Let’s face it: rare is the person who reads for pleasure in college, outside of a humanities major. The written word has given way to the spoken movie line and furious car chase, so you can forget about discussing the sexist themes you find prevalent in Jane Austen or what you think is lacking in Dan Brown’s intelligence with someone at a party. In fact, you should give yourself a pat on the back just for reading this newspaper. But what about basing a relationship on what someone reads? Please. And yet, this is our generation. Or maybe it’s just the students in college. While our campus is a world of adults, it seems for many people your choice in literature plays a heavy part in their first impression of a date.
On a campus like UC Irvine, you probably wouldn’t push someone out of bed because of their literary palette, be it the style of Virginia Woolf or the pretty pictures of Eric Carle (of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” fame). But many older people believe that learning your date’s taste in literature is “actually a pretty good way – as a sort of first pass – of getting a sense of someone,” according to Anna Fels, a Manhattan psychiatrist and author of “Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives.” She adds, “It’s a bit of a Rorschach test.”
Fels views reading habits as a good way to grasp a person’s other qualities. Enjoy Stephen King? Then you probably have some infatuation with the supernatural or macabre (which hints at your taste in movies) and maybe a dry sense of humor. Is Dan Brown your favorite author? Then you probably like art, science or enjoy the kind of writing that parents put up on the family refrigerator. “It tells something about … their level of intellectual curiosity, what their style is,” Fels said. “It speaks to class, education level.” This doesn’t mean that if your favorite book is “War and Peace” you must be a god in bed. However, it does give you a rough idea of your date’s style, and how many big words each of you can understand without using Dictionary.com.
On a deeper level, the issue is more likely to be gender-biased than anything else. I think women tend to read more than men and, therefore, are more likely to look at literature as a deal maker or breaker. “It’s really great if you find a guy that reads, period,” said Beverly West, author of “Bibliotherapy: The Girl’s Guide to Books for Every Phase of Our Lives.”
Jessa Crispin, a blogger at the literary site Bookslut.com, follows the same line of thinking, “Most of my friends and men in my life are non-readers, 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.” Naming a favorite author can also be more of a revealing moment than you’d think: go too conventional and you might look stupid. Too highbrow, you sound boring, or like you’re full of crap. Too mainstream and you look too bland.
Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone judges a book by its cover, and even those who do aren’t really looking at literature. “I had a boyfriend I was crazy about, and it didn’t work out,” Nora Ephron said. “Twenty-five years later he accused me of not having laughed while reading ‘Candy’ by Terry Southern. This was not the reason it didn’t work out, I promise you.”
Literary tastes, like everything else, say something about each individual. If two people disagree with each other’s taste in books, it might signal they are incompatible. Sloane Crosley, a publicist at Vintage/Anchor Books and the author of “I Was Told There’d Be Cake,” a collection of essays about living the single life in New York, said, “If you’re a person who loves Alice Munro and you’re going out with someone whose favorite book is ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ perhaps the flags of incompatibility were there prior to the big reveal.”
Whether or not a person’s literary love should be a defining factor in your overall interest in them is up to you. Some people believe that what other people read is a big part of dating simply because reading is a big part of their own lives. Others may view it as a symbol of intellectuality.
Whichever way you swing when it comes to reading for pleasure, bear this in mind: When someone asks what your favorite book is, please don’t answer “Harry Potter.” Do them a favor, be more direct and just say “I don’t read that much.”
Filed Under: Features