Books & The Perceptions They Bring – Does It Concern You?

It goes without saying that perceptions mean a lot in our culture, especially today.  Who we hang out with, what we do, say, etc.  Some people have said perception is reality.  Now, I know I’ve talked about perceptions before, especially in my post, “Does Reading Marx Make One A Marxist,” but I especially got around to thinking about it when I wrote in one of my previous posts, “A Quick Change of Pace,” that I was going to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice after my reading of Capital, Volume I.

Now, I’m not one to be overly concerned with perceptions with what one is reading; however, I know others are concerned about it, at least once or twice.  I know I have been at one time or another.  But it got me to thinking, are there perceptions of people if they read books that most people of their sex, ethnic background wouldn’t normally read?

I would like to think the answer to that question is no, but I’d simply be fooling myself.  Let’s take for example men reading certain authors, such as Bronte or Austen.  Do these seem like the types of authors that you see ordinary men reading?  Sure, you’ve seen men reading Austen novels, such as in the movie “The Jane Austen Bookclub,” but something tells me it isn’t that popular with men.

I’ve been thinking about reading Gone With the Wind for quite some time now.  Many years ago, I was definitely concerned with the perception and questions it would generate if I showed up, either on the commuter train, or to work reading Mitchell’s masterpiece.  By doing a quick skimming of reviews on Goodreads, I don’t see too many men have written reviews about it.  And there are many other examples of books I could think of, where I may have been uncomfortable at one point and time being seen reading.

To answer my own question, and it must come with maturity, I’m very comfortable now with what others think, and their perceptions, regarding what I read these days.  That’s why I don’t have any qualms with showing up with works by Marx, Austen, Mitchell, and yes, even Bronte.  🙂

But I also think that what you’re reading does tell other people about the type of person you are, and how open your mind is to different things, topics, and authors.  Especially if those people see you everyday.  Instead of forming the usual stereotypes, people should see individuals as well-rounded read people, or so I would like to think.  In most cases, I’ll just give a nod or a smile, if I get the interesting look from someone on the train ride to work, or in the cafeteria at work, simply knowing I’m not the one missing out on a great read.

Do you worry about perceptions with what you read?  Do you form perceptions of others?  I’d love to discuss it with you!


About Jeremy

Husband, book lover, Civil War Buff. If I could read for a living I would, but unfortunately, it doesn't pay the bills!

15 Responses to “Books & The Perceptions They Bring – Does It Concern You?”

  1. Unless you’re reading porn or something, I wouldn’t worry about what other people think. Seriously, if I saw a guy out in public reading Gone with the Wind, I might think he’s reading it for a class, for a girlfriend, or that he’s romantic. None of that is bad!

    • Nah, no porn, plus, my wife would seriously harm me if I was! 🙂 I know my wife was quite thrilled when I read Emma a couple of summers ago. I also know that she’s really looking forward to me reading Pride and Prejudice too!

  2. I’m with Lisa. I don’t think you need to worry, not that it sounds like you are. 🙂 I’m not going to lie, though, I don’t know if I’d want to be caught reading Bronte or Austen. Of course, I’d rather be caught with them than with a James Patterson! Oh, no! 😉

    • Generally speaking, I don’t, but I definitely thought it was something good to discuss! 🙂 One of the reasons why I’m going to read Pride and Prejudice this year is that it’s one of my wife’s favorite books. I’m mainly curious as to why she thinks so, so I’m going to sit down and read it. It should make for an interesting discussion between the two of us.

      I’ll have to take your word on James Patterson, I haven’t had the, ahem, privilege of reading any of his works yet. 😉

  3. Sadly, yes, I worry about what others think of me. I don’t like to recommend books that have lots of violence or profanity despite being amazing books just because I am a children’s librarian; I am reluctant to do this.

    Here is my Sunday Salon post: I hope you will stop by and say hello.

