I listed three books in my comment at Julie's: The Object of My Affection, by Stephen McCauley (which I loved long before the movie came out); Little Women (Louisa May Alcott), and Death's Jest-Book (Reginald Hill). When I told Politica about this over dinner, she started talking about lesbian authors. "Right. lesbian authors. That would be strategic." So you can see, I was never one for strategy in the dating game. And I was rethinking my comment at Julie's almost as soon as I hit publish, since there are just so very many wonderful books. How to choose? Phantom's post captured the impossibility of literary speed dating quite nicely.
While it became clear to me that Politica and I would probably not have picked each other at literary speed dating (I might add post-apocalytpic sci-fi to my list of turn-offs, but as my lovely wife reads this blog it's probably not politic, and not really true even though I really don't get the genre), it is true that the academic version of literary speed dating is what brought us together: at a dinner group sharing Thai food in a Detroit suburb, we bonded over the fact that we had both recently been in the government docs section of the library looking for Kimberly Bergalis' Congressional testimony (so we'd probably both get along with Mr. Blue, who gave Phantom a copy of And The Band Played On early in their courtship).
So really, if I were honestly literary speeddating, I'd be too wracked with indecision in the bookstore aisles to make up my mind, and everybody else would probably end up going home before I finally decided (and Politica would be trailing off after Julie and anyone else with a Neal Stephenson book, unless all the commenting pixies decided to give it up and have a great big book club meeting instead to discuss the Murrys and the Austins). I envy the certainty with which so many other people seem to toss off their lists. But let me tell you what my book choices, tentative thought they may be, say about me:
First, The Object of My Affection: it's a likeable book. It will make you want to eat a tomato sandwich somewhere in the first few pages, and you will most likely really like one or both of the protagonists. This is mostly a happy book--not sappy happy, but it does have a happy ending. And I like my happy endings. Hopelessly American of me, but there it is. When I'm reading for pleasure, I don't like to get depressed. But this book is more than a happy read. It was a gift from a good friend, and the book reminds me of him and the time we spent getting to know each other through AIDS volunteer work and neighborhood walks at a time when I was just establishing myself after my divorce and he was establishing himself as he moved toward the end of a graduate degree and career choices. It's an affirming book and it reminds me of my friend, and of a time in my life when things had shattered and then started to come together. I'm a hopeful person, and I would want a book to represent that.
Then there's Little Women. This picks up two things: first, I love books that I loved as a child (although it is enlightening to look back and see all I missed). The posts at Phantom's of late, with the discussions of various childhood books, Madeleine L'Engle and other series,are wonderful reminders of the way others share in this passion. I'd have totally wanted to date Phantom with her copy of Harriet the Spy. I loved books with strong girl figures. Little Women lost its appeal when Jo decided to get married--but oh, how I loved those pre-marriage chapters and other series like Anne of Green Gables (another series that got much less interesting at the point of marriage, nice as Gilbert was). So a book to represent my long-loving-reading-feminist self would be good.
And finally, Death's Jest-Book, by Reginald Hill. I've loved mysteries ever since ever. I loved Encyclopedia Brown, I really felt grown up with I first read Agatha Christie, and I've loved detective series mysteries since adolescence. I love the unfolding character development of getting to know Holmes, or Poirot, or Miss Marple, or Dalziel over time. And I love the way my father inscribed the Collected Stories of Sherlock Holmes that he gave me for Christmas one year: Dear Susan, the butler did it. love Mom and Dad. I'm a mystery reader, and there's always one by my bedside.I love English mysteries in particular, too. I guess that's something worth knowing about me and my habits.
There are plenty of other books I might bring: something by Annie Dillard or John McPhee--I love writing about the land, writing that evokes geography. And I'm always reading nonfiction, too. And cookbooks! I love cookbooks. Cookbooks tell me that someone cares about food--takes the time, perhaps, to be delicious, a phrase Lauren (at Dream Kitchen) lifts from Anne Lamott's Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith :
"Bread is as spiritual as life gets. [The poet] Rumi wrote, 'Be a well-baked loaf.' Loaves are made to be eaten, to be buttered, and shared. Rumi is saying to be delicious and give life." 'Be delicious and give life.' We don't think of ourselves being delicious, do we? It sounds too . . . sexual, too available. But I think of it as an innocent generosity, a willingness to fling good will outward, not knowing where it will land or if it will be returned. Lamott several times has mentioned that she 'flirts' with old people at the grocery store or on the street. I know what she means, taking a risk to connect, even though you have nothing to gain. It's a way to be delicious."So terrible a speed-dater I am, I've finally gotten to the end of the post to realize that the books I'm listing at the end capture what I really love about my relationship with Politica: it's been a place that's helped me take risks to connect.
And such a lousy dater I am, I'd have forgotten to take the very book that would have been a subtle advertisement for that which I value so much.