It's Not You, It's Your Books

From the New York Times: "It's Not You, It's Your Books," an essay about how a partner's reading habits can be a deal-breaker.

'Brainy women are probably more sensitive to literary deal breakers than are brainy men. (Rare is the guy who’d throw a pretty girl out of bed for revealing her imperfect taste in books.) After all, women read more, especially when it comes to fiction. “It’s really great if you find a guy that reads, period,” said Beverly West, an author of “Bibliotherapy: The Girl’s Guide to Books for Every Phase of Our Lives.” Jessa Crispin, a blogger at the literary site, agrees. “Most of my friends and men in my life are nonreaders,” she said, but “now that you mention it, if I went over to a man’s house and there were those books about life’s lessons learned from dogs, I would probably keep my clothes on.” '

Ooh, am I ever guilty of this.

It's not so much that I can't stand to be around people whose personal canon consists of Mercedes Lackey and Dan Brown -- it's that one's taste in reading tends to be a great shorthand for compatibility in backgrounds, education, intellectual curiosity, and sense of humor. Not that a man would have to be well-read, just open to reading new things; one of my favorite things to do is to read books, then talk about the books with people close to me. Once I figured out that that's pretty much all a English degree consists of (well, that and endless writing), I was sold.

The few men in my literature and writing classes were in hot demand, let me tell you. My first boyfriend at college was a water polo player and an English major, who wrote me poems. (Eric, if you're reading this… call me.) That set the bar pretty high for future boyfriends. Men who previously just seemed 'nice' to me have skyrocketed in my esteem upon discovering that they've read If On A Winter's Night A Traveler (with bonus points for admitting they didn't quite understand it completely). But if a man I was interested in didn't laugh at Wodehouse, any spark I once felt for him would evaporate. As much as I hate to admit it, I have an unofficial, vague sorting system:

-10 : functionally illiterate. You will never see me naked.
-9 : requires memos to be written in bullet points. We probably work together, and you're a manager.
-8 : thinks Ayn Rand hung the moon. Don't touch me, not even if I'm on fire.
-7 : thinks Dan Brown is a fantastic writer. Go read Foucault's Pendulum, then talk to me again.
-6 : pretends to have read obscure books in order to impress me. Go try that on someone who went to community college.
-5 : can't understand what's so great about Shakespeare. Nothing can come of nothing.
-4 : thinks Umberto Eco ripped off Dan Brown. I'll have to resist throttling you.
-3 : laments that Robert Jordan died before he could complete his epic series of books. Have you ever seen a woman naked without a computer screen between you?
-2 : only reads billboards, road signs, and stock tickers. We also probably work together, and you're in accounts.
-1 : reads USA Today/Newsweek/Time. That's great… if you're in junior high.
0 : reads the Los Angeles Times. We can be friends.
+1 : reads the New York Times. We go on coffee dates that end up going nowhere.
+2 : reads the New Yorker. We probably have lunch together occasionally.
+3 : prone to ranting about how Goethe isn't translated very well in English. We have lovely conversations over beer.
+4 : understands that the main themes of The Lord of the Rings are death and loss. I married, then divorced you.
+5 : has read most of the western canon and knows who Harold Bloom is. You're a fellow English major!
+6 : can teach most of the western canon. You are either my mother, or one of my old professors. If the latter: I still won't sleep with you.
+7 : gave Finnegan's Wake a go, but are man enough to admit needing the annotated Norton Critical Edition to make sense of it. We're good friends.
+8 : are a writer. We probably dated and parted on good terms, and are close friends. Bonus points for writing me love poems.
+9 : are a published writer. I probably have a slight crush on you.
+10 : are Neil Gaiman. You make me swoon.

On the other hand, I suppose it can work in some cases. My mother, who has more books than I do (and that's no small feat), and taught English for years, married a wonderful man whose reading runs to "Concrete Monthly" and "Table Saws and You," something which mystifies me to this day. But when he sat down and watched the television adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster, and laughed out loud, I saw her method. Good choice, mom.

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