The Library of Sham

Books at our House. August, 2011.
Judging by Covers

Once, many years ago, I visited a new friend. As she left me in her living room while she prepared coffee, I browsed her bookshelf. Picking up a old-looking copy of War and Peace, I opened the book. Inside the dust jacket was a cookbook!

She returned to the living room, carrying a lovely tray of coffee and homemade scones, as I stood with the book in my hands. “I have a friend with a used-book store,” she explained. “My cookbooks don’t make me look smart. Sometimes he gives me dust covers and I put them on my own books.”

I was dumbfounded. Her disguised cookbook felt like a lie to me.

I sat uncomfortably as we shared good, rich coffee and the most amazing cranberry scones I’ve ever tasted. Our friendship never really took root–maybe because I wondered about her integrity.

Sometimes I think if her cookbooks had sat in her living room undisguised,visitors to her home would have had the chance to see something unique about her. She was a phenomenally good cook.

I thought of her the other day when I stumbled upon a web site that sells books by the foot. Their motto: “Your Vision, Achieved.” They offer “Any Color. Any Subject. Any Age. Any Size.” Need an instant law library? They can help. Need stacks of red books to set off your new den decor? They’ve got them.

When I’m really honest with myself, I have my own collection of image-building dust covers, just like my long-ago friend who baked amazing scones and didn’t read Tolstoy. There’s the strained chuckle that burbles out when someone with authority over me tells a cruel joke. A smile squeezes across my face when I hear hurtful words cloaked in dark praise.

As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes, when things tilt into skillful meanness, I slip on a dust cover of acquiescence instead of speaking up.

I’m sorry I judged my friend and her undercover cookbooks so harshly. I hope someday, as God continues His work in me, that I’ll dare to toss aside my dust covers and and speak truth to ugliness.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139:23-24 (NASB)


  1. That phrase 'speak truth to ugliness' – that's the one that caught me. Oh, how I can relate. Not so much to the acquiescence but to the absolute inability to respond in the moment. When someone says cruel things to me or to someone near me – I am so nonplussed that I literally cannot speak. And I have SO OFTEN regretted that. And I think maybe that comes off as agreement, when actually I am stunned into silence. It is one of the least favorite of the (many!) unhappy truths I know about myself. I simply cannot believe that people can be so insensitive, so out of touch with what might cut another person to shreds – that I do/say nothing. When I wish I could do/say something pithy and pointed that somehow miraculously lets that person know that they have crossed a boundary that shouldn't have been crossed. When I get home and think about it, all kinds of responses present themselves – but very seldom in the moment. Thanks for this reminder of another area where I need to be confessing/praying/ taking care.

  2. Diana,
    Yes…that's exactly what I meant by a "dust cover of acquiescence." It looks like agreement, but it's not.

    The right words come later, as you said.

    Frustrating and humbling, isn't it?

  3. So many thoughts here, including this: I have an artist friend who does arrange her books by color. Her brain works best that way, and she knows exactly where to find what she's looking for in her collection.

    My other thought was this–the dust covers keep others from know who we are, much as the camouflage book covers concealed the beauty of your host's beautiful baking skills.

  4. Nancy,
    I am awestruck that your artist friend's mind works that way. Amazing.

    Sunday Rich and I strolled the beachfront at Santa Barbara, admiring artists' offerings. I was reminded all over again how NOT a visual art person I am. I am drawn to the tactile stuff, every time.

  5. I would have had the same reaction to the book covers that you did. Transparency is extremely important, and yet I see that we often have 'character covers' that we place on ourselves – often I feel because we don't fit some believers little mould of what a Christian should or should not be. It is fear that is behind things. More and more I refuse to wear those covers but it can upset others sometimes.

  6. I guess you can't judge a book by its cover, at least these books.

    But we all have times when we slip on a different dust cover.

    Good post, Sheila.

  7. Elizabeth,
    My mold is flawed. I do my best to be formed by His mold–but I'm broken, so I fall short.

    That's why His mercy and grace take my breath away.

    Thank you for stopping by!

  8. Glynn,
    True! Thanks!

  9. Wow. It had honestly never occurred to me that someone might be deceptive with dust jackets. Now I'm going to feel compelled to perform random checks to make sure my friends' books are what they appear! What a bizarre, eye-opening experience, Sheila; I'm so glad you shared it!

    Ok, so I am very much like you, and Diana (above). So often, someone will say something, and I will find myself dumbfounded. I've decided this can be a very, very good thing, because it keeps me from responding in anger. If the person doesn't belong to me (I'll never see him/her again, etc.), I don't know that admonition is worth my energy. If the person DOES belong to me, I try to buck up and go back…later, when I have my thoughts together. I'll say: you know, I really love you, and you said something the other day that bothered me. I'd like to give you my perspective…

    Again, thanks for this post. I love the dialogue you've started on the subject of authenticity.

  10. Brandee,
    I'm glad I'm not the only one who found it bizarre! Kinda sad, too.

    I love your distinction between people who "belong to you" and those who don't. And I like your point about finding the rignt words before diving in. Excellent.

    Today I forsook authenticity–sort of–for the sake of humility. A co-volunteer in an organization was coming by my office to drop off some stuff I need for an event this weekend. I'd asked him to call our offices when he was close so I could come out to the parking lot to meet him.

    When he called, our part time admin person had left for the day and our administrative assistant was at lunch. So I answered the call.

    I wanted to tell him, "I'm not the receptionist." But I couldn't think of a reason besides pride to tell him so. So I bit my tongue.