People’s Looks and Covers of Books – what’s inside counts

[Adriana Kassner Cunningham, at her blog Classical Quest, touches on fine literature and the fineness of a family campfire, the simplicity of a woodland walk and the wonder of the written word. I am honored to host her today.]


When I was a teenager I mixed spices for an Italian restaurant. My workstation was located inside a large industrial building on the outskirts of a quaint upper-class village. Every day we baked hundreds of loaves of bread. The heat in summer, radiating from ovens the size of armored tanks, was oppressive. Large box fans offered only hot wind. By the time I clocked-out at the end of each day, my pony-tail sagged; I was flushed, sweaty, and smelled of pizza. And though I wore an apron while working, my clothes were always covered with a dusting of flour.

One evening, on my way home from work, I stopped at the library in the posh, manicured town nearby. Just beyond the entrance, bookshelves beckoned and a quiet coolness lured me. Once inside, however, I felt conscious of the contrast between my attire and that of the other patrons.

Mariemont, Ohio

Mariemont, Ohio

I spent a few moments checking the shelves for some books I wanted. Then, when I realized they didn’t have the particular titles I was looking for, I went up to the front desk to ask the reference librarian for help.

She was busy. On the phone. When at last she hung up, she glanced at me then proceeded to type on her keyboard. I waited. After a moment, I spoke —

“Excuse me, Ma’am.”

She held up a finger to signal she would be with me in a moment.

When she finished typing she looked up again, a flicker of incredulity passed over her face as if to say, Are you still here? When I asked for her assistance, she motioned to the far side of the building and muttered some suggestions.

A few weeks later I stopped back by that library to return the books I had checked out there. This time I was on my way home from a church function, so I happened to be clean. I was wearing heels, a tailored black dress, and some expensive perfume which I had received as a gift. The same librarian treated me in the exact opposite manner.

“Hello! Can I help you find anything else today?”

“No, thank you.”

“This book is excellent! Did you enjoy it?

The full eye contact. The broad smile. It really was too much.

“Yes. It was good.”

“Well then,” She pulled out a list. “You might also enjoy these titles. Although there is quite a long waiting list for some of them. Let me see what I can find for you . . .”

Such contrast in how she treated me! Night and day. White gloves and red carpet just because I looked the part.

I suppose the point could be made that good grooming is important. Perhaps I should have planned ahead and at least changed my shirt and brushed out my hair before being seen in public. I would do that now. We show respect for others by putting some degree of effort into our appearance. People cannot help observing our exteriors and, for better or for worse, we are often judged by them.

* * * * *

“But the Lord sees not as man sees . . .”

Imagine you are a guest in the village of Haarlem, Holland. It is 1940. Your watch is broken. Your host tells you to take it to Casper ten Boom, the local watchmaker. You are neither wealthy nor well-educated, yet your host assures you that “Haarlem’s Grand Old Man” will treat you fairly. You learn that he views all people as equal and even counts it an honor to wear a “Star of David” to show solidarity with the Jews who are being persecuted under Hitler’s regime.  In fact, all members of the Ten Boom family are devout Christians with a reputation for fairness, hospitality, and generosity. If Casper ten Boom is unavailable to repair your watch, his daughter Corrie will certainly assist you. She is the first licensed female watchmaker in the Netherlands.

In 1971, Corrie ten Boom reflected upon daily life in the watchshop of Haarlem in her memoir, The Hiding Place.

All through the short afternoon they kept coming, the people who counted themselves Father’s friends. Young and old, poor and rich, scholarly gentlemen and illiterate servant girls—only to Father did it seem that they were all alike. That was Father’s secret: not that he overlooked the differences in people; that he didn’t know they were there.

The title of The Hiding Place has a dual meaning. It refers both to Psalm 119:114,”Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word,” as well as to the secret room in the family’s home above the watchshop where the Ten Booms illegally harbored Jews. In 1944, the entire family was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to prison.

Corrie ten Boom survived the ordeal and lived to be 91 years old, but her sister and father perished while imprisoned. Only ten days after the arrest, Casper ten Boom was tossed naked into an unmarked grave. In 2008 he was honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust, as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.”

When I first read The Hiding Place as a young person, I was struck by Corrie’s description of her father’s character, especially his unbiased treatment of people from all walks of life. What a gift to be able to see others for who they are: beloved of God and made in his image! Indeed, our world needs people like Casper ten Boom today as much as ever.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18)

As we submit our vision to Christ Jesus, the eyes of our hearts will become enlightened. The Holy Spirit will empower us to love our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves.

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

Let us pray for each other — that we might have the courage to see and the courage to love!


[Adriana Kassner Cunningham writes about her journey through the classics and life at Follow her on Facebook or on Twitter @ClassicalQuest.]


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25 Responses to People’s Looks and Covers of Books – what’s inside counts

  1. Excellent post, Adriana! I must remember to dress up to go to the library! However, I live in a country town so maybe my jeans won’t matter.

