Tall Paul and I met online, through eHarmony, and they have an established getting-to-know-you process that involves four communication “stages.” Your initial exposure to each other is a view of the “About Me” profile page, which contains a selection of short-answer questions, and the site encourages you to fill it in as completely as possible. A couple of the questions on that page concerned books – an estimate of how many you read per year, and your favorite recent read.
First Husband didn’t read much for “fun” – he said that he had to do too much of it for work (and to be fair, as a scientist and professor, he had a lot of work-related reading) – but reading is almost as essential as breathing for me, so I was pleased to see that Tall Paul mentioned that he read about half a dozen books a year for pleasure, and that his favorite was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – “all four books of the trilogy.” I actually have yet to get around to reading the fourth book – I thought the third one was a bit of a dud, although I loved the first two. Our correspondence over the “open communication” stage, prior to meeting for our first in-person date, included more book talk, and I was happy to learn that I’d found a fellow Harry Potter fan.
Both book and relationship bloggers have been talking about a recent New York Times essay that considers “literary compatibility” in relationships. I have to say that it’s probably not one of the most critical areas for a couple to share, but having been on both sides of it, it’s a very nice thing when they do.
I definitely read more than my husband does, but one thing I love is that I’ve been able to introduce him to some favorite books and writers of mine, and he’s come to like them too. That hasn’t happened quite so much in reverse, but that’s usually been more due to lack of time – and a pre-existing TBR collection from hell – than a lack of interest in checking out books that he’s read first. I love finding books for him almost as much as I love finding them for me. I love the fact that he’ll never say no to stopping into a bookstore, and I don’t worry that he’ll get bored or impatient while I’m looking around, because I know he’s doing the same thing even if we’re in different areas of the store. One of my favorite weekends with him was last July, when we each settled in with our own copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and raced each other to the finish. (He won, but then he had to wait for me before we could talk about it.)
The NYT essay talked about “literary deal-breakers” – reading preferences that a couple has to have in common in order for the relationship to work – and concludes that these “deal-breakers” often are stand-ins for, or symbolic of, deeper differences. For some couples, differences in movies or music might have a similar effect. As I mentioned in my “Ten on Tuesday” post earlier this week, these are the kinds of things that, although largely subjective, people often judge each other on – partly for the preference itself, and partly for being “the kind of person who could like (or not like)” such-and-such; it’s the sense of conflict and incompatibility with “that kind of person” that really leads to the deal-breaker, I think. If these preferential “deal-breakers” aren’t stand-ins for bigger differences, then I’m inclined to think it’s a pretty shallow relationship to begin with (and the basis of a Seinfeld episode, besides).
In the big picture, compatibility in the Major Issues – values, goals, philosophy of life – matters a lot more in relationships than common interests do, but in day-to-day life, it’s great to be able to do things like read together. What are some of the interests that you and your partner share?
And on a somewhat related note, thanks to Karen for mentioning this new survey about America’s all-time favorite books. Here are the top 10 unprompted responses:
1. The Bible
2. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
3. Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien
4. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
5. The Stand, by Stephen King
6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
8. Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown
9. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
10. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
If you’re interested in how the books break down among various demographic groups, that info is here.
I’ve read seven of the ten, plus some of the Bible – but I don’t think I could pick one single all-time favorite book if I had to. What about you?