Sunday, 13 April 2008

Is that a book in your back pocket, or are you just putting on weight?

There's this article from the NY Times, which not one, but two of the blogs I subscribe to on Google Reader commented upon, which makes it a matter for serious consideration. The gist of the essay is this:

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. At least since Dante’s Paolo and Francesca fell in love over tales of Lancelot, literary taste has been a good shorthand for gauging compatibility.
If this were true, it would mean that I'm destined for a life filled with short, unfulfilling relationships with the fairer sex.

Consider, for instance, the picture at right - that's the first shelf of my (tiny) bookshelf. The authors on that shelf include Ray Bradbury, le Carre, Chuck Palahniuk, Gaiman, Camus, Philip K Dick, Hunter S Thompson, Che Guevara, Ramchandra Guha, Richard Dawkins, Tim Harford, Thomas Friedman, Michael Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, Amartya Sen and a bunch of others. I doubt if most of the women I know (not that I know too many), or even the ones I may come to know in future, would read all or even most of them. And that's not even considering the remaining shelves, other books I've read but do not own, the collection of comics and graphic novels on my comp, or the masses of automotive magazines I end up accumulating. This is not a criticism of the women I know - most of the men I know won't get around to reading all of them either. It's never really mattered to me, really- reading for me has always been more of a personal indulgence, the way other people listen to music or something. In fact, it's even more personal: I don't think I could ever get around to recommending books (except maybe to younger relatives and such-like). A common like or dislike may have reinforced a few relationships, but I don't think it's ever been a standalone factor in the success or failure of any of them. So thinking of books as a way of scoping out women just seems rather strange to me.
Of course back in college I did try to look all intellectual at times by carrying 'angle' books to class. That was partly inspired by watching this senior of mine drape himself on the steps or in the various nooks and corners in and around the main corridor, wearing crumpled clothes and engrossed in whatever he was reading until distracted by his hot girlfriend. I don't think I ever impressed any women, but I did get around to reading some pretty good stuff. Conversely, though, the only time I've had a woman come and talk to me at a pub was also over a book - a copy of 'Pundits from Pakistan' I had with me one day at Toto's. It turned out she knew the author and was trying to gather feedback for him, and further conversation revealed that she knew much of the crowd at Cricinfo, including 'Young George' as she referred to him, but still, that counts. So maybe carrying a book around does help with the women.
I don't think I've ever met a woman who shares similar reading preferences to mine, except for my sister, and the latter only because she was a major influence on my reading choices growing up. Which does put me in a tight spot, if the essayist is to be believed. I'd have to feign an interest in Paulo Coelho, I guess, to get anywhere. Having said that, I would be somewhat apprehensive about meeting someone who actually reads the same stuff that I do. It would kill some of the excitement of reading something new if I knew she had already read it. And I'm sure there would be petty arguments to establish which one is the bigger Wodehouse fan.
Frankly, I'm just happy to have people around me who read, irrespective of what they read and whether they are friends or prospective dates or whatever, and (hopefully) we don't judge each other based on what we're reading. Having said that, if you're a single woman who knows her Rorschach from her Rorschach, drop me a comment. Heck, if you're a woman reading this blog, drop me a comment. It would be a nice change.


  1. first u just wanted comments. now that ur getting those, you want women to comment. it helps to have a bookcase that shuts out the dust.

  2. Ooh. Thomas Friedman and Richard Dawkins. Two of my least favourite people!

    I read that NYT article too. I sometimes see people display their books in cafes, but for the most part, I don't think that's how relationships start. Music would be more of a factor for me, as you mentioned.

    I have this belief that all books described as great are in fact great on some level. Not so with music or movies. (Didn't like the Catcher in the Rye though.)

    I think eventually you'll meet a women with at least a few overlapping authors. Maybe not the SF ones though.

