Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Are You Reading?

I know carrying a book around in public, like in an airport, restaurant, or doctor's office, is a great conversation piece. Lots of people like to ask you what you're reading. But that's not why I carry a book around everywhere I go. I do it to keep from getting bored.

In fact, I would prefer not to talk about my taste in reading with every stranger or casual acquaintance I come across.

Last year I was in the break room at work and a lady who works in my building came in to get something out of the fridge. She was just being polite when she asked the dreaded, "What are you reading?"

I cringed. Because at the moment, I just happened to be reading a book about breasts: big, bouncy, bra-busting boobs.

Susan Seligson's Stacked: A 32DDD Reports from the Front is a sometimes humorous, sometimes anthropological memoir about the challenges of spending her life carrying around some massive mammaries.

And I just happened to be reading it when someone I hardly know asked me what I'm reading. Whenever this happens, I usually just hold up the cover and let them read it themselves. If they're so interested in reading, let them do a little of the leg work themselves.

I sighed, held up the book, and said sheepishly, "It's a book about breasts." I could have tried to explain more, but I felt like at that point any thing else I said would just dig me into a deeper hole. I accepted my reputation as the quiet, perverted librarian.

One good thing resulted from this awkward encounter: She never asked me again what I'm reading.

Even though I don't like discussing my reading habits with strangers or acquaintances, I like talking about it with good friends and family. Or announcing it to the whole world on my blog.

Right now I'm in the middle of two very fun companion books. I have no idea if the books intentionally came out at the same time, if one is a reaction to the other, or if it's merely a coincidence.

The first is called What Was I Thinking? 58 Bad Boyfriend Stories. It was written by the ladies.

Then I discovered the counter-balance, Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me, written by the guys.

I'm reading them both at the same time, enjoying a few stories at a time from each, trying to parcel out the yummy vignettes as if they were Ghirardelli chocolates.

This is my absolute favorite kind of literature: memoiry, first-person creative nonfiction. And one of my favorite subjects: gossipy anecdotes about failed relationships with crazy partners.

I have noticed some differences in the approach, tone, and subject matter between the men and the women. In general, the women beat themselves up about staying with loser boyfriends. They learn lessons about how to avoid guys like that in the future. The men, in general, tend to beat themselves up for being losers. For doing stupid shit that got them dumped or rejected. It sort of gives the impression that, again in general, women are the ones who control what happens in a relationship. Men are the applicants, the seekers, the hunters. Women are the hirers, the prize, the prey. And they decide whether to allow themselves to be caught or not.

Sometimes the two books seem to be having a direct dialogue with each other. For example, one of the ladies' stories starts thusly:
"Before we start, I have to say this: I love artists. Always have, always will. Tell me you are a musician, a painter, an actor, and your cuteness quotient goes up about 83 percent."
One of the guys' laments that he could never win the heart (or any other body part) of a girl he was after:
"She also had a weakness for musicians. It killed me. How could she fall for that cliche? Why not a weakness for something more original...say, Boggle players?"
What I like about the Bad Boyfriends book is that each story pinpoints the moment when the woman knew the relationship was over. Some times it's the wrong kind of gift ("I would never be a black camisole kind of girl"), the pretentious misuse of a word (a "creche" is not a "caraffe"), or a cosmetic change that puts him in a whole new light ("Why would you do this to us?" she asks her boyfriend after he waxed his unibrow.)

Here are few of my favorites:

One of the ladies writes about dating a guy who appeared to really have his shit together. Dressed well, took care of himself, very metrosexual. They go out a few times and then plan to spend the night together. He convinces her to come to his place because it will be easier for her to bring her stuff to his place rather than vice versa. (Easier for who? she thinks.) But she comes over with a few overnight things.

When bedtime arrives, he suggests that she go into the bathroom first. She enters his bathroom and sees that every single inch of space is covered with bottles of creams, lotions, and soaps. She changes into a teddy and waits for him in bed. He takes 45 minutes in the bathroom and comes out looking like the Bride of Frankenstein: his face, hands, body covered in creams and ointments. Despite all this, she's still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. She leans in to kiss him good night, and he shouts, "Don't kiss me! It'll mess up my collagen lip balm!"

Her next boyfriend, the first time they spent the night, showed up at her house with a toothbrush, razor, deodorant, and flowers.

One guy talks about trying to pick up a girl with a bad joke. He was born in 1968, which was an ugly year in American history. So he'd make this lame joke about the year he was born, "It was such a lovely year...the assassination of Martin Luther King...the assassination of Bobby Kennedy...the race riots..."

So he tries this joke out on a girl in a bar, only in the middle of telling it he realizes how lame it is. So he stops after, "It was such a lovely year...the assassination of Martin Luther King..." When he doesn't continue, she gives him a nasty look, calls him a skinhead racist, and walks off.

Patton Oswalt writes that dating a stripper was the best thing he could have done for his marriage. Compared to his stripper ex-girlfriend, his wife is a model of patience, love, and sanity. Trying to summarize the story doesn't do it justice, so here's a sample:

Buys a lot of, in my opinion, overpriced skin-care products.

CHIVAS: So you're going to start work in a movie next week?
ME: Yeah. It should be fun.

CHIVAS: I need to borrow some money.
ME: What for? You okay?

CHIVAS: My landlord is a Nazi Hitler.
ME: What's wrong?

CHIVAS: He's all like, "You haven't paid rent in five months, and if you don't cough up the money, I'm going to be a total Hitler and padlock your apartment."
ME: Why haven't you paid your rent?

CHIVAS: What are you, my dad?

Full story here:

One girl had a crush on her Italian teacher in college. She was really impressed with the nice suits and stylish ties he would wear to teach. They started having coffee and getting to know each other better.

One day he came to class in a pink Barbie Doll tie. She thought it must be ironic, so after the class she asked him about it. No, it wasn't ironic: he was the president of the local Barbie Doll fan club.

As she so eloquantly writes, "At [that] exact infatuation ended with a sharp internal yowl..."

I'm coming to the end of both books, and I've been reading slower because I don't want them to end.


jakls said...

Tim- I hate it when people ask me what I'm reading. I know people are probably just being curious and friendly, but I don't want to talk about it.

Anonymous said...

okay, I'm hooked. Hope my local library has them.
This is why I like to know what others are reading...great ideas. Or if they are merely reading the next Danielle Steele novel it gives me an insight into their personality, and isn't that what getting to know people and bonding as friends is all about?