DEAL OR NO DEAL | July 24th 2008
Some books are so dear, so essential, that if a potential partner finds it risible, any meeting of the minds (or body) is impossible, writes Molly Flatt ...
Special to MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE
For bibliophiles, books are relationship brokers. Whether discovering a mutual passion for Potter on a first date, bonding over the sensuality of 18th-century Japanese yomihon, or placing a suitably literary lonely hearts ad in the London Review of Books, our romantic encounters are often dominated by the books we love. And hate.
Opposite reading tastes certainly do attract. My boyfriend may think that Dostoyevsky plays baseball for the Mets, but as an eclectic reader, equally interested in Dick Francis as DeLillo, I relish challenges to my reading preferences and predilections. Rifts over books give partners a chance to redefine (and refine) what we like, and to explore personal differences. A little game of intellectual and aesthetic one-upmanship can be a very sexy thing.
However, I do believe in the dealbreaker book. This book so deeply resonates with your soul that if a potential partner finds it risible, any meeting of minds (or body) is all but impossible. Most of us have one or two books that encapsulate all we believe to be skilful and admirable in art and in life. And while we don't necessarily expect everyone to enjoy them, we do expect our soulmate to. Or at least respect them. Rachel Donadio at the New York Times explored this very issue in a lively essay in March. She further proposed that: "Brainy women are probably more sensitive to literary deal breakers than are brainy men. (Rare is the guy who'd throw a pretty girl out of bed for revealing her imperfect taste in books.)"
After all, women read more, especially when it comes to fiction. 'It's really great if you find a guy that reads, period,' said Beverly West, an 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, agrees. 'Most of my friends and men in my life are nonreaders,' she said, 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.'
The NYT books blog Paper Cuts then asked readers "What are your literary dealbreakers--or literary deal-sealers?" There are 404 comments so far.
Our dealbreaker book represents what we want to be--it is an exercise in literary self-actualisation. It is different from the unread tomes found on our Facebook profiles--the 'If You Don't Know Mulla Sadra's "Diwan Shi'r", You're Not Worth Knowing' status game we play. We have actually read and been moved by these books. And our fondness for them might well be embarrassing. But it doesn't matter whether it's Marian Keyes or Milan Kundera--there are books we fall in love with. At times they seem to evoke the best versions of ourselves (indeed, the version we perhaps hope appeals most to others). Our relationship with our favourite books is intimate, and something worth defending.
With a dealbreaker book, someone's breezy dismissal can feel worse than an active dislike. If the books we hold close so utterly chime with our own hopes and fears, so strongly capture an ideal of self and life and beauty, a failure to share these basic visions can suggest a profound mismatch. To remain unstirred by what a lover adores seemingly promises a bland future of belittled dreams and quiet dinners in Pizza Express.
My dealbreaker is Dorothy Dunnett's "House of Niccolo" series. Yes, these novels have horses, medieval men and desert landscapes on their covers. Admittedly, being seen reading them sometimes makes me wish I could plaster my degree on the dust-jacket. But I would defend their scholarly curiosity, technical brilliance and humanity to the point of divorce. Perhaps this is narrow-minded and even a bit sad. Should fictional relationships ever really trump real flesh and blood?
It was definitely unfair for me to expect my boyfriend to wholeheartedly embrace my beloved copy of Elizabeth Knox's "The Vintner's Luck", in which a pissed, gay, leather-trouser-wearing angel is sodomised by a French peasant (an acquired taste, perhaps). But I'm sure he'll love Dorothy, when he reads her. At least, I'm sure he'll say he does. "Love me, love my book" goes the deliciously childish refrain.