You mean to say you don’t READ? and other judgemental shit I might’ve said once

Oh, the Times. Always tapping in to just what makes us all tick, yes? Today, an essay titled “It’s Not You, It’s Your Books” topped the Most Emailed list and earned itself a questionably focused Jezebel post. I’m not quite sure what Moe was trying to say there, but I think it’s an interesting article in the sense that I used to feel similarly. I used to judge people on the basis of what or if they read; I’ve actually been known to say, in the most ridiculously self-important and offensive way, “You don’t READ?” The truth is, I’ve always been sort of stumped by people who don’t read–after all, what do you do whilst waiting for the train or in the lobby at the dentist if you don’t read? The answer is, I think, plenty: zone out, pick up an Us Weekly, listen to your iPod or watch a movie on it, sleep, whatever. The truth is, I don’t even read on the train all that much, it makes me sleepy. I much prefer to stare into space and listen to my iPod. It’s when I get a lot of my good book-think done.

But I don’t think–and you can quote me in the future if this turns out to be untrue–I would ever not date or dump someone because of their reading preferences, or lack thereof. This is because my attitudes towards my own reading has changed significantly; when I interviewed for my internship at a literary agency last summer, my boss asked me what my guilty pleasures (reading-wise) were, and I told her that I read widely and never feel guilty about any of it, which was actually (and here I even surprised myself) true. I think I’ve always been wedded to my image of myself as a “book girl” and liked to define myself as such via intense snobbery, much like music snobs and film snobs do. But that’s so not me. I actually take a far more democratic view of the world of literature as it exists today, and while I don’t read romance novels (I just don’t think I’m enough of a romantic, sad to say, to really enjoy all those happy endings) I don’t begrudge anyone who likes them. Same with sci-fi/fantasy–not my cup of tea, but hey, some people really love that stuff and who am I to tell them it’s worthless? No one, that’s who. I think people who only stick to a certain genre (just like people who only read so-called “literary” novels) are severely limiting themselves to their detriment–after all, even I read some sci-fi and some fantasy and some romance and some horror–but that’s their business.

And while loving the same books or same types of books can be a connecting thread upon which exciting relationships can be formed, no matter how much you love books that’s only one aspect of who you are–there are so many other opportunities to bond on different parts of your life and background and family and things you can enjoy that to actually dump a guy (or girl, depending on your pref) for what or whether they read is, to me, sort of ludicrous. If I was with someone I genuinely loved–or even liked–I would hardly consider whether or not he read Pushkin (not that I have) to be a legitimate reason to dump him. I once had a guy tell me that he hated Pride and Prejudice so much in high school that he and his friends considered having a book burning party once the class was over, and it did bother me, only because Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite novels and the idea of book burning brings up a lot of Nazi-esque images that are otherwise completely out of sync with the person who said this to me, but I think he just said it to bug me and not because he actually meant it (though maybe he did). Otherwise, though, I’m pretty much all set with people liking or hating whatever the hell they want. Caveat, though: I don’t like it when people tell me they “hate” a certain author or book but have never read them. That’s why I stick with some books that I don’t like until the end–so that if I ever get into a conversation about them, I can at least give a reason for not liking it.

I always sort of imagined that the man I marry (if, indeed, I do marry) would not be a book person. This is because books are my thing. I’m a selfish reader. I like to hole up in my room and devour entire novels in one go. I don’t like to lend out my books. I love to talk about books, but I will always have other people in my life–considering my chosen profession–who will talk about them with me, plus there’s an entire Internet full of book lovers pretty much at my fingertips. Also, book lovers often turn out to be aspiring writers, and since I’m an aspiring writer I don’t want there to be any competition or comparison in my home life (though I love having friends that are aspiring writers). Plus, I usually find aspiring male writers really solipsistic and annoying and am not usually attracted to them, although there are of course exceptions to every rule.

The people in this stupid article are ridiculous. James Collins, whose novel Beginner’s Greek I started and read about twenty pages of before I abandoned it (I do plan to return to it, because of the aforementioned desire to finish all books I start plus it was free and what’s the point of getting free books if you don’t read them?), is quoted as saying, “I know there were occasions when I just wrote people off completely because of what they were reading long before it ever got near the point of falling in or out of love: Baudrillard (way too pretentious), John Irving (way too middlebrow), Virginia Woolf (way too Virginia Woolf).” Are you kidding me? Wrote people off for reading Virginia Woolf and John Irving? Too middlebrow? Ugh. If you know me in real life and that’s how I have ever sounded to you, I am SORRY and I will try to NEVER DO IT AGAIN. I promise.

The thing is, yes, the books people choose to pay for and keep do say a little about who they are, but I know plenty of people who adore the same books I do that are completely different from me. I mean, take for instance how much I like Stephen King; my father, who reads only historical nonfiction (mostly about the World Wars) and sci-fi, also likes him a whole lot. We also share a liking for Anne Rice. We are similar in some ways because he raised me, but we are actually quite different people, and our reading preferences on the whole are dissimilar at best.

Naming a favorite book or author can be fraught. Go too low, and you risk looking dumb. Go too high, and you risk looking like a bore — or a phony, the article says. I say, fuck that shit. Books are too important to me to be anything other than completely honest about what I read and like and speak about them in a kind and loving way (unless I want to eviscerate a book I hated, which as a reader who stuck with it to the end in the hopes it would improve is my God-given right!) without consideration of what some guy will think of me for it. I meant what I said during that interview–I’m not ashamed of anything I read, especially if I loved it. I expect others to do the same. If I get the sense that they’re feeding me bullshit about adoring Alice Munro or Milan Kundera, I would react the same way as if I felt they were feeding me bullshit about anything else. But if they really like Alice Munro, or Dan Brown, or don’t like to read at all, then what have I got to judge?

ETA: I was just thinking about this further and it occurred to me that my father and mother are excellent examples of how one divergent interest doesn’t necessarily negate an entire relationship. They both read, but my father is totally obsessed with music–of all kinds, classical and oldies and rock and zydeco and pop, etc.–to the point where he learned guitar and was even in a band for several years in college, and my mother hates music. Like, hates it. She never listens to it–she used to commute two hours to work (there and back) each day and subsist on talk radio–except when she’s watching American Idol. She also likes Elvis. But that’s IT. That’s like me dating a guy who only likes Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and yet my parents have been married for twenty-seven years this coming August. So, like, who’s to say?

ETFA: Apparently, you can weigh in on this subject with your own literary dealbreakers (my contribution: none) at Paper Cuts. Um, enjoy. Except: isn’t hating on The Da Vinci Code just as passé as liking The Da Vinci Code, “David”? God, why is the whole world so unoriginal?

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2 Responses

  1. hmm, anna. this is a really interesting topic. i feel like people are always (myself included!) creating laundry lists of qualities they “require” in a mate but honestly? how many of us are wandering around complaining about not having one. maybe if we were more open to mates that didn’t align with some random attribute as shallow as agreeing with our book tastes we’d have a easier time finding a companion. . .
    my father read westerns, my mother reads david mccullough and they were pretty darn happy togehter. . .

  2. Exactly. I mean, ’cause seriously? How much do your reading preferences affect the day-to-day business of being in a relationship/marriage? Probably not that much.

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