Thursday, April 03, 2008

Don't Judge a Book by its . . . Books.

I hope everyone got a chance to read this article in the Times on the effect a person's taste in literature can have on a relationship, "It's Not You, it's Your Books."

Rachel Donadio is pretty spot-on, and so was my friend Kat when she said, "This article reminded me of you." I have been known to glance over at the shelves of the boy I'm dating, with severe hesitation, praying to Jesus that the gold block betters of "THE DA VINCI CODE" do not appear. (Side note: In fact, the very first post I ever made on this blog was about my hatred of Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code). That said, I do understand that men are sometimes less literary-ly (wow, is that a word?) inclined, so if I am disappointed by their bookshelves I tend to glance over toward their record collection, hoping they will be redeemed.

*please note these women hate The Da Vinci Code for different reasons than I do.

Now, hello, obviously if you like someone so much that you can't stop smiling when they look at you and the very sight of their dimples makes you think, oh hey, trash fiction is okay!, then who cares what kind of books they read.

But, full disclosure: my ex-boyfriend liked to read trash fiction. I mean, the kind of books businessmen read on planes. Techonology-thrillers. Spy fiction. He also liked Night, by Elie Wiesel, which was good (and confusing) . . . but, he did have a fondness for the dreaded CODE. I won't lie, I tried to read the thing, to understand my culture's obsession. Perhaps it was one of those "entertainment" things, whatever that means. But I could not get past the first eight pages. Looking back on it, I should have known his taste in books would factor into our relationship. We had almost nothing in common. I would come home from class, excited about something we had read, and honestly, while he feigned interest (God Bless him, he once said "I want to read Virginia Woolf so I can understand you"), I could tell he really couldn't care less.

So can one really discern that much about a person from their favorite books? I think so. Let's take a look at the ones I list on my blogger profile. I'll just hit the biggies.

Lolita. Mollygood wrote, "if a girl lists Lolita as one of her favorite books, run for the hills, man!" That's silly. Anyone who has read the novel knows it's one of the most beautiful novels in the English language, incest or not.

Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf is basically my religion. No, I'm not gay, and I'm not a misandrist. For the record: she wasn't, either.

Everything is Illuminated. Look! It's semi-commercial fiction here, folks. I'm sorry, but this book made me cry. I read it on vacation, at the beach, surrounded by nothing but beauty, and it still made me cry. See, I'm secretly a sap.

Franny and Zooey. This book is so important to me, that if I see someone reading on the subway, I am tempted to walk up to them and ask them on a date. I really can't imagine a more perfect book. Did I mention I love this book? Does it make me a little neurotic but also a little cool? Yeah. Does it make anyone who loves it as much as I do cool, too? Yeah.

The Piano Teacher. Okay. Crazy S&M Piano Teacher terrorizes students, lusts after one in particular, has a controlling mother. All ends . . . not well. Yes, I am interested in women and violence. Yes, I am a feminist. Do I feel strongly about it? Yes. (P.S. check out the movie. Isabelle Huppert is brilliant!

Ultimately, I think those of us who are passionate about art feel that bad taste in books, movies, music (whatever the medium) can be a deal-breaker in a relationship: Am I right? Are there any books you're ashamed to list on your favorite list? Why? If there could be one book to define you as a person, what would it be?

So there's my list . . . are you running from me in terror?


kat said...

Based solely on this list, if you were a man, I would date you.

riese said...

Deal-cincher: I dated a boy once who used The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons to leverage his bedframe. (Hardcovers, obvs) I forgave him for reading them (and liking them) simply because he'd found a much better usage for them as essentially very colorful & wordy cinderblocks.

Snobber said...


r- that is hilarious and the only reason i can think of for forgiveness.

maitresse said...

ha! love it. I am one of your co-religionists. That was a major reason I disdained that article-- the dig at Virginia Woolf: "Too Virginia Woolf." What? Too brilliant? Too-accurate a rendering of the human condition?

But I do think judging a person by their books is a deeply misguided activity. Two of my boyfriend's favorite authors are Celine and Montherlant. Does that make him a fascist, anti-semitic misogynist? Maybe. And yet this Jewish socialist feminist loves him to pieces. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

maybe you should read blind date by jerzy kosinski

Snobber said...

maitresse: ooh, yes, i forgot to mention that. "too virginia woolf?" what does that even mean? i love your definition.

well, i love the fascists and crazies, too, so i guess i shouldn't talk . . . or balk.

anon: is that a book about judging people by their books?

biblio-tica said...


This post is amazing and so true. I think you are completely correct, that for people who are passionate about art, bad taste in books or another medium is a fundamental deal-breaker. I think it speaks to something deeper than just what we like to read. I have gotten in to more than one fight about my utter loathing for The Da Vinci Code. The fact that it spent so much time on the bestseller list (a fact with which I was all too familiar, working in an enormous conglomerate bookstore) still disheartens me.

That aside, I don't think there is a single book that I would be afraid to list on my favorite-book list. My favorite book of all time is a young adult fiction, The Tale of Despereaux, and it is an enchanting, beautifully-written story. But perhaps I don't have any embarrassing "guilty pleasures" because those sort of businessman-airplane books just don't appeal to me at all. And now you have me thinking about exactly what book I would choose to define me. What an awesome post!

Joanna Goddard said...

this was a great post. my sister's husband said he fell in love w/her when he saw her bookcase.

Snobber said...

this is obvious a subject close to everyone's heart :) thanks for the lovely comments! and keep up the judgment! xo