I once slept with a man because he gave me a copy of Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Well, I'm not that easy, we did date, and he became my boyfriend, but let's just say that Murakami clinched the deal. Before you judge me, read the book. It's lyrical and seductive and changes the way you think about reality, about life. Reading it imitates falling in love -- your pulse quickens, you lose yourself a little, you discover a whole other world -- so it's not so surprising that I would fall for the man who introduced me to this extraordinary book. In fact, my romantic life has often been intertwined with my reading life.
I once dated someone because he sent me a book in the mail as a precursor to asking me out. It was a small, feminist short story collection that fit in the palm of my hand and was full of sex and humor and non sequiturs. The gift of this book closed the deal on a flirtation that had been going on for weeks. Soon after I met one boyfriend, we stopped by his apartment to pick something up and I had a few moments alone with his bookcase. The combination of art, erotica, and new age titles turned out to be the perfect aphrodisiac. Just recently my sweetheart found a copy of a book he had looked long and hard for. He shared with me his excitement: his love of the smell, the thrill of cracking the spine, the ecstasy of finally devouring it . . . He shared, and I swooned.
I dated a writer who wrote one of my favorite books. I was seduced by a date who quoted one of my favorite literary lines: "The cure for unhappiness is happiness, I don't care what anyone says" (Niagara Falls All Over Again). I fell head over heels for a man who made a point of reading my favorite novel.
Books are often central to seduction, it turns out. One friend admitted that in anticipation of bringing a date home with him, he changes the sheets on his bed along with the books on his bedside table. My friend, Bob, trolls the local coffee shops and chooses his prospective dates based on the covers of the books the women are reading. Actually, here in Hollywood where almost everyone in a coffee shop has a laptop rather than a book, the fact that a woman is reading a book at all probably tells Bob everything he needs to know to sidle up beside her and strike up a conversation. A man once approached me in my bookstore talking on his cell phone. He stood in front of me with his finger raised, indicating "just a moment," while he finished his conversation. Upon hanging up, he turned his attention to me: "I was just calling my friend to ask his advice about what book to ask you for that would impress you enough to go out with me."
Books play an important role in the virtual dating world as well. On Match.com, singles answer the question, "Last Read?" as part of their profiles. It disappoints me deeply to see the number of men who answer "this profile" or "the cereal box" or, even worse, "I'm not really a reader." An opportunity for literary seduction is a terrible thing to waste. Craigslist Missed Connections, a website dedicated to reuniting people who missed romantic opportunities in the real world, provides proof that many a bookstore customer has fallen in deep infatuation with someone based on the book the person had in his or her hands: "I saw you at Vroman's Bookstore. You were in the fiction section reading The Great Gatsby. You smiled at me as I passed, but I waited too long to get up the nerve to talk to you, and then you were gone. Here's hoping Gatsby was right: you can repeat the past."
If you can tell a lot by the way a man treats a waitress, or talks to his mother, you can tell a lot more from what he reads: Tolstoy. Pynchon. Dostoyevsky. Patient. Persistent. Possibly too serious for his (or my) own good. Murakami. Danielewski. July. Non-traditional thinker. Intellectually curious. Fitzgerald. A romantic. Didion. An intellectual. David Sedaris. Knows how to have fun.
Psychologists explored the best way to obtain accurate data about a subject, in other words, the best way to get to know someone: does the most accurate and pertinent information come from interviewing someone about himself, asking his best friend questions about him, or just snooping around the guy's house? I would suggest that talking with someone about what he reads, and why, is the best guide to his interior landscape.
I'm struck by whether literary seductions are even possible in the digital future. Without CD collections, DVD collections, bookshelves, how do you know whose house you're really in? When the guy next to you on a plane pulls a book from his bag, it's an icebreaker, insight into who he is. When he pulls out an electronic device, it's just not the same. A Kindle on a nightstand? Just not sexy. Call me archaic, call me a romantic, call me a future unemployed bookseller, but I still believe in a good old fashioned literary seduction, and judging a book by its cover.