Music and Other Musings

Judging a Man by the Cover of his Book

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but surely one can also derive that neither must one judge a man by his book. For what conclusions, truly, can you draw about a man based on the specific book on his nightstand? That he agrees with the author? Certainly not. That he enjoys the book? Possibly, but not absolutely. That he believes everything the author says? A stretch to say the least. We may assume, with facetious generosity, that he knows how to read. And we may assume either that the book is engaging, or that he has a good reason for reading it if it is not. For reading is an activity, which holds underappreciated significance until contrasted with passivities such as watching television. Activities exact a much greater toll on our cognitive, temporal, and physical resources than do passivities. One does not surrender precious currencies without consideration.

And what of his character and dispositions? One glimpse of a reader gives us prima facie evidence that he is the type of person who reads. Which is to say that he values reading, which is to say he values learning. And that’s not nothing. His conspicuous literacy buys him, at the very least, the benefit of our doubt. He may prove us wrong by betraying his disloyalty to the principles of critical thinking and skepticism. But at minimum we owe him the chance to prove us right. And if ever there were an heuristic for critical thinking, reading is it.

May we judge a man by the fact that he has read a certain book? Still, no. The only additional assumption we can make, while giving the reader full faith and credit, is that he understood the book he read and has taken its information into account. We still have no reason to suppose that he agrees with the author, enjoyed the book, or believes everything the author says. And, not least, we must account equally for the books inhabiting his shelf as those absent from it.