Sunday, March 30, 2008

Literary Love

This New York Times article got me thinking. How important is taste in reading?

A love of story is central to my life. Books, comics, even those paintings I'm drawn to have a strong narrative element. I can't imagine a relationship without a shared affection for stories.

But how closely shared?

In my checkered past, I kept company with women across the social spectrum, from doctoral candidates to former teen runaways. Levels of formal education varied widely, but two things were constant: I've always gravitated to smart women, and to women who read.

And it goes both ways.

First eye contact with the Tiny Dynamo, my world slid a little bit sideways. Second time we met was our first chance to talk. She was smart, scary smart. Our third meeting, I compelled her into a reluctant (very reluctant) first date.

Did I mention reluctant? I'm unlike anyone the Dynamo ever dated: Foreign. Fashion-challenged. Funny-looking. But I do have certain Secret Powers, and before she knew what she was doing, she found herself sitting across a table from me.

I can thank the contents of my backpack for our second date. And the last several years. In my pack was a novel she'd read, an ashcan of Serina and my sketchbook diary.

We started talking about books, and the Tiny Dynamo realized that 'unlike anyone she ever dated' might just be a good thing.

So I reckon I can understand a bit of a literary acid-test. But to reject someone for reading Proust? Or not reading Proust?

That I don't get. The Dynamo and my tastes overlap, but they also widely differ. She likes the classics. She likes Victorian sensation novels. She likes those girly Shopaholic-type stories. That's cool.

She doesn't get my love of comics. She doesn't respond to the 'over-macho' voices of John D. MacDonald or James Lee Burke. Covers with half-naked women holding guns have kept her from discovering the fine writing coming out of Hard Case Crime. And that's cool.

We still have plenty of tastes in common. And (to me, the point of dating a fellow reader) plenty to talk about. And our reading sometimes comes closer. I turned her on to Dickens and Du Maurier, Sarah Gran and Donna Tartt. She gave me Wilkie Collins, Marian Keyes, Bryce Courtenay and (oddly enough) Dennis Lehane. If either of us had been too fussy about the other's taste in books, we would have missed out on all of these new favorites.

And one hell of a lot of fun!

What about y'all? How important is taste in books to your relationships?


ANNA-LYS said...

May I answer a little odd?

Libraries is to me the one and only place to find a partner! Pubs, disco, work etcetera are out ... 'cause You soon find out, that there are no foundation for dialogue.

Have a Lovely week ;-)

Shauna Roberts said...

My husband's idea of a good read is a math book. We bonded through shared musical tastes. That worked out well—we can sit in the same room reading our divergent books happily, but it wouldn't be fun having the stereo playing music that one of us hated.

Steve Malley said...

Anna-lys, there's nothing odd about that. I hear some folks cruise bookstores, too!

Shauna, I know a few couples like that: *No* overlap in literary taste, but the act of reading itself is rather companionable.

I'm guessing for you two, Britney Spears would be more of a deal-breaker?! :)

Unknown said...

The dh is an avid reader (which was very important to me) but not of the same stuff however he did introduce me to DuMaurier as his parents lived next to Frenchman's Creek (and that is where he proposed - he has a romantic heart although not in his reading). We don't share the same taste in books but he loves Jilly Cooper and had his nose stuck in Polo for the first few days of our honeymoon! Mostly he reads LeCarre, Grisham et al where I read classiscs and womens' fiction. Occaisionaly we will forward a book to the other......still can't get him to read Leo the African

Lisa said...

What a great question! Scott and I met via an online dating service four years ago and the mutual interest was art (he, or course paints and I have always loved paintings). He reads a lot of non-fiction and a lot of art magazines and art books, but the only fiction writer he ever consistently reads is Dean Koontz. Over time, I've given him dozens of novels to try, each time thinking I'd found one he'll like, but with only one exception (On Love, by Alain de Boton), he hasn't liked any fiction I like. I know he isn't crazy about what I write either, although he's always nice enough to let me read him every chapter I write and he says nice things (I know he'd never say he doesn't like it, but I know it's not his thing -- I'm ok with that). We have overlapping tastes in music with a large selection of things we both like and then things we each like that aren't so much to the other's taste but that we can live with. We do share the same taste in almost all movies, which is a big relief since movie watching is a shared activity. It's a good thing a shared taste in literature was never a dating prerequisite for me because I'm not sure I'd have found much of a dating pool!

Bernita said...

That there should be a taste FOR books is essential.

Bernita said...

PS. I my husband on to several writers.

Charles Gramlich said...

A fun post. Lana was a big Fantasy reader in her earlier days but now reads mostly non-fiction stuff about the Celts. Still, since I read a lot of the old stuff we have much to talk about. Both of us are big lovers of story telling, in various forms, whether fiction or mythology. We essentially met online telling shared stories and thus found out how much we had in common. We are actually far more different in musical tastes. She's so smart and so well read in so many ways, though, that we never run out of things to talk about and it's such a new experience for me compared to other relationships I've had.

Lana Gramlich said...

I agree...Now that I think of it, most of my friends are avid readers. I've always enjoyed perusing peoples' bookshelves, too. I think it offers a window on their character.
Charles is a complete bibliophile, of course. We're going to have to build an extension to the house someday just for his books. *L* I'm amazed at his recall. In my case I think things would start melding together past a certain point, but Charles seems able to discern the smallest differences correctly. He's fascinating to speak with on many levels.

cs harris said...

Great topic. After yabbering on forever, I might steal your blog idea. In short, I agree that a taste for reading is soooo important, even if the taste only overlaps

Heather said...

My Hubby isn't much of a reader. He likes Harris' horror, me King. He comic or video game inspired tomes, me not. He only reads my work with prodding and then, he just says it was good but he didn't really 'get' it. That's ok. We have plenty of other stuff to talk about.

Anonymous said...

Taste in books isn't so important, so long as they're smart and make a habit of reading. I'd like a guy who enjoyed fantasy and science fiction, because that's what I write and I need all the test-readers that I can get.

Shauna Roberts said...

Steve, you're right. If a guy liked Britney Spears, that would definitely be a dealbreaker.

Anonymous said...

Smug literary superiority is an adopted affectation as old as tweed, and just as hideous to witness. I have no tolerance for it.

Who wants to date their clone, anyway? The best part of a relationship is the acceptance of differences, not the beating of them into submission. If taste in anything in a relationship absolutely must be in complete alignment, shouldn't it be food? Buying two different books is much easier than cooking two separate meals.

SQT said...

My husband and I don't read the same stuff at all but I don't think it matters.

I have long asserted that I am in no way a literary snob. I like pretty much anything with suspense, fantasy or any mix of the two. There's a time for classics and a time for pulp. I love it all.