  3. @anon: A guy can't be blamed for trying. I figured I'd try to get someone other than 'y' to comment.
    Bookcases are for libraries and stuffy government offices. My book collection is steadily outgrowing my puny shelf, so I suppose I shall have to upgrade.

    - Of all the authors I mentioned I would not have suspected Dawkins and Friedman to be the ones to evoke comment.
    - Dawkins is fairly interesting and writes well, although he hasn't convinced me to turn completely 'secular' - probably never will.
    - Friedman is a little over-rated and gushy - takes his own experiences to be the absolute truth, rather than anecdotal evidence, if you get what I mean. But otherwise I find him fairly harmless.
    - The NYT article was just a starting point for me to ramble a bit about books. Otherwise I think it's a lot of faff primped up with pop psychology.
    - I don't think I'd ever get into a relationship purely because of my reading habits - I'm rather selfish when it comes to reading (more below).
    - Similar tastes in music would be more important as a predictor of how a relationship would do - you can read what you like without disturbing anyone else, but good music is something that needs to be played out loud and shared.
    - 'Catcher in the Rye' is something that people should attempt to read before they turn 14 - it would seem cool around then. I read it at 17 and felt like slapping Holden Caufield for being such a self-obsessed prick.
    - I feel so much better now that you've declared that I will meet women who read the same books I do [8-P]
    - Finding women who read SF is fairly likely - my sister is probably more into SF and fantasy than I am.
    - I wasn't kidding when I said I was apprehensive of someone who actually read the same books. I'm something of an 'intellectual gourmand' - I'll read up on just about anything if it's vaguely interesting or offers scope to throw angles at less well-read people. I think that's a trait I share with a lot of quizzers. Finding someone similar would mean that both of us would keep trying to out-faff the other and simultaneously call the other's bluff. Funny, but not necessarily long-lasting.

  4. I totally agree about Holden Caulfield. Slapping him is exactly what I thought of when I read the book. (Didn't even finish it.)

    Dawkins cheeses me off with his anti-religious nonsense. I actually think he's being intellectually dishonest when he blames everything on religion. Scientists should do science, not proselytize. Also, I am more on the Stephen Jay Gould / Richard Lewontin side of the biology debate. (Stuff for you to read up and throw angle about!)

    Friedman earns my ire by being pro-war, a market fundamentalist, and a glib, smug bastard.

    It actually annoys me that some quizzers like to know tidbits about things they aren't interested in. I used to pride myself on picking up trivia without trying too hard -- BBC documentaries and random encyclopedia trips (in the pre-wiki days).

    Faff/Angle/Name-dropping should die out as one moves from the twenties to the thirties. I'm already quite sick of it. In the age of the internet you can dig up an obscure/acclaimed author/album/artist and read just enough to give the impression that you're some avant garde type.

    Also, angle is highly society-specific, and varies like fashion. In the US, H2G2 is not the cultural touchstone it is in India. And the Sex Pistols is way better for throwing angle than Pink Floyd on both sides of the Atlantic.

    I am now reminded of two posts I intend to do soon...

  5. wots H2G2?

    I liked catcher in the rye, because it was honest. (About how to be a prick). And I read it when I was 18. I dont think anyone is as self obsessed as when they are 18.

    Maybe that proves that I'm an idiot. What it does not prove is that one should only read a certain kind of book at a certain age.

    I'm going to be 60 yrs old and duck walk to 'TNT', see my ride out into the sunset on your colour tv screen

  6. whats "wots" ?

  7. The anonymous commenter(s?) is damn funny.

  8. H2G2 is the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    wots 'TNT' - or at least what kind of TNT do you do a duck walk to?

    @y/1000hand: Angle never dies out - different people find different things to throw angle about: wine, single malts, cigars, ink-pots, golf, feng shui, what-have-you.

    I realize these days that it's a lot easier to throw angle outside college - people are so woefully ill-informed you don't even have to try hard. Sometimes the tougher part is when you know for a fact that someone is just plain incorrect while faffing, and trying to make that clear without upsetting them too much.

