Judging by the books

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I remember when my friend Dan first told me he loved Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors — ever. He quoted a passage from Cat’s Cradle, and I was sure we were soul mates. (We liked the same books; how couldn’t we be destined to be together?) In my mind’s eye, I could see us walking through Dresden and stopping by for some bokamaru, eternally united by Vonnegut’s literature.

As superficial as it may sound, I’m not the only one to judge people based on their reading preferences. According to a recent article in The New York Times, many people judge others and themselves based on their collections of favorite books. And, thanks to growing networking sites, it’s now easier to do so than ever.

With Facebook, we’re never more than one click away from finding out who else is obsessed with The Catcher in the Rye — or Goosebumps. Many a late-night Facebook stalker has looked at a friend’s favorite books on his or her profile to judge how well-read that person is. Listing The Da Vinci Code, for example, reads “poser,” while listing works by Voltaire or Baudelaire reads “pseudo-intellectual.”

Books are an easy way to evaluate someone’s personality. Literary interests can reveal one’s inclinations in politics, religion, and lifestyle. Online or in real life, having a literary commonality brings two people closer. I myself have started conversations at parties comparing book tastes, and consider myself a refined first-hand analyst of how to judge someone based on his or her favorite books.

When it comes to dating, book choices can even be deal-breakers. People often hold their breaths before revealing their top choices: If a book is too academic or literary, you’re deemed a fake; too low and you’re considered a fool.

This is true of Carnegie Mellon as well. A friend of mine recently commented to me, “Sharing favorite books doesn’t necessarily mean you’re compatible, but it sparks a conversation. It’s this shared liking that may lead to another date.”

Immediately judging someone based on literary tastes can be limiting, but in the cut-throat worlds of dating and online networking sites, a little judgment can go a long way.

Perhaps it is as Vonnegut says: We create “granfaloons,” or groups who claim to have a shared identity when their mutual associations are actually meaningless. But doing so isn’t necessarily bad. Why not go on a date with someone who’s shared the same journey of books? You already shared those few hundred pages, why not a night out?