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What Books Are in Your Background Scene?

One's books can reveal a lot about someone. After all, we are, in a sense, what we read.


Whenever I'm watching a television interview of someone who has a bookcase in their background, I invariably find myself focused more on the titles of the books behind them than on the substance of the interview. That distraction was intensified during the Long Covid Sequestration, when many of us conducted much of our meeting work online.


In such instances, I find myself, head tilted sideways so I can read the titles of the books on the shelves. Those books can tell a lot about the person sitting in the foreground.

If the person is a professed expert on the presidents, I expect to find biographies of those men and books about aspects of their presidencies featured prominently on the shelves behind them. One or more of them might even have been written by the person.


If the person is a professional sports reporter, I expect to see books on various sports and the athletes who play or played them.


If the person is a minister, I expect to see books on theology, such as commentaries, sermon collections, Bible dictionaries, etc. And surely somewhere nearby, a Bible.


I also find myself searching the person's shelves for any books that I, too, possess. If I find any, it gives me the feeling that I have sort of a connection to the person, at least a shared interest.


Sometimes, however, I've been disappointed. Instead of seeing titles that lend credibility to the person's professed area of expertise, I've found only unrelated titles. For example, I recently saw on the shelves of a state legislative mover and shaker, not history or business or legal titles, as one might expect, but books on the writing of fiction. I certainly hope that the bills that person helps to pass and get enacted as law are not fiction. We have enough fantasy fiction in politics already!


Granted, I know that to preserve their privacy, many people in the computer age now use purchased fake background scenes to make it seem as though they are where they aren't, so some of the titles I see aren't really there. But it nonetheless sends a message.


My wife forgot to remove a background scene she had used for a lesson she taught when Covid forced virtual schooling on her. When she later attended a faculty meeting by Zoom, she seemed to her colleagues to be living the high life on a sunny Caribbean beach!

But this got me to wondering what books people see in my backgrounds. Since I don't use a fake background, people see my environs for what they are. Pressed for shelf space, the book titles in my background will depend on how I'm sitting.


Behind me in one direction will be books on history, especially either biography (arranged alphabetically), general American history (arranged chronologically), military history, or Southern history.


In another direction will be books on the Bible: commentaries, dictionaries, sermon collections, etc.


In yet another direction one would see books on education, dictionaries, thesauri, quotation books, reference books, and books on writing and publishing.


And in still another backdrop, one would be hard pressed to find any single organized focus because the shelves hold all the overflow from all the other tightly packed, overcrowded shelves, including even a few fiction titles.


I suppose that the single conclusion one would reach if they saw these various background scenes is that I love books.


And that would be correct.

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