Developing My Book Identity with LibraryThing

I’ve got my books cataloged into LibraryThing and I’m now having big fun playing with my collection.  The collection, 706 books, is starting to take on an identity as I tag the books into subject categories.  And I do mean, an identity, like a personal identity, because my library is public, and I’m getting hung up about its appearance.  For itself, and for how it represents me.

It’s book vanity I know.  I had a few books I was too embarrassed to put in, and I found I didn’t want to list my wife’s books because they weren’t part of my self-image.  And I’m thinking about culling some books because they just aren’t me.  But as I tag books into categories I realize those topics are the ones I’ve been fixated on my whole life.  Just how many people like to collect biographies of Jack Kerouac, Wyatt Earp, Bob Dylan and Philip K. Dick? 

Back in the 60s, they had a saying, “You are what you eat.”  Well, I say, “You are what you read.”

The LibraryThing collection represents my physical collection of books, but its also a snapshot of my lifelong personal interests.  Since I own books on subjects I’m no longer interested in, I’m thinking I should cull them from my collection.  There’s two conflicting desires here, (or sins).  The first could be called book gluttony, and the second, book pride.  Do I want to own a lot of books, or do I want to own the books that best paints a clear picture of who I am? 

LibraryThing is a very flexible database, and I could use it’s Collections feature to define more than books I own, like books I hope to read, books I want to buy, or books I’ve read but no longer own.  I could even create a collection “Books That Define Me” and list books I own and don’t own.  I could also create a collection called “It Ain’t Me Books” for my guilty pleasures.

The more I play with LibraryThing the more I realize how many ways I can slice and dice my book collection.  I sit in front of the LibraryThing page, press buttons and links, and make different piles of books to contemplate.  I love using it in cover image mode.  LibraryThing lets you select different size graphics for the covers, and I like the three row size.  It annoys me to see books with bad cover scans, or bummer of bummers, no covers at all. Again, I think this is a vanity thing.  I’ve gotten all hung up on having the same cover as the book I own, but some books I own don’t have dust jackets.  Should I show them with jackets when I don’t own them?  Some books have multiple dust jackets to choose from, would it be unethical to use a cover that I like better than the one I own?  One I’d like to see in cover view better, and one I’d like other people to see. 

Hell, you can judge a book by its cover!!!  And I want you to judge my books by their covers.

Some of my oldest books may never had had dust jackets.  I’ve never even seen photos of their dust jackets.  I’ve thought about creating covers for them with Photoshop.  Isn’t that weird?  I hate seeing the naked books in cover view mode.  LibraryThing offers a variety of generic book covers to use, but I don’t like using them.  I care more about how my books look than how I look.

So far I’ve been pretty honest and listed all but a couple books I own.  I won’t name the lame books I’m too embarrassed to list, but I probably should, just to truly reflect my honest book personality.  And I guess I should just scan my books without dust jackets to show what they really look like.  And I might allow myself to scan the book covers I have when my copies are better than the cover art within LibraryThing.  If LibraryThing was for book collectors, we’d have to catalog exact editions and photograph the specific books I own, but LibraryThing isn’t that exact.

I do wonder if the next time I’m at a bookstore if I’ll buy a book because it’ll make my book personality appear smarter, or because its cover will make it look more beautiful.  Vanity, all is book vanity.

JWH 2/16/10

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