    • Deb, I definitely understand your comment about books with plenty of violence and profanity. I try to keep those at a minimum if possible. 🙂

      On a personal level, it took me quite some time to get over what others thought of me. Part of that comes from being a military brat and moving every few years. It took me until my junior year of high school to get over it and try to make the best of things. 🙂

  4. In a recent lit class, we were supposed to do an essay on a piece of literature we’d read previously. I wanted to do mine on Gone With the Wind (the Pulitzer winner of 1936!), and my professor (a man) said I couldn’t, because he’d never read it. I asked how it was possible a literature professor had never read Gone With the Wind, and he chuckled and looked at the only male student in the class and said, ‘Uh, ’cause I’m a guy?’

    I was floored. It seems a woman can read anything a man might read, but a man scoffs at work a woman might read. The belief still seems to prevalently be that men write fiction, and women write women’s fiction.

    Why are issues brought to literature by men ‘human issues,’ while issues brought to literature by women ‘women’s issues.’ Are they not all ‘human issues’?

    My current boss (an English professor) turns up his nose at every female author I list as a favorite (Austen, Mitchell, the Brontes). I don’t understand why? Yet, I have to think it all comes down to the history of what was once considered quality work — ie. work written by men. A literary glass ceiling? Yes, definitely. It’s almost as if a few women have been allowed into the canon, but it’s still not considered serious reading, to read them.

    • Holy smokes, Jillian! That’s really messed up that the prof wouldn’t let you write the essay on that topic. I never had a professor tell me I couldn’t write a particular essay. I also can’t believe he said that to you in front of the class. Too bad, for him, because he could’ve had the opportunity to read the book! And you know how professors are always saying we need to write as if they don’t know anything, guess that would’ve truly been the case there! 😀

      Personally, I don’t think men should be intimidated by reading books by women authors. I’ve read them before, not nearly as many classics as I should, but I’ve read women authors before, and have found most of them to be quite good!

      I found Emma to be very well written, and of high quality, even though I found some parts to be quite chatty. But that was really my only complaint about the book, I found it to be funny, entertaining, and really quite good. Much better than I was expecting to be perfectly honest.

      I’m definitely going to commit myself to reading more women authors, they are serious authors, just like men, and men shouldn’t turn their noses up on them.

      • I’m going to be reading Showalter’s studies about American/British women writers from the beginning to the present, soon. I’m very curious about the history, and revolution, of writers like Austen.

  5. If I were too ashamed to let see somebody see I was reading a particular book, it would probably not be worth my time to read it in the first place. If I want to read something I don’t care what other people think. I think what we’re reading is often a great conversation starter. I wouldn’t judge somebody else because of what they’re reading, but I might try to engage them in conversation about it.

    As far as Jillian’s boss or her past professor, I wonder how they would feel about one of my favorite authors–Flannery O’Connor.

    Tossing It Out

    • That’s so very true Lee! Approaching a person is sometimes the best way to engage in a conversation, especially if it’s book related! 🙂

  6. I understand if a guy was concerned with how people perceive him if he was reading Danielle Steel in public or something. If he’s reading established classics like Austen, Mitchell, then I don’t see what a big deal is.

    • Good point Andrea! And you’re right, as a guy I would definitely be concerned seeing another guy reading Danielle Steele novels in public. 🙂

  7. Unfortunately, this is the world that we live in. People judge people at first glance and most tend to stand by those perceptions. I stopped caring what people thought about what I read or write a long time ago; personally I don’t think it’s worth the time worrying about such things. For example, one of my favorite books is on the band list Catcher in the Rye. Not to mention that in the little free time that I have I write poetry. Although this has become more expectable for men to write, there are still some people that think that men should not write poetry. But, it’s like love; you cannot help the things that you love you just love them. My theory, just do what you enjoy/love and don’t worry about what other people think; let them worry about those stupid little things.


  1. A thought: on reading women « A Room of One's Own - March 7, 2011

    […] post was originally a comment I left at Jeremy’s blog, in response to a question he posed Sunday about books and the perceptions they […]

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