What your literary tote bag says about you

Posted by Jason Diamond and Tobias Carroll

The Strand Bookstore tote: You probably don’t really live in New York.  Either that or you’re a freshman at NYU.

The Powell’s tote bag (if you are not from Oregon): You are an eager participant in the growing field of bookstore tourism.

The Green Apple Bookstore tote: I will act impressed as you tell me about the time you met Dave Eggers when you volunteered at 826 Valencia the same night you made out with a hot guy/girl at a party thrown by The Rumpus.  Just please don’t ask me to understand why you gave up San Francisco weather to live in a closet in Bushwick.

The Penguin tote: You had a really enjoyable time flirting with the idea of working in the publishing industry.  This tote bag is all you have to remember those times by.

The Open City tote: You once arm wrestled David Berman, or possibly a guy who looked a lot like David Berman. There was whiskey and heady talk of aesthetics; everything’s a little blurry, to be honest.


The George Orwell tote: You are probably exciting to make out with.

The NYRB Literary Greenwich Village Tote Bag: Either you: A) Constantly tell people that you “relate” to Liz Lemon on 30 Rock. B) You’re over 45. C) Only read non-fiction and poetry books.

The Skylight Books tote: You wish all bookstores had trees growing in the middle of them.

The Barnes and Noble tote: You really enjoy that copy of Freedom you bought last week.  Have fun reading it on your way back to Westchester.

The Paris Review tote: You really want to impress somebody by letting them know you read The Paris Review.  (Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.)

The N+1 tote: You probably mention in conversation that when you receive a new issue of N+1, you skip straight to the Marco Roth piece.

The PEN American Center tote: You don’t have favorite authors, you have favorite translators.

This tote: you have no problem with lying.

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87 comments

  1. I love the George Orwell one! What about the random free tote bag with some random company’s name on it? I think that one says: I spend too much on books and can’t afford a cute tote!

  2. Ha! I was just at the Strand for the first time a couple of weeks ago (I live in Boston) and I did snap up a tote bag! But to be fair, I had a load of books to take back with me on the train!

  3. What does it say about you if you use Whole Foods totes to schlep around your underwhelming dissertation drafts and heavily-fondled-but-rarely-read Philip Roth? I feel like a whole phylum of eco-litsters is getting away Scott free here.

    1. It says that you spend way to much on quasi-organic food when to fuel you through your work.

    1. Uh, I live in Charlottesville, VA, and I’ve been to Strand numerous times. People in the community often comment on my Strand shirt. Maybe you just live in a particularly unbookish area?

      BTW, if you’re ever in Charlottesville, head to Daedalus Books. It’s not the size of Strand, but it has a great selection and the perfect used-book store vibe. http://www.yelp.com/biz/daedalus-bookshop-charlottesville

      1. AWP: You dimly remember that time in New Orleans that you almost had sex with Billy Collins, and also that other time in Evanston you almost had sex with Billy Collins.

  4. What about Library totes? I actually collect totes so mine probably say I’m bourgeois and have a degree in literature.

  5. I get good comments on my “Dog-Eared Books” tote from Phoenix. I don’t have a Powell’s tote, but my baby has a Powell’s onesie.

  6. On one side my tote says,”When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” Erasmus
    This quote is the reason I bought the tote because anyone who knows me understands this to be a true statement of my priorities in life.
    The other side says, “My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.” Abraham Lincoln
    I had the misfortune of feeling rushed in an airport and slow on the hint when meeting a nice man in passing who immediately read my tote and said, “I wish I had a book to give you.”

  7. NYPL tote in San Francisco, where the weather is never what you on the East Coast fantasize it is (and what we hopelessly anticipate it might be any day now).

  8. I buy those semi-plastic ones at barnes and nobles when I like the pictures – I have a blue one with a girl walking and reading a book and another with five women sitting around – my newest is a kate spade that I got with a perfume purchase – the biggest things mine say is “OMG I am turning into my mother, a pocketbook is no longer enough, god help me!”‘ but I also love my book bags I do way more then I should!

  9. I have four of the above, plus a new one from Granta, which says I am giving in to adult ADHD and only reading short stories.

