I come to popular things, as is my unfortunate norm, rather late after their sell-by date. Sometime last March, people on my Facebook list started cross-posting an article titled “Date a Girl Who Reads”. It’s a trite little piece of cheap intellectual narcissism, of which the ‘intellectual’ part is largely imaginary. To wit, Extract 1, as Exhibit A:
She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow. She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already… Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.
Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax.
As is rather painfully evident, this piece could be eviscerated on many counts. Not least for of its sorry presumption of the poetic, by which it attempts to romanticise — and generalise — slight insanities peculiar to its author (or perhaps to her book club friends). What irks me most, however, is that in the process, it also fetishises ‘reading’ with several geo-cultural and class-specific details — cosumerist ones, especially — not actually pertinent to reading, and thus authenticates the act of reading to a very small group of people from said geo-cultural classes.
I was delighted, therefore, when I discovered Exhibit B, written perhaps in response to the self-indulgent tripe above. Called “You Should Date an Illiterate Girl”, part I of the piece paints a charming, yet subtly poignant picture of relationships sans reading lists. And then, with considerably more zest — and small lapses in spelling, grammar and sentimentality — it details why relationships with dedicated readers might be an unappealing proposition. And the reasons are rather flattering. To wit, Excerpt 2:
Nothing sucks worse than a girl who reads. A girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder.
Rather sweet of the author, I think we can agree. The small glitch in the entire affair is that, despite being an inveterate reader, I cannot in any honesty lay claim to the wonderful and strange qualities these two writers insist I possess. (I can, however, lay claim to common human vanity, and so if I had to pick one of the two mantles set out for me here, I’ll plump for the second every time. Thank you.)
What puzzles me about these pieces, however, is the complete absence of the consumer. The intended recipient of the advice — and also, one hopes, of a girl, irrespective of her reading status — must at least be indicated in a prescription of his desire. Who would such a person be? Would this person be well-read? Must this person be a heterosexual male? Would — given the quite unrealistic nature of both pieces — this person be stupid? What might the exclusion of male reading habits from the heterosexual romantic paradigm mean? What if an avid reader only reads magazines, or religious tracts, or murder mysteries — does this influence her status as a reader? What if the reader is a single male, and adores child-care magazines? With pictures? Does romance blossom for him?
Enquiring minds, I think, would wish to know.