Romance via Reading

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.

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34 comments

    • You know, I’m sure I do, but I’m also absolutely certain I’ve forgotten. Remind me? 🙂

      P.S: I remember K and I had the same reaction to the bit about girls pretending to understand Joyce because it makes them look intelligent. That was a bit odd, and served to emphasise something, only I’m not sure what.

  1. A girl well read enough to understand you and ignorant enough to admire you is the opti’mum’. Sniffing pages just cannot be a girl trait. Everybody loves it; it exposes you to the pesticides they use in the library and the addiction settles over the years.

  2. I didn’t have a chance to go through these “exhibits” , but “romance via reading” totally reminds me of “If on a Winter’s Night, a Traveler…”. 🙂 I am sure Calvino did a better job than the first writer here.

    • “I am sure Calvino did a better job than the first writer here.”

      Oddly, so am I.

      My history with “If on a winter’s night…”, incidentally, is deliciously ironic. I picked up an abandoned photocopied extract of it, left on a library chair. Only, the extract was jumbled with other photocopied extracts (amongst them, Plato’s Republic and a chapter of an Arthurian romance).

  3. Ok. Slice of life. I know this guy – have known him for odd on 25 years, and he is possibly still a virgin if you ignore the rare drunken pawing in sordid surroundings and the amnesia next morning when he has trouble recollecting how far and wide his member traveled, or whether it left at all. Product of a repressed childhood, the only women he has close interaction with happen to be his mother and his sister. He builds up a construct when he sees a girl he fancies, and inevitably comes to the conclusion that the girl likes him back. Thereby giving him the excuse to sneak in a few touchy feely moments – making like he’s just being fond and affectionate – agaiin under the influence – because without dutch courage he’s all jelly in the presence of girls.

    But here’s the thing. He is well read, an intellectual (whatever that might mean) and makes phrases turn cartwheels quite cleverly. However, he feels it is not incumbent on him to be well turned out, and takes a strange pride in being as scruffy as possible, the idea here being that if the girl is “genuine” and has any sense, she would see through all that superficiality of dirt and grime and bad dress sense and embrace the sterling qualities that lie within him. In fact, its a kind of test. Of course, the same does not apply to the girl who has to look pretty, preferably gamine. Oh yes, he goes for gamine, the type who’ll look up at him with shining eyes. Not surprisingly this friend of mine hasn’t found a girl yet, and the last time we spoke, well, I spoke and he slurred, he half jokingly told me he wanted to marry a Santhal tribal girl.

    Exhibit A didn;t work out for him, and now that he’s getting long in the tooth, he wants Exhibit B.
    Sounds to me like the writer of the article fits this profile.

    • Oddly, Gautam, a famous Bengali author rather fits this description (except perhaps the actual dirt and grime), particularly in the fascination with the constructed innocence and very real powerlessness of Santhal women (vis a vis both city women and men).

  4. Then there was this other friend (am I boring you?) …he used to meet girls and ask them”Have you read Rabindranath?” – that being right on top of his checklist of eligibility, and, well…he is still a bachelor. I remember he went bald very quickly, at the age of 25, and it vexed him a lot when girls used to get up and offer him their seats in trams and buses, saying, :Dadu, boshun.”
    (Brahmo.)

    • Hahahaha! You’re not boring me in the slightest. I cannot emphasise how much you’re not boring me. Re. Rabindranath, as long as he limited himself to the more popular pieces in Gitanjali, he should’ve done just fine 🙂

      Also, I know someone who worms Foucault into every first conversation, to “weed out undesirables”.

      • About 20 years back I would find the Foucalts and Derridas popping out when there was a girl in the room. The girls were smarter. They married elsewhere.

      • i possibly scared off one of my so-called ‘suitable match’es who professed to be an avid sf reader. i asked him about neuromancer. he said he was restricted to asimov. my moment of glory. 😀

        • You won’t believe this…but I know a story about a prof from Science College who needed advice from his father on his wedding night…and not only that – he borrowed a torch, because he had doubts whether he would “find the place”.

        • ‘Restricted to Asimov’. Ooof. But I do remember someone who was a Sociology chap elected into the IPS, and chose to lecture his potential future bride — an MPhil in English — on criminality in Hamlet the day they first met.

  5. Then there was this prof (wont mention his name – you know him) and we were on our way to the Ekkshan little magazine office in college street to meet Nirmalya Acharya…and my friend the prof (who had a huge stash of desi porn by the way – for academic reasons he said) was going on about armed revolution and how the streets should run with the blood of oppressors and all that..and suddenly someone threw a peto…and all hell broke loose…everyone was running wherever they could… and in the melee along came this taxi and my friend paractically fell at his feet begging him to take him somewhere…anywhere. The Taxi driver spat phlegmatically and said he was going to Esplanade and my friend wrung his bony little chicken hands and sobbed…”Tai Tai!”

  6. exhibit b is exhibit a. and i imagine recipient of advice is a type of brooding new-age-y junior/senior, possibly vegan, and definitely artsy. this person may have a tumblr, may attend poetry slams, and prefer david foster wallace to miss meyer. oh and. this person will definitely be part of the 99%. you went to brandeis. surely, surely you’ve met this type. although charles’s piece (exhibit b) is more of the lovelorn sort of writing on his tumblr that makes you think he’s just been recently dumped by a fabulous hipster poetess, and wants to warn everyone of the pain involved when people are particularly careful with their words. i don’t think subway murder mystery/fitness magazine/wsj reading counts as reading, in this context.

    • “i don’t think subway murder mystery/fitness magazine/wsj reading counts as reading, in this context.”

      I object to this most vehemently. WSJ can take a flying leap off a cliff, but I insist murder mysteries be included within the snooty borders of ‘real reading’. I have learnt more about several things from murder mysteries than I have from most texts and other prescribed things (largely because I ignored prescribed things, but anyway). So I demand more inclusivity for murders!

  7. Bankimchandra said, however learned a woman is, she will ultimately have to succumb to a man’s natural beauty (you read that right). He was talking about Vidyasundar i.e. vidya and sundar. Note that he also says nothing about how well-read the man is or should be.

  8. Achha ei je shob gonya manyo der niye alochana hochhey, era shobai ki Bangali? Maaney aami bhabchhi, ei rokom pompous pedantry ki amader boishishtho? Hoyto ba Tam-Bram ra o ektu adhtu ei rokom i hoy, kintu Bangalira ei byapar take ekta onno porjaye niye jaaye.

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