To Date a Reader
“Where’s the London Review of Books?” he asked the Bangladeshi shopkeeper, slightly louder than was necessary.
“It’s usually over here, but I don’t see it,” He quickly clarified, lest the nosy onlookers thought this was his first time seeking out such a highbrow read.
I peered over the rack full of Scandinavian design magazines to catch a glimpse of this vocal LRB reader.
His tortoise shell glasses, dusty blue oxford shirt, and plummy British accent were definitely in keeping with his reading habits. But more notably, he was one of the only seemingly eligible men I’d ever seen perusing the racks of Wardour News, a fancy Soho newsagent that stocks £7 copies of the New Yorker and every international Vogue edition a style blogger could possibly want.
In previous trips to this shop, the only males I’d seen were those who wear asymmetrical, monochromatic outfits with ACNE tote bags while perusing fashion magazines I’ve never heard of (in other words, probably not interested in me). But this one seemed a promising omen.
“Perhaps I should hang out here more often,” I thought to myself before dropping nearly £25 on magazines I planned to spend my weekend devouring, in my pajamas, in the company of snacks.
I have never dated another writer, and I don’t know if I’d want to (a relationship only has room for one fragile creative ego, I think). But my how I’d love to date a reader. The question is, where to find them?
Wardour News and its highbrow print devotees aside, it’s not such an easy question to answer. There are bookstores, which can be promising—if a little obvious and desperate. Book readings, which I’ve only ever been to two of, can often feel out of my intellectual league. The British Library where I often work is crawling with broody bookish types but, alas, you’re not allowed to speak.
When it comes to the contemporary means of dating, I’ve tried, in my brief stints on Tinder—they usually last anywhere from 45 minutes to 48 hours before I deactivate my account in a dystopian rage—by populating my bio with the extremely pretentious and vaguely sexual disclaimer: “I like big vocabulary words.”
I do this as a sort of digital filter, so that guys who might message me with “hard 2 c u in that last pic lol?!” won’t bother and more literate folk will hopefully see it as a challenge. But mostly it gets patronizing responses from City boys who probably don’t know what mansplaining means. I don’t write back.
The platform GoodReads once announced a dating app called KINDLR, which offers you romantic matches based on a prospect’s taste in reading material. I was thrilled—until I realized it was an April Fool's joke.
It’s a shame it wasn’t real, because I think there are few better ways to get a read on a person than finding out, well, what they read. But just to be clear, I’m not saying my own reading habits are the gold standard. I rely on Twitter and NPR hourly summaries for my daily headlines, I joined a book club to force me to read more fiction, and I am incapable of reading more than one book at a time. But give me a stack of ten thousand word magazine articles about just about anything and you’ll struggle to divert my attention elsewhere.
It’s not just difficult to find readers in the wild, it’s hard to gauge whether the red-blooded romantic prospect you’re sharing a bottle of Malbec with is actually telling you the truth when he tells you what he likes to read. Most modern humans, especially ones that use the internet, are forced to read. So it’s reasonable to answer “yes” to this question when asked—especially if your date writes words for a living. But how to separate those that think 1,000 words is a daunting amount to read before breakfast from the ones who forgo Saturday plans to catch up on their Instapaper queue? In my experience, this is a fraught calculation.
Nothing makes my heart sink more than sending a romantic prospect a link to an article as a follow up to a conversation we’ve had only to get a “Wow that’s long—I’ll check it out later” in return. This, I'm sorry to say, directly translates to “TL;DR.”
To be fair, I’ve had tastes of what it’d be like to date a reader here and there. One ex-boyfriend and I got into the habit of reading the Observer over greasy fry-ups on Sundays, but he never treated it with the same sense of rigor that I did. I wanted us to not make other plans so we could honor what I saw as a holy commitment. He was not particularly fussed, and was ready to do the crossword before I’d even cracked open the magazine. That obviously didn’t last.
Then there was the time when my French ex-boyfriend, bored on an 8 hour airport layover and having used our 1 hour free wifi allotment, amused himself by reading articles in my Instapaper archive saved on my iPad. There are few things I take more pride in than my Instapaper queue, so this thrilled me. He read a New Yorker article I’d been talking about for days, about gypsies in France, and for an hour or so afterwards we discussed it in depth. I was in heaven. But alas, once the wifi was back, 5,000 words of text in English eclipsed his attention span and he went back to YouTube.
Perhaps it’s because reading is such an obvious hobby that it’s so difficult to separate those who read from readers when it comes to dating. I imagine that people who are really into foraging wild mushrooms, or spearfishing, or rock climbing don’t run into the same issue—you either do those things, or you don’t.
I often wonder what would happen if I dated someone who felt the same way I do about semicolons, parallel structure, and the word “winsome.” I imagine us sitting in silence for hours-long stretches reading things, trading magazines, drinking tea. Does this person exist?
If you do, and you’re reading this, meet me at Wardour News.