-snooping is that all of us notice things about the people that are shaped by our age, gender, race, and a variety of other factors. Glancing around the library where I’m writing this post I notice the t-shirts people are wearing, the types of computers they are using, and even some of the books they are carrying. Creepy is staring or otherwise crossing social boundaries and assuming a familiarity we don’t have.
So I don’t lament e-readers. I can still always ask “what are you reading?” in the appropriate contexts. And if they are a bibliophile, they won’t mind talking about their books and learning about mine because chances are they will have cover-snooped me as well!
So, what do you think about cover-snooping? Do you cover-snoop? Or do you agree with my son and think it is creepy?