Last week the Times ran a brief essay about the role literary preferences plays in our relationships, which got me thinking about how books and other media/culture details have influenced my friendships and romances over the years. Back in high school I yearned to connect to friends over the books I was reading (a lot of Kerouac and Hemingway, if memory serves), but nobody was really reading anything that wasn’t assigned in class. So I turned to music, which, along with an insecurity that made me very prickly, made me a “guy’s girl,” best friends with lots of boys, but never asked out on dates.

Throughout college, music remained the catalyst and glue of many relationships. My junior year, the man who would later become my husband (now ex) moved in with my boyfriend at the time. B had sold off his entire collection of CDs to cover his first month’s rent and was lamenting the lack of soundtrack for his leisure time. My boyfriend was neither a big reader nor a big music fan, so we were destined to fail; I made B a carefully curated mix tape of the best independent music had to offer at the time (1993), and we were an item before the year was out. Music continued to be a major meeting point for us, but it disturbed me that, in our nine-plus years together, he read only one book from start to finish–the dreaded Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I considered to be cheesy and boring in the extreme. Worse still, he couldn’t bear to listen to me describe books or articles I found interesting. Eventually the relationship imploded and I was searching again.

Next was someone who seemed promising, or at least significantly different from the ex–with a doctorate, as opposed to the barely completed BFA of the ex. Surely, someone with all those years of education would be a reader. He was, but his tastes ran to stultifyingly middlebrow thrillers and mysteries. Nothing inherently wrong with those, so long as they’re mixed in with something a little more interesting or challenging. I should have known we were doomed when he enthusiastically recommended I read The Da Vinci Code.

Currently, many of my friendships (and current Relationship) are still based in books and music. My coeditor and I share a lot of common tastes; our book and music collections have blended nicely, with enough differences in both to keep conversations interesting. Most evenings in with friends center around the minutiae of pop music, and many of my evenings out involve lively discussions about literature or journalism. The Times piece ends with the statement, “For most people, love conquers literary taste.” I have to disagree–friendship and love are based largely on commonly held values, which are strongly reflected in literary and other cultural preferences. If you don’t find common ground in these, where else will you?

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