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Home » Culture and Criticism

“‘Overrated!’ ‘Brilliant!’ ‘Overrated!’ ‘Brilliant!'”

Submitted by on March 31, 2008 – 6:50 PM177 Comments

I’ve never broken up with a guy based on his literary tastes (or lack of same), but then, I don’t let it get to relationship status in the first place if the guy doesn’t read, or loves Patricia Cornwell (although thinking she’s a guilty pleasure is permissible, I guess, but he would have to feel really guilty about it).

But my reading taste isn’t the highest-brow, either, what with all the true crime…or the widest-ranging, what with all the baseball. And I don’t judge anyone for reading Harry Potter, but while I wouldn’t dump a guy who liked HP, I would dump a guy who evangelized about it.

Any lit deal-breakers for you guys? Ever spotted a spine on a likely lad’s shelf and realized, “I can’t be here”?   Or do you let it go if everything else is working?




  • j says:

    I once broke up with a guy after we had the following conversation:

    Him: …I’ve read five books.

    Me: This month? Year?

    Him: No. Total.

    To be honest, it wasn’t the only reason I broke up with him. He was a wannabe actor who looked absolutely puzzled when i mentioned the Cannes film festival.

  • Edub says:

    Let’s just say that “Codependent No More” on a shelf confirmed my decision to end a relationship. And I kept an eye out for it on all shelves after that.

  • Krissa says:

    My deal-breaker would be NO books – I don’t mind if SOs don’t read as much as I do, but not at all? Yeah…there’s the door.

  • Erin says:

    From the article, I second the thing about guys who are too into Ayn Rand. And, I think that does work with just about any guy who is way too into an author or series that I just could not get into.

    It would be more of a problem if he didn’t read books at all, or would only read certain authors, mostly because I just wouldn’t have anything to talk about with him at some point.

  • Zetal says:

    I almost dumped a guy when he started in on how the Peter Jackson Fellowship of the Rings sucked because it didn’t do X, Y, and Z from the book. I eventually decided that the fact that he loved Lord of the Rings enough to *care* about that outweighed the fact that he couldn’t sit back and enjoy the movie for what it was.

    A year later, he and I had broken up for other reasons… and I walked out of Two Towers the second time behaving EXACTLY LIKE HIM (although my issues were much bigger than the nitpicky things he was upset about).

  • OnlyThis says:

    An abundance of self help books would be a deal breaker for me. There will be no “Who Moved My Cheese” or “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in my house.

    And I agree on HP. Although I read them, evangelizing them is just creepy.

    Other than that, I’m not a literary snob. A man who reads would be nice, but not necessary. My husband isn’t into reading books, but I let it slide as long as he doesn’t interrupt me when I’m reading.

  • janna says:

    I judge people who list “The Da Vinci Code” as a favorite book on Facebook. I just can’t help but think that if it’s a favorite, then they can’t have read more than a handful of books ever. I’ve read it and found it entertaining and I believe it’s still sitting on my shelf, but favorite? No. Ugh.

  • elena says:

    Two words: Ann Coulter.

    I fled.

  • Jo says:

    I’m not sure there are any individual books that would be complete deal-breakers, because I have very eclectic taste. I read Plato and Homer for fun, but I also love John Grisham. Recently, I was debating with a male friend over whether people tend to read only works by authors of the same gender, and he said “You’re not a good example. You read EVERYTHING.”

    What would be a deal-breaker for me is if a guy’s taste isn’t varied or if he doesn’t read things that require some thought. If every single book on a his shelf is sci-fi or if he has 500 manga books but nothing that could have been assigned in college, I’m not likely to want to go out again.

    Also, you must understand my random literary references or we’re not a good match.

  • vague says:

    I definitely judge people who are into, say, Nicholas Sparks or Dan Brown, but I’m not sure that would be a deal breaker. Also Ayn Rand — but if the guy were super into Rand I would have to suspect he was lying about his age and was actually about 14 and therefore it would be illegal for me to be with him anyway! I think the only reading dealbreaker would be if a guy either didn’t read at all or somehow disdained reading. Or disdained fiction. Weirdly I have met plenty of people who disdain fiction, and they are more than happy to tell me so (as I am an English professor who specializes in novels).

    I have split up with a guy for music taste before, after he asked me one morning in bed to name a Bob Dylan song he might know, and after I sang practically all of his greatest hits still claimed he had never heard any of them. I ask you; imagine!

  • AS says:

    You know, in retrospect, I did kind of decide not to pursue something with a guy after we spent some time walking around a bookstore. It’s not that his book choices were appalling, it’s that he evangelized them, and dismissed anything else. I do not agree that the only fiction that can comment meaningfully on real issues is sci fi. Nope. Sorry. Go ahead and read it. Go to conventions. Whatever. Just don’t think it makes you smarter than everyone else.

