Judging A Boy By His Books by Carin Siegfried
What is your honey’s favorite book? Would you date a guy who didn’t read? What does a favorite book say about a person? How much do you judge based on reading preferences? These thoughts occurred to me after a conversation about unfortunate reading experiences.
I was recounting one very unfortunate summer in college when I was dating a certain young man. He was pre-law, and he suggested I read The Firm by John Grisham. That experience should have convinced me to become an editor, right then and there. I was hard-pressed not to go get a red pen to correct his stilted dialect. I was unhappy. He assured me that a gazillion people can’t be wrong and I should really give another book a chance. I tried The Client. While the writing and dialogue had improved, the premise was even more ludicrous. A ten-year-old kid outsmarts the mob? My ten-year-old brother couldn’t manage ordering a pizza. I threw it across the room and have banned Mr. Grisham from my reading list forevermore.
The following summer, I got back together with the same boyfriend. One day he stopped by the bookstore to see me and told me he had a book I should read. A nine-month break-up had made me forget the prior summer’s experience. To my misfortune. He said it was the only book that had ever made him cry. I was intrigued. Reader, have you guessed my pending torture? He presented me with The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. Ugh. I have never felt so used and dirty after reading a book. I know it’s widely panned, and it’s cheap to pile on, but my biggest problem with the book was its obvious and blatant pandering to the lowest common denominator of the book buying audience. I strongly feel that Mr. Waller analyzed the largest potential market, what their fantasy would be, and how to maximize his profits in this endeavor. The only thing I can really say to that is, thank God I didn’t pay for it.
Shortly afterward, we broke up again. We did not get back together again. Since then I have been more careful. In New York I was very impressed with a guy who got me Blindness by Jose Saramego and recommended Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk. How could things possibly go wrong? The first time I went to his apartment I immediately began to scan his bookcases and not only found a disturbing number of beat authors on his shelves along with macho mysogynists like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, all of which I could overlook if he hadn’t taken the opportunity to tell me his favorite book: Catcher in the Rye. That’s fine when you’re 16 but not when you’re 26. I think it shows a bit of arrested development to have that book still ring true and speak to your soul in your adulthood.
My current boyfriend of two and a half years is a big reader. His favorite book of all time is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. I think I’m pretty safe. But readers, beware. When our bookshelves all go digital and we can no longer make judgments based on the content of others’ shelves, I think we’ll have lost a valuable source of information about the inner workings of our potential love interest, to our detriment.
Carin Siegfried is a freelance book editor in Charlotte, the founder of the Charlotte chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, and Vice-President of WNBA (National).
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