It is totally true that I have judged other people on the basis of their reading habits–if I see someone on the train reading a book I love, I want to be their friend; if it is an attractive stranger, I want to be a friend of their erogenous zones. It is possible for me to become interested in people because their reading material makes me think they are smart, make good decisions, that they and I have so much in common because oh my god I like that author too let’s totally make out, woo! In early conversations with the object of flirtation–before you get naked–it is undoubtedly thrilling to learn that they like, say, Russian literature or Latin American magical realism, or they are as totally into lengthy, elaborately plotted fantasy series as you are. Or is that last part supposed to be a turn-off?
There’s this article, in The New York Times, where people are talking about how totally off-putting it is, romantically, when someone’s reading taste is not to their own taste. Which I can understand: if you love romance novels, and all your potential lover seems to read is manga, maybe that is a sign that there is something lacking, when it comes to an overlap of interests. It could be a deal breaker, if it is just one more straw, a beleaguered camel with a backache.
Or it could be that you just have two separate bookcases and you rush to
reassure visitors that the one with all the non-fiction books about
social justice is yours, and the Choose-Your-Own-Adventures and erotic
picture books, those are your sweetheart’s, and somehow, you still
manage to have a rich and fulfilling life full of getting laid. That
sounds healthy to me.
What doesn’t sound healthy? Oh no, you read
science fiction, and so your genitals must remain unjoined with mine!
You are not as smart as me, as cultured as me, as important and
large-brained as I am, and I win, and you lose. When your judgment of
other people’s choice of literature is far more about establishing your
own superiority than just another measure of your potential
relationship, then you are an jerk and you do not deserve to have
Sure, okay, maybe reading is so important to you and books changed your life and
you just can’t help but think that someone who doesn’t read what you
do, or reads low-brow things is really, well, just stupid and that’s
not your fault okay? Okay. Maybe that’s just how you feel. I still feel
that you’re kind of a big jerk. Or maybe it really is a sign of a
larger intellectual, emotional incompatibility that goes deeper,
extends further, is so fundamental that it can only serve as a black
sucking hole of unmeshability that lies beneath any attempts at finding
more solid ground and eats them all up, yum. Maybe.
I admit that I judge other people for their reading material, that I
have made snap judgments about their worth as human beings, that I have
ended up in bed with partners because of a conversation that started
with Who’s your favorite author? and ended with Oh my god, me too! I
so totally agree! And I admit that there are much worse and more
shallow things to dismiss potential lovers over. So why is this such a
sore spot? I don’t know why this is bothering me, quite so much, these
contrary ideas–it’s okay to select a partner on the basis of their
reading choices, but so wrong to dismiss them because of it. Is it the
pseudo-intellectualism? The snobbery that makes me grit my teeth? Is my
nerd showing again and have I embarrassed myself, racing out to defend
The article made me mad. People thinking they are special because they
read Proust or whateverthehell, they make me mad. People who break up
with other people for really stupid reasons, they make me both mad and
really very sad. People who think Dan Brown is a totally awesome
author and The DaVinci Code changed their life–they also make me sad,
so I guess I haven’t got a leg to stand on, really, when it comes right
down to it. But I like to think that maybe that wouldn’t mean we’d have
to break up, me and Fictional Friend. Because that would be sad. And,
seriously, would make me such a jerk.