    @the world at large: I'm still waiting for the well-read women...

  9. Do you really think angle never dies out? I guess it's always available as an option...but doesn't it get tiring? Isn't there an impulse to "get real" and only indulge in things one actually likes?

    And do you really like to give people the put-down?

    Or is the corporate world completely soulless? Heheheh.

  10. I wasn't talking specifically about myself - I just meant that the options available for people to throw angle increase as they get older (and richer). I hardly throw that much angle now.
    I'm also much mellower when it comes to the put-down. Not as sarcastic. That's what makes it tougher when calling people's bluff.

  11. Mellow is good. And sarcastic put-downs are best avoided. Blank, un-ironic sincerity works like a charm. Like saying "That's not actually true." in an almost apologetic voice.

    My mean side is sort of minimal -- I intentionally misunderstand people if I think they're expressing themselves poorly (based on an assessment of their language ability, of course. hehe).

  12. Um, that's not actually true.
    I completely agree with jc on the woefully ill-informed masses outside of college, and the difficulty in not upsetting them too much. Especially when it's your boss and he chooses to make a statement about how much he loves Floyd's Division Bell because it has 'Learning to Fly'. The moron.
    I've rarely been in a situation where pointing out someone's misrepresentation of facts (er, that is to say, that they were talking out of their arses) has not resulted in a massive confrontation, wherein the dastardly no-goodnik attempted to verbally beat me into submission. Being a pacifist (or a great big scaredy-cat, if you prefer), I inevitably choose to "agree to disagree", but that is rarely satisfactory for the aforementioned no-goodnik.
    That's why I loved college. It was such a great leveller - you're suddenly not one of the "smart" ones; you're just one of the many. After first year, you were inevitably stripped of all your preconceptions and have to start afresh. To be smart, you have to prove yourself in a crowd that even the most egotistic would admit were his peers.

    I quite liked The Catcher In The Rye. I think more than being self-obsessed, you need to be a negative person, one of the "my glass is half-empty? Oh no. I just know something bad's going to happen, and I won't be able to have the rest of it either. Woe is me." types.
    Besides, hasn't everyone really been through self-obsession at one point of time? (Heck, I think I'm still there - and really, I hope I never stop obsessing about myself, because, as Reggie Mantle put it, if I don't talk about me, who will?) While most of us might channel it better, it's still there. Aren't most blogs really a result of that obsession - a need to be reassured of the fact that "I am interesting"?

    As for the quizzing annoyance, was this a common club complaint? I vaguely remember other QC-ers complaining about how it's not right to "study" for quizzes, and to treat a quiz like an exam (but that might have also been because the crammers kicked their ass repeatedly. Sour grapes, maybe?)

    On that note, I bid thee adieu. (Sorry about the length. Got carried away. I try not to leave huge comments on my first visit.)

  13. Hello and welcome, new anonymous commenter. Hopefully you will keep visiting, and maybe also leave a name to refer to you by.
    [@y: you've gotten your trip taken very nicely with that first line...]
    I disagree about blogging being only for self-obsessed people trying to display their 'interesting-ness'. Yes, quite a few bloggers are navel-gazers but there are a lot who write about stuff other than themselves.
    I'm guessing you finished with college after 2003/04 - I don't think the cramming quizzers did much ass-kicking between 2000 and 2004.

  14. Wow. Speedy reply. Obviously, you are having as dull a day at work as me (I?).

    Yes, this is true. The ass-kicking by the crammer over the fox(es) happened more in the year you were (conveniently) doing your masters
    (although stating so makes me incredibly unpopular with those foxes, who are good friends, so, shh!). But then again, that might also be because I didn't really bother with the intricacies of QC till more people around me were involved in the power-struggles within.