  10. I have two cherished canvas totes from Daedalus books in Columbia, MD, which they don’t make anymore. One of them has Orpheus on it, reading a book, and the other has the Minotaur, also reading. I use the Minotaur sparingly, because I’ve been using it to death.

  11. I’m with Niche. You totally forgot public library totes – which says nothing but wonderful things about the toter.

  12. Daedalus ‘Minotaur’: check. Also a big sturdy (lined!) Dorling Kindersley (sullied? by a 25-cents-off CVS bag tag – heh). And a Trader Joe’s bag that mice ate a bunch of holes in. Darned if I know what this collection says about me . . . .

  13. Greatest tote ever: The Stephen Colbert tote by B&N.
    I have bought 4. One for myself and 3 for friends who also love it.

  14. ” Just please don’t ask me to understand why you gave up San Francisco weather to live in a closet in Bushwick.”

    Problem is…SF weather is awful.

  15. Ha! Funny list. And now I have a whole bunch of totes I want, dangit. (no … I am not cool)

    And I am another Boston-ite who bought a Strand tote to lug all the books I bought back on the bus. Do I get any points for using it for 3+ years until the stitching is coming out and washing it so much that it’s faded?

    How about all those free totes that get snapped up at BEA and then are found in the garbage cans on the last day of the conference? Lots of totes go to tote-bag-heaven after that conference.

    1. I live in Boston and I’d love a Strand tote…I think that says Bostonians appreciate good design. Also, you can never have enough bags to stuff kids’ junk into and hide important things on yourself, when you’re not toting books.

  16. don’t forget the stephen colbert faux barnes&noble author woodcut bag — which says “i think i’m smart but i’m really just cynical”

  17. I have a tote from Half Price Books that says “Get a spine.” What does that say about me?
    What I have taken away from this article is that I should not carry tote bags with literary themes or I will be deemed pretentious in one way or another. I’ll stick to my North Face backpack. (Ha!)

  18. How about people with totes bought to support their local public library? I’m afraid I can’t think of anything clever that it says about them, except that they are smart, fiscally sound, and that we librarians love them!

  19. How about the totes you bought at a farmer’s market?

    Yea, that’s us. We bought two totes from a local crafter at our farmer’s market. Sad part is, we forget to take them when we go grocery shopping. Epic. Fail. Haha.

    Great list! This is indeed hilarious.

  20. I like to use cloth wine bags from Fresh’n’Easy, BevMo, and Whole Foods. I got each one of these for free, and take one to the Farmer’s Market on Sat. where local library sells used books. Or, I stick in the Kindle on the side when there’s lots of wine in the bag. Red, red wine.

    1. … And I don’t live anywhere near Menlo Park, or CA.

      (Sentimental associations: My high school friends and I used to hang out in Kepler’s. In its OLD location.)

  21. Used to have a tote with Groucho Marx’s quote: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Very fitting, considering I’m a vet 🙂

  22. I was born and raised in New York, never attended NYU and I still have a Strand bag. I had a nice Strand bike bag as well but that was stolen in Minneapolis by someone who probably wasn’t an NYU student from New York.

  23. The canvas tote from the Montague Bookmill in Montague, MA is worth it for their logo — “Books you don’t need, in a place you can’t find.

  24. I’ve got a Strand bag, and yearn for the NYRB one. I once joined a Facebook group called “Yes, I read the NYRB, and Yes I’m under 35”. But nevermind tote bags, what about your collection of polyurethane bags from deceased book stores. My bf has a couple dozen from all over the country. It’s about as depressing a hobby as being a Yangtze river dolphin biologist.

  25. I have one from the Humane Society of the United States, although unfortunately the strap broke (too many books?). But hey, it says I care about animals and books! I also have a very handy nylon bag from OUP with a zipper that I use in lieu of a purse, mostly because it’s big enough to carry a couple of books.

  26. Great post! I think any type of bag says something about the person carrying it, from literally totes to leather clutches! And of course, the inside of the bag says a lot about the woman too! It’s interesting how much you can learn from a person by just looking at their bag. Ciao!