Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How Far Would You Go For a Book?

Sunday's New York Times Book Review had an essay entitled "It's Not You, It's Your Books" which gave me a nice chuckle. Would I, in my single days, have given the heave-ho to someone because they didn't share my taste in books?

Growing up books were my passion. I was a voracious reader in a world where reading was a chore forced on you at school. Friends would come to my house and see the huge bookshelf stuffed with everything I could get my hands on and would always ask the same question, Did you read all of those? As soon as I discovered 19th century Russian literature when I was 12, I accepted that most people I met would have no clue about what I was reading. It didn't matter to me, reading was personal.

In my 20s, I entered the world of the literate Manhattanites. Books were as far from personal as you could get. They were advertisements. At one point, anyone who was anyone was walking around carrying copies of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. It didn't matter if you read it or finished it, you just had to know enough to join in the conversation. Memorizing quotes from book reviews in The New York Times and The NewYorker was a necessary component to any "serious" conversation (monologue to be more precise) plus the ability to toss in a well placed "derivative". What you read became part of any resume of accomplishments along with where you attended college, where you worked, in what neighborhood you resided, and your favorite restaurants.

I was a freakish anomaly in this group. No one ever seemed to be reading what I was reading. I was always behind the curve of the fad. Now that I think of it, I was deeply suspicious of people who read only what was currently being reviewed. Didn't these people ever wander around an old bookstore and just grab a book off the shelf just because of the strange title or because it's weathered pages were dog eared or because the dust was so thick on the book that it was like exploring an ancient tomb?

It wasn't what someone was reading that might have put me off but the attitude of the reader. Reading for pleasure was appreciated more than reading to impress. I had a boyfriend years ago who would rip off the covers from any book that he was reading because he hated to have people know what he was reading. This was New York city in the late 80's and early 90's and trouble could start just from a simple book title. He tore off the covers for protection and for privacy. I understood this. Reading is a personal journey not an advertisement. Scanning my extensive collection of books what you'll come away with is the fact that I'm curious and my tastes are eclectic, anything more requires you to get to know me. But then isn't that the whole point of dating?

No comments: