You liked that book? Pretentious crap. Get out of my bed.

Discussion over an article published Sunday night on the NY Times website dominated my email inbox today. Given the fact that so many SM readers are hyper-literate (or at least think they are) this simply had to be shared, discussed, and dissected to death here as well. Ready yourselves:

We’ve all been there. Or some of us have. Anyone who cares about books has at some point confronted the Pushkin problem: when a missed — or misguided — literary reference makes it chillingly clear that a romance is going nowhere fast. At least since Dante’s Paolo and Francesca fell in love over tales of Lancelot, literary taste has been a good shorthand for gauging compatibility. These days, thanks to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, listing your favorite books and authors is a crucial, if risky, part of self-branding. When it comes to online dating, even casual references can turn into deal breakers. Sussing out a date’s taste in books is “actually a pretty good way — as a sort of first pass — of getting a sense of someone,” said Anna Fels, a Manhattan psychiatrist and the author of “Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives.” “It’s a bit of a Rorschach test.” To Fels (who happens to be married to the literary publisher and writer James Atlas), reading habits can be a rough indicator of other qualities. “It tells something about … their level of intellectual curiosity, what their style is,” Fels said. “It speaks to class, educational level.”

Pity the would-be Romeo who earnestly confesses middlebrow tastes: sometimes, it’s the Howard Roark problem as much as the Pushkin one. “I did have to break up with one guy because he was very keen on Ayn Rand,” said Laura Miller, a book critic for Salon. “He was sweet and incredibly decent despite all the grandiosely heartless ‘philosophy’ he espoused, but it wasn’t even the ideology that did it. I just thought Rand was a hilariously bad writer, and past a certain point I couldn’t hide my amusement.” (Members of theatlasphere.com, a dating and fan site for devotees of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” might disagree.)… [Link]

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p>I confess, I went to theatlassphere.com to see if Vinod had posted a dating ad there. The article goes on to conclude that you must be incredibly shallow if you dump someone based openly (or secretly) on the fact that their taste in literature sucks compared to yours. In fact, it wasn’t until I read this article that I wondered, for the first time in my life, if I was shallow. Am I destined to be “Baioed“? Not only would the pre-32 year old Abhi break up with a girl if she had ever in her life waited in a line for a Harry Potter book, he may also have dumped her if she didn’t like Mos Def The Cure (yes, I am a music snob as well). However, the new Abhi is reflective about the depth of his shallowness, mostly because he had been completely unaware of it until recently. The new Abhi wants to change. There have always been hints. Let me tell you all about one recent break-up. Well, it still feels recent but I guess it has actually been a while. It was a blogger. I read this person daily and they opened my eyes to new things (even stuff I didn’t care about like Bollywood was made mildly tolerable). About a year into the relationship the cracks started to show. I think we both saw them but…its hard to give up on something that you’ve invested time in together. Eventually they went their own way. And then, just recently, after I wrote this book review he wrote this counter review, and I knew we weren’t meant to be together. The passive aggression (see the second stab) over literature is plain for all to see. A good friendship was a better idea. He just doesn’t get my rawer tastes.

Continuing on with the article, I realized how formulaic some of our behaviors have become in this internet age. For example, I confess, I’ve done this (and I’m sure many of you have as well):

Still, to some reading men, literary taste does matter. “I’ve broken up with girls saying, ‘She doesn’t read, we had nothing to talk about,’” said Christian Lorentzen, an editor at Harper’s. Lorentzen recalls giving one girlfriend Nabokov’s “Ada” — since it’s “funny and long and very heterosexual, even though I guess incest is at its core.” The relationship didn’t last, but now, he added, “I think it’s on her Friendster profile as her favorite book…” [Link]

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p>Even if it didn’t work out, a scar on your heart in the form of a good book feels tolerable. When I thought about it I realized that some of my previous failed “relationships,” that were in retrospect marked by unsustainable high highs and low lows, were foreshadowed by literary incidents. I once dated a girl that loved Lolita by Nabokov (brilliant) but also liked Waiting for Godot by Beckett (pretentious waste of time).

“You mean you haven’t read it yet? I read an advanced copy. She really has outdone herself”

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p>Being South Asian makes it even harder with respect to finding literary compatibility, especially if you want to date someone desi or someone who is dating you because they find you exotic. There is the added pressure of having to always know when the newest desi-lit book is coming out so you can be prepared to sound like an expert on it. Well you know what? I don’t read desi-lit! Gasp

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p>The single best line in the article however, has got to be the following:

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…” [Link]

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p>That really is a transcendant statement. I’ve never heard it put so concisely and correctly. I recently went on a date with a girl that confessed to being a Chopra (yes, that one) fan in her younger days. The old Abhi would have snuck out the bathroom window. The new Abhi finished the date only to learn that some of our perversions matched.

Baby steps.

109 thoughts on “You liked that book? Pretentious crap. Get out of my bed.

  1. Well you know what? I don’t read desi-lit! *Gasp*

    thank god someone said it.
    i thought i was the only one.

  2. i thought i was the only one.

    I almost wish I could join you. I’ll read it out of some vague sense of guilt, but more often than not, I won’t like it. One more paragraph romanticising the cooking of daal, and I’ll lose what tenuous grip on sanity I have left.

  3. I know! But hey we automatically judge people like that. Now just last night this new couple-friend, she said the movie Atonement had way too many “negative canotations” and that little girl seemed really “psychotic”. I judged her right then and there, much to my own contempt.

    Also, its pretty obvious if you’re gonna hit it with someone who can’t stand listening to you about praising your favorite themes or books. I would say its a very big deal if you find someone who reads at all! Finding “compatible” date is hard enuf, and expecting everyone to be able to differentiate between subjectivism/objectivism is just way too much to ask for.

    yeah lovely line “literature’s a luxury”.. thow I was taken aback by the way they ended that article in so much “neutral” tone.

  4. 103 · Camille said

    I was thinking of coming down to D.C. in the springtime

    Stop thinking, start coming. Those are words to live by, dear Camille.

  5. 105 · portmanteau said

    Stop thinking, start coming.

    Just thought the above bears repeating…over and over again.

  6. I once dated a girl who I lent my favorite book Midnight’s Children to..

    When she dumped me she returned the book and said she just couldn’t understand it.

    If she didn’t tell me that beforehand, I think I would have been heartbroken. At least this way, I knew we weren’t meant to be.