Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Love Me, Love My Taste in Books?

Do you want your spouse, significant other, family members, and friends to read and like the same books that you do? Will you be upset if they don’t? The New York Times Book Review (11/2/14) asked two of their regular “Bookends” columnists “Have you ever had a relationship end because of a book?” Zoe Heller answered by telling of a vacation with a long-ago boyfriend who, when seeing she was reading Sybille Bedford while he was reading Hunter Thompson, “was deeply troubled by our clashing literary tastes” and “kept worrying the subject…By the end of the vacation, we were at war. His view was that our failure to enjoy each other’s books was a sign of a more general and fatal incompatibility.” They soon “parted ways.” Heller feels that “the value of agreeing with one’s friends about books has always seemed to me overrated.” She goes on to say that “insisting that your loved one’s literary judgments be in harmony with your own suggests to me a rather dull and narcissistic notion of what constitutes intimacy” and concludes, after a story about a happier romance with a different man, “Love is not love which alters when a man fails to appreciate ‘Herzog.’” Anna Holmes, on her part, says that although different tastes in books don’t necessarily have to be a problem, “books…have strained some of my most important love affairs…I was drawn to men who displayed a tendency to chafe at the very idea that I might find sustenance or succor in anything other than them.” She also noted that in the case of one early live-in romance, she “refused to mingle my books with his, preferring to keep mine on a bookshelf in a room that he rarely entered,” which raises other questions as well. Of course, upon reading this column, I asked myself where I stood on this question. In general, I am drawn to others who love to read, and of course it is always a pleasure when one shares similar tastes in literature. I treasure certain friends partly because of the bond we have in our mutual love of books, and especially similar books. It is a great pleasure to be able to discuss books with them, to be part of book clubs, to go to bookstores and book readings together, and to give and lend books to them and vice versa. But for me, sharing similar tastes and habits regarding books and reading is not a requirement in a spouse, friends or family members. Going back to Zoe Heller’s response: “This surely is one of the great advantages of reading as a pursuit – that its pleasures do not rely on teammates or fellow enthusiasts, that the reader’s relationship with an author has no need of endorsement from third parties.”
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