Columns

2005.12.07 Judge a book by its cover, land in a cesspool

on . Posted in Midnight Musings

By COLLEEN LEDDY

Oy. I am so tired learning life’s little lessons. Well, no, I take that back. They’re life’s big lessons, and maybe that’s why I’m so tired. Big lessons are hard to swallow. I’m almost 48. I figure by now I should be schooled in the ways of the world. I should be getting As in all the social graces. I’ve been around awhile to see what’s what in the world. But, here I am, a bumbling bumpkin, still learning. And the lesson I need to master pretty much boils down to this: don’t judge a book by its cover.

My boss, Liz, says, “That’s a no-no. They’re all wonderful.”

I am pretty wicked in this department, in the literal sense. Even though I work at the library, or maybe because I work at the library, I am always judging books by their covers. Intellectually, I know the work of fiction fronted by a dark and creepy image may be fabulous, but I can’t get past the cover. If it’s dark and creepy, it’s not going home with me.

Over the phone, I ask Liz if she would pull a few books with dark-colored covers so I can name some titles to illustrate my point. She calls me back with this assortment: “An Unpardonable Crime” by Andrew Taylor, “Killing Time” by Linda Howard, “Dead Eyes” by Stuart Woods, “St. Dale” by Sharyn McCrumb, “The Executioner’s Game” by Gary Hardwick.

“See,” I say, as she names them, “Evil! Evil! Death and killing!” I am only joking, but to me those dark covers, coupled with dark titles, indicate dark subject matter.

But book cover judging is not really where I’m scoring so low on life’s tests. I bomb when it comes to people. I’ve had some doozies lately. The most recent occurred just a couple of weeks ago when I was talking to the father of a fellow Berea student of Rozee’s. I’m not sure at which point I flubbed in our conversation which included such topics as religion, politics, and the workings of Berea College.

Maybe it was when I mentioned that Rozee and her best friend both have Republican boyfriends.

“I just don’t understand their attraction to Republicans,” I said.

“You know, I’m a Republican,” he said.

Never would have guessed. Hadn’t even occurred to me. And the reason why it didn’t? Outright stereotyping. He had mentioned that he doesn’t go to church. Without even giving it much thought, I formulated an opinion of him that didn’t include being a Republican. Don’t all Republicans go to church? How presumptuous of me! What a crazy assumption!

But I know I am not alone in this kind of thinking.

I’m reading “If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News From Small-Town Alaska” by Heather Lende. Appealing cover, excellent book. Heather is a reporter for a newspaper in Haines; she writes the obituaries and a social column. In one chapter of the book, she writes about Bill, a crotchety old geezer in her church.

Around here, we think we know a person’s politics by his appearance and habits. A long-haired journalist with a kayak on the Subaru is a liberal environmentalist. A 76-year-old retired air force sergeant who goes to church and eats eggs over easy, white toast, and bacon every day at the Bamboo Room—that’s our Bill—must be a right-wing conservative.

Guess again. His friend Albert said, “He thought Clinton could do no wrong, even in the middle of the sex scandal” and that President Bush “could do no right,” even after September 11....Just looking at Bill, you’d never guess he was such a liberal.

Why do we do this? How many times have we presumed to know anything about a person by the way they dress or what they eat or their view on one issue? Is it the biologist in us that makes us categorize people by trite characteristics? And how much are we missing when we do this?

Assumptions. Presumptuous. Is it any coincidence that ‘sump’ is smack dab in the middle of both those words?  And that one definition of sump is cesspool?

That’s the pit I’m headed for if I don’t study hard and pick up my grade soon.

   - Dec. 7, 2005

 

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