I noticed that everyone and their little brother is writing a response to Charles Warnke’s piece in Thought Catalog, “You Should Date an Illiterate Girl“. Just today I came upon a one Monica Bird’s “Date a Girl Who Reads“. All this, after I spent the past few days tidying up the piece below. Although, I turned the gender tables around. I can’t wait until somebody rebuts this.
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You’ll likely meet him at a party, or in a book store. But the man who reads is not, strictly speaking, a social animal. For when in social situations, where he might be obligated to “mingle”, he finds himself at a loss. He is not used to shooting the breeze, the bull, the shit, or what have you. Conversation is supposed to culminate in poignant observations, sad commentary on the decay of our belle epoch. It is supposed to mope or cavort, laud or vituperate–be what it is to be. Mean. This is what the reading man understands, and when faced with a party situation he will be capable only of tying all things he says back to what he knows. Even harmless banter leads logically and ineluctably to sex and death–it’s just derivations, window-dressing of same.
From the time he meets you, his brain will explode into a thousand whirling clauses, nested nominatives, story lines. He is obsessed with detail, his own greatness, will be self-involved and righteously, assiduously take note of every one of the banal profundities he coins on a regular basis.
The reading man will, for better or worse, love wholeheartedly. He is a born idealist, will do the same things for his girlfriends that heroic male protagonists did for theirs. Not one for practicality, the reading man will inevitably misstep in the execution of such plans. His girl friend might find this endearing, will laugh and love him all the more for it, although he’ll fume inside. The laughing will continue; it will drift into the distance like some protracted metaphor, but she’ll learn to stop when she realizes that the reading man is also proficient in the ways of male protagonists. What they do to their girlfriends.How to fight. Knock down drag out shouting decaying to words mumbled between sobs. Deep painful secrets divulged. Character development. He will get in his car and, angry, drive deep into the night. He’ll cross state lines, wind up in some deserted rural place and listen to the radio loud as the sky shifts to violet, to pink to day. He will pull to the side of the road and run his hands through the wheat. He’ll come back and call and you and the man who reads will have coffee. You’ll mention that he looks like hell, and he’ll break into cathartic monologue. He will not tell you how far the rabbit ran. What made him come home, though, he’ll say was you.
Sensitized to it, the reading man absorbs, retains, at once articulates and holds back the world’s sadness, its twists of plot, characters’ introductions and farewells; he understands narrative arc, and can untie everything in ways that will make you sing or wail or both.
The man who reads will convince you to drink or smoke cannabis, will make your body scintillate; and you will wake up and feel filthy and violated. Regular nakedness goes only skin deep. Through the fog of morning you’ll remember that you bore yourself to him. Let him into your core. You let him read you like an open book, so to speak.
For this you will hate yourself.
The illiterate man, however, will do none of these things. His is a simple life with clearly defined roles; he will court you too aggressively, rubbing up against you and, drunken and perspirant, one night at some college party divulge in that inchoate emotional way they always do that he would like to keep doing this sort of thing with you if you are cool with it. He will take you to watch inane comedies, watch you laugh uncomfortably at toilet humor and he’ll leer at the fourteen year-old kid sitting next to you “staring at your tits” in the flickering light of the theater. You will secretly dislike the fact that you’re seeing a film which appeals to the young teenage male demographic, but smile inwardly in resignation knowing that the illiterate man is just trying his best. A twinge of guilt will cross your consciousness for thinking that his best was insufficient, and for secretly envying the urbane couples, the males of which wear blazers and broadcloth shirts with two buttons undone and fashionable tortoise-shell glasses, who walked into the adjacent theater to watch a drama which months later will be nominated for Best Picture.
You will admire his athleticism and his all-American love of playing football on Saturday afternoons with his friends in a park down the block. You will be the good girlfriend who upon the arrival of the muddy smelly group fetches beers. And you’ll sit on the couch next to your man, who, while wooping it up with his comrades, discussing decisively non-literary matters, will put his arm around you awkwardly such that your neck is positioned in the crook of his elbow. When he laughs he pulls you in and though you’ll feel yourself shift bodily it is reassuring to know that he exerts such power over you. You’ll feel content and possessed and whole, if still not quite deep or fulfilled by the whole thing.
Allow yourself those moments, when chatting with your friends at a coffee shop, on one of your Saturdays with “just the girls”, to kibbutz about the illiterate man you proudly call yours. They will reciprocate. Conversation will linger on that generic, uniquely female malaise, whose origin, the seeming emotional vacuity of one’s significant other, is universal among women whose attribution of significance has certain proclivities toward the brutish and muscular end of the masculinity continuum. But, no matter, because this is precisely why you’ve compartmentalized yourself so well, why time with your girlfriends is a gushing, effervescent orgy of emotion. In this way you are as you were back in your responsible student days, when the illiterate man asked you out: like your drinking, your opportunity to emotionalize came, and now comes once a week. When you do you binge. Or, perhaps, you do it secretly, behind your novels, your computer screen—on which you watch romantic dramas. And you hide it from people, your emotional life. Especially from the illiterate man, whose only response to your inner tumult is bamboozled indifference. Stone cold sobriety.
But this is okay with you, because in spite of his intractability and inexpressive obtuseness, you can count on the illiterate man to give sound advice, rational advice, in times of crisis. His is a special rationality, a particular brand of cocksure sociopathy universal among those men who do not read.
At least he’s not one of the girls, what with their bitching and moaning. Although, even the most illiterate of illiterate men will have those roiling emotional storms every so often. But, like the steadfast young man he trained himself to be, the illiterate man will keep his mouth shut. To stew in silence. This will make him all the darker and more mysterious to you, if mystifying and far-removed. It will become your project, breaking him out of his shell.
Retrospectively, after you marry, travel some, have children, a dog, the expansive house in the suburbs, and watch the illiterate man love you and his family misguidedly and without reason other than duty and a sense of righteousness, you’ll realize that you’d failed.
Suburban book clubs, you’ll find, sometime in early middle age, are the least expensive of group therapy. And they present appropriate loci for the aforementioned emotion-orgies, which, having now grayed and begun to sag in ways natural and unfortunate, you’ve wisely chosen to relocate from college bars to the well-appointed, homogeneously, chronically unique living rooms of your increasingly dowdy female compatriots. Over the years, you’ll meet and down bottles of inexpensive Australian red and munch on prim appetizers; and collectively you’ll learn to eschew forlorn novels, whose fragile domestic female protagonists are the morbid foils of unbearably happy female Californian novelists, for those heartbreaking poignant ones by writers whose names roll off the tongue in that way that men’s names do. Whose messages hang rakishly and sway from side to side as they lumber along, purposefully and with swagger.
Again, do not date the literate man. Read him instead. You’ve read them before: in magazines, their books, blogs, anthologized missives. Transcripts of monologues internal and otherwise. Keep him at a distance, because you’ve already felt his ilk tug at your innards–give ‘em a twist now and then–or made you push and rise up to rise down again. Reading men will make references to other reading men, the majority of whom you’d’ve never heard. Like here. Read him; talk about him with your girl friends, and support him by buying his books, subscribing to magazines, clicking on banner ads on his blog, or send him a letter. You’ll figure something out. But please, please listen to me when I say this: the reading man reads because he feeds on sadness and the fundamental wrongness of all. He’ll manifest it in you, consume you. Devour your secrets. He’ll suck you dry.
Though, you might do it once, for the catharsis. Denouement, literally “untying”, will liberate you. Will save you from yourself.