“It’s Not You, It’s Your Books.”

That’s the title to this article, about whether and how different literary tastes impact a relationship.

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.

Well, I’ve never been there. Why not? I can think of two possible reasons.

Initially I figured it was because the idea of ending, or not starting, a relationship over a book seemed patently absurd. Then I got to this part of the story:

“I did have to break up with one guy because he was very keen on Ayn Rand,” said Laura Miller, a book critic for Salon. “He was sweet and incredibly decent despite all the grandiosely heartless ‘philosophy’ he espoused, but it wasn’t even the ideology that did it. I just thought Rand was a hilariously bad writer, and past a certain point I couldn’t hide my amusement.”

I can understand that. The problem wouldn’t be so much the enjoyment of a lousy book as the naive belief that the book is good. We own all of John Grisham’s books, for instance, but I’d never be silly enough to have a serious discussion about any of them. And I would not have much respect for anyone who did.

So my problem is not really with the principle. I just have not had to apply it. Compare my wife’s list of favorite books:

1. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen).

2. The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien).

3. The Mark of the Lion (Francine Rivers).

4. Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry).

5. The Space Trilogy (C.S. Lewis).

With mine:

1. Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry).

2. The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien).

3. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen).

4. In the Beauty of the Lillies (John Updike).

5. Pretty much anything by Larry Brown.

As you can see, three of the five overlap. Even more, I recommended she read LOTR and Jayber Crow, while she got me over my “but it was a school book” aversion to Pride and Prejudice. I’ve never read her third book, but I have read and do like the fifth. In short, we like the same stuff, most of which is, I think, good. (Like I said earlier, we also like the same not-good stuff: John Grisham).

So I guess that’s why we get along o.k. If she read Nora Roberts (or if I read Tom Clancy), though, maybe that wouldn’t be the case.

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2 Comments on ““It’s Not You, It’s Your Books.””

  1. Greenshirt Says:

    This sounds like a Seinfeld episode: where somebody breaks up with somebody because of the way one of them eats their peas…
    Anway, from the ancient history department:
    Dubliners – especially “The Dead”;
    Anna Karenina -“All happy families are alike…”;
    A Farewell to Arms – for the sheer immediacy of the writing;
    As I Lay Dying -one entire chapter reads, “My mother is a fish”;
    A Christmas Carol – is this a Christian book with Communist overtones or vice versa?

  2. Hot Momma Says:

    I almost included Anna Karenina on my list of top 5, but I thought I might look pretentious to have two “school-book-classics” on my favs. And the fact that I’ve only read it once made me hesitate. But it’s definitely in my top 10. Again, I couldn’t convince Wheeler to read it b/c it was a “school book.”


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