    I agree - many blogs are more than expressions of self-love. But again, many of them have grown into that over time.
    I vaguely remember reading an article about that once. In the city Times, in fact (can't remember which city though). Will see if I can dredge up a link.

    (I just realised who you were, by the way. Took a while, and reading posts about drinking tips, but I'm slow that way. So, hi!)

    (I'm picking the anonymous identity now just to be a prat :-D)

  15. Haha. touche about the "not actually true" thing.

    The worst part about angle is the inability to acknowledge that "Learning to Fly" is, in fact, an excellent song -- or at least the possibility that some people might think so sincerely. It has great lyrics. Not all Floyd lovers think Dark Side is their best work. (I'm partial to Meddle myself.)

    Realize also that in another subculture you might receive similar scorn for not knowing about Thelonius Monk, or Rachmaninoff, or The Smiths. It's all arbitrary, really. Would having a boss with the same tastes make him a better person?

    Everyone is self-obsessed, whether they blog or not. And sometimes blogging isn't about confirming that one is interesting. Sometimes it's about confirming that one is human. It's a great feeling when you write something that you think is odd, and someone relates.

    And about the QC: yes, Murthy and I used to hate it when quizzers who used to write down questions and answers. Defeats the purpose really.

  16. I may not have been clear earlier - my problem was more with the boss's insistence of how big a fan he is and his inability to accept the fact that he was wrong. I had no intention of implying that I wanted him to have similar interests or that Floyd was the be-all and end-all of music.
    Dark Side was good, but not my favourite. Personally, I like Wish You Were Here and Atom Heart Mother quite a bit. Didn't like Momentary Lapse at all though, save for Learning to Fly (which is awesome)!!

  17. My word, this is a whole lot of comments.
    @anonymous commenter no.2: trust me, the master's wasn't very convenient for me.
    @y/hand: the point that I was trying to make and that anon c was trying to add to was that in the real world outside college, it's difficult to tactfully correct people when they are wrong, because they get emotionally vested in whatever tripe they come up with.

  18. And my point is, why bother correcting people? Let sleeping dogs lie? I used to feel like correcting people's grammar and pronunciation, but that's such a snobbish thing to do.

    You can be a fan of a band or artist based on just one album. Even if the album isn't critically acclaimed. How does liking Momentary Lapse make this bossman wrong? And how can he be wrong about a subjective thing regarding himself?

    More importantly, what will be gained by proving to him that he isn't a "proper" fan?

    (Sorrow, One the Turning Away, and the Dogs of War are all good songs from that album,)

  19. Enough with the Floyd already. You don't necessarily have to correct people only on their preference in music.
    It can be important when people get absolutely the wrong idea about stuff related to work or how the world works in general. For example, having people claim that inflation is essential for an economy because otherwise your salary wouldn't increase.

    I'm still waiting for the well-read women.

  20. Ah! So all this is about getting wage increases! Now it makes more sense to me. Hehe. In that case you chaps should be placating your bosses, not lording it over them.

    The well-read women are busy reading.

    @kanishka: "emotionally invested ... indeed" -- my sentiments exactly.

  21. Ex-QC person here..if you think people writing down answers is weird, I knew this chap in school whose mother used to sit in the front row of quizzes he went for, and write down questions and their answers. And sometimes the writing down of stuff isn't so much about a deep and abiding interest in the subject of the question, so much as the kick of having one more piece of trivia in your head. I'm wondering if it's somehow dishonest to come by information via it being presented to you and you making a note of it, I mean is it really all that different from just remembering something that you read in the papers?

  22. ohhh so late in this comment thread... but dawkins is great until he gets embroiled in religion. seriously the god delusion was so bad i couldn't get past page 10.

    yes i was too old for the catcher in the rye... it was so so.

    hee i love that ive read most of the authors you've got there, and the ones i haven't its cos i tried and wasn't hooked. but that's only to be expected, no?

    guess who! (should not be hard)

  23. Well I always thought I was reasonably well-read…not any more:(