Monday, March 31, 2008

Pushkin? What's a 'Pushkin'?...

On relationships, literary taste, an Ayn Rand infatuation, too much Virginia Woolf, and complementary perversions:

When it comes to budding relationships, how much does a potential partner's taste in books (or their lack of interest in reading, whatsoever) really matter? For many - writers and bloggers, alike - a lot, apparently. According to the NY Times' Sunday Book Review essay "It's Not You, It's Your Books" literary taste has become a handy measuring stick for potential compatibility.

Anna Fels, a Manhattan psychiatrist and the author of NECESSARY DREAMS: AMBITION IN WOMEN'S CHANGING LIVES says that inspecting a date's taste in books is "actually a pretty good way — as a sort of first pass — of getting a sense of someone. It’s a bit of a Rorschach test."

Laura Miller, the book critic for Salon confesses to dumping a guy because of his infatuation with Ayn Rand. Jessica Crispin of Bookslut wouldn't undress for a guy who says his life was changed by an inspirational book about dogs, and James Collins, the author of BEGINNER'S GREEK, has written off potential partners for reading Baudrillard (too pretentious), John Irving (too middlebrow),and Virginia Woolf (too Virginia Woolf).

So is there anything to this judgment by book? Maybe. We all surely have our own standards when it comes to picking a partner. But this bookish girl has to confess to feeling that many of those described in the essay come off as incredibly superficial and, to borrow one of Collin's words, pretentious.

The article begins with one of the author's friends justifying breaking up with a boyfriend she still loved by yelling, "Can you believe it! He hadn’t even heard of Pushkin!" I hope the author did her friend justice by saying, "Okaaaay. And?" Is it really worth throwing away a partner you love because they don't know who Pushkin is? Or because they like Ayn Rand? Or because they read John Irving?

In a perfect world, we would all be partnered with those of similar literary tastes but this isn't a perfect world, and it seems silly to throw away a perfectly interesting and suitable partner because you think their literature is too high or low brow. If I were that picky about those whom I dated, I'd be preparing to be single for a very long time. I'm much more inclined to agree with this passage near the end of the essay:

Some people just prefer to compartmentalize. “As a writer, the last thing I want in my personal life is somebody who is overly focused on the whole literary world in general,” said Ariel Levy, the author of “Female Chauvinist Pigs” and a contributing writer at The New Yorker. Her partner, a green-building consultant, “doesn’t like to read,” Levy said. When she wants to talk about books, she goes to her book group. Compatibility in reading taste is a “luxury” and kind of irrelevant, Levy said. The goal, she added, is “to find somebody where your perversions match and who you can stand."

I'm not saying that literary taste doesn't matter, I'm saying on the list of things that do matter, literary taste is somewhere at the bottom. I'm much more likely give a guy the book for saying proudly and without any sense of shame, "I don't read" than I am the one who says, "Dan Brown is an excellent writer." That latter, at least, I can work with.

And the Weirdest Title Goes To...

On closure, legs, sexism, pimps, hustlers, and big boom theories:
The NY Times has announced the winner of the Diagram Prize: the award given to books with the weirdest title of the year. This year's award: IF YOU WANT CLOSURE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP, START WITH YOUR LEGS by Big Boom.

Now, I usually try hard not to be too sensitive when it comes to perceived offenses but... what the hell? Am I the only one who has a problem with this title? This sounds to me like the grossest kind of sexism - the kind that blames all relationship problems on the "oversexed" woman; the kind that absolves boys/men of their complicity in relationships gone bad.

But maybe I'm being too sensitive. Maybe the book's title is merely poking fun at such destructive sexism. The synopsis on the inside flap of the book's cover begins, "After decades of preying on women as a pimp and a hustler, Big Boom knows all the games men play," and convinces me that Mr. Boom is, in fact, very serious. No satire to be found here, which is just what I suspected.

Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller magazine, said the title was "so don’t even need to read the book itself." Rickett just might just be on to something here.