    I went to a Christian bookstore in Florida on Saturday and I hadn’t been to one in quite a while. It seemed about 10% of the inventory was books. The rest included decorations and gifts.

    In the very sparse pastor’s book area there was this title: “How to Pick Up a Stripper”! It was on evangelism! Proves your point that you can’t judge what’s inside.

  2. Tim says:

    Adriana, I worked in a pizza parlor when I was in high school, so i know what you mean about flour and dough getting all over everything.

    When it comes to libraries, I think the good ones are like go churches: full of welcome and glad for whoever walks in the door seeking. I think your experience reminds us that Jesus said we can knock, seek and ask, and in all that never told us to clean up first.

    • Adriana says:

      Did you ever spin your dough in the air, Tim? I tried, but was never very successful.

      Thank you so much for hosting me here today. Writing this post caused me to look at my own life and think of ways I can be more open and welcoming — more Christ-like.

  3. nomoreperfect says:

    Excellent and thoughtful post, Adriana. I will share this with my oldest daughter, as we have been discussing looks and how to see past that.

    Unfortunately, we are judged by so many outward appearances. For myself, I am treated with more respect when I am out by myself; when I am out with all six of my children, I am belittled and treated with many “lovely” comments, mostly when we are visiting new churches. I am grateful that God sees me for me and knows my heart.

    • Laura Droege says:

      That makes me so sad that people in churches aren’t accepting of you and your children. I did the visiting churches thing for a year-and-a-half, and it’s hard, even when people are friendly. Your comment serves as a reminder to me that I need to be mindful of ALL visitors at my church and welcome everyone.

      • nomoreperfect says:

        It is extremely frustrating. Trying to find a church is frustrating. But, it is a good way for me to learn to respect people and see them as God sees them!

    • Adriana says:

      I’m delighted that you are going to share this with your daughter! I’ve have five children, including a daughter who is ten. It’s wonderful that you are having talks with her about seeing past looks.

      I agree with Laura: it is indeed sad that you feel belittled (in church of all places!) for the size of your family. I hope you can find a church were your entire family feels at home soon.

  4. Jeannie says:

    I’ve been guilty of making assumptions based on appearances too, Adriana, as this post shows:
    Thanks for sharing this experience and also for linking it to the Corrie ten Boom passages. Isn’t it often true that the heroes we look up to, like Corrie, had their own far more UN-sung heroes in the background?

    • Adriana says:

      Your check-out line post is one of my favorites, Jeannie. What a blessing to get a second chance to see things more clearly. We aren’t always afforded that. I’m been guilty of passing judgement many times. (I once dumped a young man whom I later married, for one example.) There have been times when I’ve seen a person who appeared to have it all together, and I’ve dragged my heels with getting to know him or her, because I felt I didn’t have enough to offer. I’ve almost missed out on some amazing friendships this way!

      It is true what you said about un-sung heros. It’s always a real pleasure to discover one!

  5. Laura Droege says:

    Adriana, this post reminds me of when my mom worked at our public library. I was a teenager at the time, and my mom worked in the reference section of the large, multi-storied building. It was in a not-so-great area of town and close to a large homeless shelter; often the homeless wandered in, particularly in the hottest and coldest months when the free A/C and heat were inviting. (The library cop was supposed to make them move along.) Sometimes I’d be walking around and stumble on a scraggly looking guy dozing in a chair; sometimes I smelled them first.

    Mom came home with stories of working with mentally ill homeless men who came to the reference section on a regular basis, always looking for particular materials or information. They all had stories: some of them were heartbreaking, while some were delusions of a mentally ill person without proper medication. Some had been bums their entire lives. Some had been promising, well-educated people who suffered a fall, often for reasons beyond their control. One man killed himself.

    The library was a haven for a book-loving teen, but it was also a reminder of the fragility of our lives and how, even when we look different on the outside, we are all in need of hope, love, and respect. We all need those Casper ten Booms who are willing to treat us with respect and not even see the differences between us.

  6. Ten Boom is one of my personal favs. Her life, her words, her stories, her family. Such examples. And yes, our appearance makes a statement, one way or another. How much credibility we give to that statement is up to each of us.

    • Tim says:

      I love the scene in the house when the soldiers are searching for people the ten booms are sheltering and her sister Betsy – who is incapable of lying – blurts out “They’re under the table!” The soldiers pick up the long table cloth and look under only to see a rug on the floor. They leave in disgust, never having lifted the rug to see the hatch leading to the cellar where they people were hiding.

    • Adriana says:

      Quite true. Thank you for reading, Karen.

  7. Christine says:

    Adriana, your personal stories and the links you make from literature to daily life make for some of my favorite reading.
    Tim, thank you for sharing this post.

    • Adriana says:

      Christine, I believe I’ll print out this comment and post it near my laptop to help me keep my chin up with the writing gets tough. 🙂 Thank you very much.

      I too am grateful for Tim’s generosity and hospitality here at the Train Wreck!

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