read it, weep

choose your own adventure.jpg
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
sexual relations.

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.

8 Replies to “read it, weep”

  1. I can’t think of a single book, other than the Bible, that my husband and I had both read when we first got together. Somehow, we managed to forge ahead and develop a lasting relationship anyway. Besides, trading books with each other was part of getting to know each other, and a lot of my favorite authors are now his favorites, too. The reverse isn’t so much true, but not because I didn’t try. Somehow, we go on.

    Honestly, I’m with you. I think finding out someone doesn’t read what you do is a pretty jerky and stupid reason to dump them, or refuse to even give them a chance. It’s that whole, “my taste is superior and if you don’t share it then you are therefore inferior” attitude that most people leave behind with their early twenties.

  2. Failure to laugh at my jokes is a much more egregious offense and a definite dealbreaker for me. Good thing my husband has the same wacky sense of humor as I do. That said, I suppose that I might be a little leery of establishing a relationship with someone who swore by Mein Kampf or The Turner Diaries, though.

  3. I’m not going to lie, books are a pretty big deal for me. I’m obsessed with reading– even as a little kid, I was the one whose parents took away *books* (not TV) when I was grounded.

    I’ve never broken up with a guy because his reading taste didn’t match mine, but a couple breakups have had the fact that he didn’t read *at all* as a part of the dealbreaker.

    I have to be honest, though, that while I’m not terribly picky about what my partner reads, if *all* he ever read was graphic novels and manga, I’d consider breaking up with him.

  4. Yeah, my parents definitely used to deprive me of trips to the library as punishment. (You didn’t take out the trash when we told you to? Looks like you’re gonna have to re-order those books, because we’re not going to the library this afternoon….)lol.
    When I first met my bf I had the impression that he was somewhat of a bookworm, (aparently he WAS a bookworm…as a child. )Now he plays video games. ugh. Maybe if I buy him some comics he’ll come to the middle ground and start reading again….

  5. Tee hee-I giggled when I read this post, because on my first date with my husband, I asked him his favourite book and he had a totally respectable reply, so I assumed he read (which made me happy, because I’m constantly reading! BTW-my parents also used books as a reinforcer/punisher when I was a kid!) As time wore on, I realized that he was not a reader at all-I really think he has an undiagnosed learning disability but that’s another story-but nonetheless he is very intelligent and knowledgeable and open-minded. I am in my relationship because of these qualities (and many others), not so I have a built in home book discussion group. I am in a book club for that purpose.

    While I admit that I have a bit of innate snobbery about reading (i.e., when people tell me their favourite Harlequin romance, I mentally cross off “literature” as a topic of conversation with that person) but really, if people are so shallow that reading taste is dictating their relationships, perhaps they should get used to spending all of their nights alone with a good book, rather than a good person!

  6. This is too funny! I’m fortunate that my parents never thought about punishing me by taking away my books.

    I never thought about whether that was a deal-breaker or not while dating in high school. And I did date some boys that either had reading disorders, or just never liked to read.

    It’s true my husband and I have similar tastes in reading. We used to trade books while we were dating. Now he mostly buys them for me for birthday and holiday gifts, but his ulterior motive is so he has something to read later.

    He does enjoy some political commentary and political humor books, which I just cannot get into. I’ve tried. Give me my fantasy/fiction any day!

  7. Man, I’m so glad someone blogged about that New York Times article, because it bothered me immensely, too. Not that I haven’t also made choices about boyfriends based on what they read… Still, though, my inner nerd was insulted by what some of those snobby New Yorkers looked down their noses at. Can’t we all just get along, whether or not we’ve read Proust?

    I also think it’s funny because, after having awful relationships with immensely well-read assholes in my twenties, I am in a long-term and immensely satisfying relationship with someone who is lucky if he’s read five novels in his life. Do I thus question our relationship? By no means. Hasn’t anyone ever heard of opposites attracting?

    We love each other precisely because we’re different. While I blog, he goes and kayaks. One of the most fulfilling aspects of our relationship is that we read together–I read aloud my favorite books from my childhood, and we have a whole new pool of wonderful shared experience.

    So, poo on you, snobs. I hope your Proust keeps you warm at night.

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