This is a guest post from Nikki DeMarco. Nikki is a composition teacher and blogs at nikkilooch.com. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she eats donuts, does Crossfit, and hangs out with her slightly neurotic 12-pound dog. Find Nikki on Twitter and all social media @nikkilooch.
When people glance at me in the bookstore while I’m standing in the “Christian Inspiration” section, I want to stop them and explain that I’m not one of those kinds of Christians. You know the kind. The haters and the weirdos. These are the people that are extremists. We make snap judgments about them because the women are wearing floor-length jean skirts with white sneakers and the men have gold Rolexes and too big bellies. They protest at gay weddings and abortion clinics. These Christians live a different kind of Christian life than I do. We choose to express our faiths differently. I’m just over here standing awkwardly in the bookstore trying to figure out what I want to study next during my morning Bible time. I don’t want to stop cutting my hair or learn how to snake charm.
I was afraid the same kind of snap judgments were being made about me by other bookstore patrons. I wanted to call after them and say, “I read literature, too!” or “I’m just here for C.S. Lewis!” These strangers needed to know that I have classics and feminism and YA on my bookcase. They needed to know I’ve read Toni Morrison and John Steinbeck in addition to John Maxwell and Joyce Meyer. If they thought I was here for Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul, I’d dissolve into a puddle of questionable origin on the floor, which would be less embarrassing in my mind than to be found with the wrong book in my hands. I couldn’t bear the thought of being lumped together with the haters.
It came time for me to buy a new Bible. The holiest and least able to be judged by all onlookers lest they wanted to spontaneously combust. I strutted to the “Christian Inspiration” aisle and started browsing Bibles. There were big ones and skinny ones, pink ones and blue ones, women’s ones and study ones. I had the perfect amount of self-righteousness to keep my shoulders back. Then, a cute guy came into the “Christian Inspiration” aisle with me. The self-righteousness was replaced by self-consciousness. I quickly picked up a heavy study Bible and read the packaging much closer than I needed to. He stood next to me, perusing. He picked up a T.D. Jakes book, set it down. Next was C.S. Lewis. He was running out of first initial authors to chose from. I tried to keep my eyes straight ahead, on the Holy Bibles.
“This isn’t where I’d find a history of different religions, is it?” he asked me.
“I don’t think so,” I said wiping one of my sweaty palms on my jeans. “You’d probably be better off in the ‘History’ section or maybe ‘Non-fiction.’”
“Great,” he said turning. Then threw a “Thanks” over his shoulder at me.
This guy didn’t care what I was looking at. He didn’t even care that he had mistakenly wandered into the wrong section. My arm was tiring, so I set the study Bible back on the shelf. I realized, then, what a selfish jerk that cute guy was. He didn’t care that I was shopping for a Bible. And now I realized what a selfish jerk I was. I was so caught up in other people’s perceptions of me that I didn’t realize everyone else was caught up in their own thoughts as well. My self-righteousness and judgy attitude were the only two things keeping me company on all my previous trips to “Christian Inspiration.” It was time to own my choices and browse Bibles alone, without pride and egotistical haughtiness accompanying me.
I left some of my dignity in the “Christian Inspiration” aisle that day. Thankfully, it’s stayed there along with my being a judgmental jerk about people’s reading choices. Now, I mind my own business and am happy people are strolling through brick and mortar bookstores at all. At least they’re here, trying to read something. At least they aren’t silently judging other book buyers. Ahem.
I’ve stopped lurking around corners, making sure that the aisles I browse are empty before I go into them. Or checking to make sure that I am seen in the classics section, not that I’d buy anything here because I already own and have read all the classics. Obvi. I don’t worry about the other people anymore because I know they’re thinking about their own to-be-read lists and questioning whether Tsh Oxenrider’s Notes from a Blue Bike is over here, in self-help, or maybe non-fiction.
The awkwardness does try to creep back every once in a while, but then I remember what I miscreant I was. The feeling doesn’t stick around because it’s replaced with shame. Then quickly turns to appreciation for my other bookstore patrons. We’re all here trying to find a good book, no matter the genre.
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