Sunday, May 4, 2008

Love Between the Shelves

My dear friend Catherine sent me the article It's not you, it's your books from The New York Times website. Author Rachel Donadio writes:

"Some years ago, I was awakened early one morning by a phone call from a friend. She had just broken up with a boyfriend she still loved and was desperate to justify her decision. “Can you believe it!” she shouted into the phone. “He hadn’t even heard of Pushkin!”

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."

This week between my blog and Paul's blog there has been much discussion about books - the good, the popular, the intelligent, the bad, the most read and the least read - oh and then there was shelfari thrown into the mix just to make it really interesting. I would seem a rather unlikely way to put the spark back in a relationship - but well - Dave and I both love books, we both love each other - it would make sense ... well wouldn't it?

We started having conversations again - meaningful conversations about books. With all the other more interesting things to discuss and debate when we were initially falling in love, books probably didn't get a see in. Dave started shelving his reads on Shelfari, I began compiling my 'must read - no seriously this time' list. He started telling me about Anna Karenin (which he is currently reading) and I began to share short story ideas. Everyone started to smile and joke again ... and Dylan's rather irratic behaviour became more bareable.

It's not that we had stopped talking to each other prior to this week - it's simply that when you have a child, when you lead busy lives, you can stop having meaningful discussion because its almost impossible to have one uninterupted or you're tired.

I remember that when I met Dave I was impressed that he was a voracious reader (my ex partner never read and my love of reading was a constant source of tension until basically I gave up reading all together) Dave read lots of 'interesting' books - the sort of titles that you'd find on a university literature course reading list. If studying a Masters in Enviromental Geochemistry didn't give me an indication as to his curiosity and intellect - his reading did.

He was reading Satre at the time we met. I was reading a book about the lives of the Bronte sisters and a conspiracy theory surrounding the deaths of the Bronte children and Charlottes marriage to AB Nicholls (I for the life of me cannot remember or find the title now.) I had been struggling with reading - finding that after the hours of reading text books and scientific papers - reading for pleasure put me to sleep (that's the degree in which I exhausted myself with my studies) And until recently - I haven't been an avid reader like I used to be.

Considering past relationships - I don't really think that literature really played that big a deal in deciding compatibility, with perhaps one noticeable exception. I dated a pilot before I met Dave (aptly named 'The Princess by my bestfriends!) When we met he raved about The Way of the Peaceful Warrior and encouraged me wholeheartedly to read it. I was working as a waitress at the time and returning back to Albury after a trip away with him, I got a reasonable sized tip. I took the money down to the local bookstore and bought The Way of the Peaceful Warrior and devoured it. At the end I was left a little confused - because I just didn't get it - all the hype from The Princess I had expected something earth shattering, and it wasn't. Obviously I'd missed the point. And that was probably it. We didn't break up because I didn't like The Way of the Peaceful Warrior or find it life changing - we broke up because hype doesn't last (the literary and romantic type!)

With Dave, the books came later ... because the first thing that struck me was not what was (or wasn't) on his beside table ... but what was in his wardrobe (isn't that where all the best skeletons hang out?) The door was slightly open and I couldn't help but glance in as I went to the loo. There were a pair of Tigger slippers in there. That probably said far more, at the time, about him than the Satre on his bedside table - had I bothered to look.

In retrospect - I was more likely to have been left by the wayside by Dave for my 'bogan taste in music' - rather than an incompatibility in literature. We both read and enjoyed it, that seemed enough. Thankfully most things in life are malleable. Both our tastes in music have become more accomodating and gratefully, due to Dave's love of classical literature my own reading horizons are expanding.

Which begs the question - have you ever broken off a relationship over literary incompatibility or is it, as the New York Times article suggests, just symbolic of a larger problem or schism? Or does it really matter at all? To read or not to read - that is the question ....


Tricksy Pixie said...

Neither of my exes read books. They would take one of my books off the shelf (usually one with a heavy title, they both tried The Inferno for example,) read the first chapter and then carry it around for a few weeks, telling everyone "I'm reading XXXXX" (when really, they weren't.) It drove me crazy.

Can't say I've broken off a relationship over books, but I'm very inclined to make literary merit an important part of any future attachments.

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Tricksy - your comment lays to rest one of the questions that we were asking this week - do 'vanity books' as Paul calls them ... the answer is yes. And more pathetically - to carry them around.

Too bad someone didn't stop and ask them an intellectual question about the book in question!

Literary merit is a good place to start with an attachment - especially if you're a book lover.

Paul said...

All through my teenage years I was a voracious reader. This was probably because I largely coasted my way through high school, so had the time and the spare mental energy to devote to it.

Then I went to university, things got harder, study was more demanding, and although I was reading more it was textbooks, cases, journal articles - hardly a thrilling page turner. I found I didn't have the time to read for pleasure, and when I did it was like in your case, I would get so far and find myself nodding off.

This has probably contributed to my list of books that I have on my bookshelves but have not yet read... Now I'm not studying, I ought to have the time. Ought to being the operative phrase.

I've never ended a relationship over literary tastes. But I think I would take someone's literary and musical tastes into consideration when thinking about pursuing a relationship further. It sounds awful, but in terms of intellect, I'm a snob.

We don't need to have read the same books, but you've got to at least like reading. You've got to have intelligence. You've got to be challenging, and have opinions. Otherwise I'm just not interested, because you're not interesting. I sometimes look at exes now, and think "had I stayed with you, I would be crawling the wall - what did I see in you back then?"

It's not a deal breaker - this kind of thing comes earlier, and is a deal maker as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

There was something about that NY Times article that really set me thinking. Although I've been a devourer of books since I first learnt to read, discussions on books weren't high on my priority list as a teenager when checking out boys.

My ex husband read books but only a few a year,(though he loved Lightening by Koontz) and mainly magazines or newspapers on a week by week basis. We were able to discuss current events, common interests.

As I'm older now I realise that I need a certain amount of reading for pleasure just to be...sort of like I'm discovering there is a certain amount of movement I need to do to maintain my health, I think there is a certain amount of reading I need too.

As I was in a relationship for most of my adult life I've been taking a breather the last few years...although the guy I went out with post-divorce was able to discuss a wide range of reading material.

I like Paul's terminology that a shared love of reading is a deal maker. Not a bad way to start at all.