In a society obsessed with inane reality shows (So You Think Your Ferret Can Dance!), hulu.com webcasts (ooh look, Just the Ten of Us on demand!) and other stupid human tricks, is reading books ever a bad thing? According to The New York Times, it can be — especially when it comes to romance. In last Sunday’s Book Review, the paper of record ran an essay suggesting that clashing literary tastes could ruin a budding relationship. What if you dig Proust, and she loves Picoult (as in Jodi, the best-selling, if decidedly middlebrow, author of works like the current chart-topper Change of Heart)? Or your beloved lives for Jane Austen, while you prefer Dean Koontz? Some of the so-called deal breakers in the Times story include Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (“grandiosely heartless ‘philosophy’”) and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (“‘Overrated!’ ‘Brilliant!’ ‘Overrated!’ ‘Brilliant!'”). But what about all the mass-market paperbacks out there? Does someone reading the Oprah-sanctioned The Secret tell you they’re an earnest, soulful truth-seeker, or a flaky quick-fix sucker? What about Elizabeth Gilbert’s ubiquitous Eat, Pray, Love? Or, conversely, the guy conspicuously carting around a battered copy of some Nabokov novel he’s clearly never read past the tenth page? Is pretending to read classic literature more egregious than reading stuff you like, even if it’s not considered “literary”?
Personally, I’m a pretty voracious if not always picky reader (subway commutes are like free library time!), though I also admit to be being Judgey McSnobberson when it comes to books with embossed lettering and/or anything featuring hot pink and kicky high heels on the cover. My boyfriend, an archeologist, only reads non-fiction, which initially kind of bummed me out. Then again, he doesn’t call me out for not reading 200-page tomes about rock formations, so why should I bug him for not caring about the latest hotshot British novelist? Plus, we have plenty of other entertainment tastes in common, like ’80s action movies when Bruce Willis actually had hair and Arnold Schwarzenegger was just a robot from the future; so on reading, we can agree to disagree.
What about you, readers? Is there any reading material that could lead you to ditch a blind date, or even a long-term love? Do you think a person’s choice in books tells you something real and meaningful about who they are? Or maybe you and your muffin disagree completely on books, but you’ve managed to overcome your literary differences and live happily ever after? Tell us your stories!