  • Jaybird says:

    Past dealbreakers have included not reading–and fortunately, my husband is as big a bookworm as I am–and sci-fi/fantasy addiction issues. As in Anne McCaffrey’s Buxom Dragoncrap stuff. HATE. HAAAAAAATE. As much as I love this man, we would have serious trouble if he thought of Dan Brown as anything other than a pitiful, wretched hack. He agrees with me on SK, but his preference seems to be for nonfiction stuff anyway, with the odd foray into old-school sci-fi (Heinlein, Clarke, Card, Asimov, Turtledove). I’m into Fitzgerald, Wharton, Lisa See, Dai Sijie, and Thurber; he prefers ancient history and scientific stuff that’s actually leagues over my head.

  • Rebecca says:

    Yeah, gotta back it up on the DaVinci Code. I’ve been using a dating website lately and if someone talks about having enjoyed the DaVinci Code as in “Man, it was brilliant! I couldn’t put it down! So interesting and full of historical information!” they’re out. You can eat candy, but you can’t be thinking it’s steak.

  • Linda says:

    The only thing I can think of would be the Ann Coulter-style stuff mentioned above. Certainly I wouldn’t judge anybody for having tastes I deemed not as sophisticated as my own, unless I were prepared to be judged for watching The People’s Court or whatever. Ditto lack of exposure — some people aren’t readers, particularly readers of fiction. I basically see “I don’t read books” as the same as “I don’t watch TV” — it means you’re missing the good stuff and the bad stuff, so it’s nothing to be proud of and nothing to be embarrassed about. It might mean I’d have less in common with someone and therefore it’s not a good match, but that’s about compatibility with me, not feeling judgy.

  • Ginger says:

    As others have said, it’s more important to me that they simply read, as opposed to being particular about authors, etc. I did once break up with a guy who, when I asked him what genre of movies he liked, responded with “I don’t know what that means. I don’t use all those big words.” He was really just a fling anyway, but he immediately dropped several digits on the scale of 1-10.

    Luckily, I’m now with a man who not only reads, but with whom I can exchange books and share ideas. It’s worth waiting for :)

  • Angela says:

    I happen to own three copies of “Tuesdays With Morrie” – one mine, one Zach’s, and one a former roommate’s who probably (and understandably) wished to unload her copy. Far, far, far be it from me to judge what’s sitting on other peoples’ shelves.

    That said, I’d probably have questions if a guy owned “Left Behind,” but maybe he, like me, wanted to read one of the series to determine for himself if they, as works of fiction, are really as execrable as they sound (answer: yes.)

  • Beth says:

    I would have very few deal breakers about individual books, but I’m with the person who said that too big a trend would be disturbing. Say, everything Rush Limbaugh ever wrote.

    I have to say, I also shy away when guys list “The Necrocomicon” and a favorite book. I have no problem with having read it or owning it, but I’ve just had too many bad experiences with folks who list it as a favorite.

  • I have nothing against the sci-fi,, fantasy genre. I actually like it and read a lot of it, but I think there needs to be a line drawn between like and obsession and if boy crosses line, boy gets walking papers. I should have figured that out in my college years but no. I had to date the wierd goth guy who was way too obsessed with vampires. Should’ve been my first clue. Pathetically, he dumped me.

  • K. says:

    I’m with Jo and also Linda. I have pretty varied taste in books (although I don’t really read fantasy or sci-fi); the biggest thing with me is that I read A LOT. I’ve carried a book everywhere with me since I was three. So if a guy doesn’t read at ALL, he gets a ticket to Dumpsville. If a guy asks “What are you reading right now?” he goes up a notch or two.

    But it’s the same with a guy who doesn’t watch TV or go to the movies. I consume a lot of media and some of it is straight-up crap, and I just can’t relate on a deep level to people who don’t. In fact, I’d say I Don’t Own a TV Guy gets dumped faster than I Only Read Tom Clancy Guy, because ten to one, I Don’t Own a TV Guy is way more pretentious. I dated a guy who “didn’t really watch TV” and he was a total snob. Only went to bars with $14 chocotinis, and I like a chocotini as much as the next girl and it was nice to be wined and dined, but can’t we maybe have Coronas in flip-flops every once in a while? I have to put on heels and full makeup EVERY time we go out?

    The only man I’ve ever loved (so far) is a voracious reader, and that’s a big part of why I loved him. We would talk for hours about books and authors and introduced each other to our favorites. And we sometimes drank Coronas in flip-flops.

    Aside: Consider “You can eat candy, but you can’t be thinking it’s steak” stolen.

  • Ashley says:

    Once, I went on a blind date where the dude showed up carrying THREE HARDCOVER SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS. To dinner. And left them on the table the whole time, obviously hoping I would ask about them. Shortest date ever. And while my speedy splitting of the check was not based so much on the content of the books as the performativity of the whole thing, “eh, he had sci-fi novels” is now my shorthand for “that would never, ever work out.”

  • Dayna says:

    Anything by L. Ron Hubbard. Run. Run as fast as you can.

  • Noelle says:

    I think I generally wouldn’t be associated with people who read the above— which seem to be clearly legitimate deal-breakers, the Dan Brown and the whatnot. They’re having a similar discussion on Jezebel right now and someone mentioned “The Secret”, which, yeah. I would dump someone who was reading that beyond just having fodder for debating those into “The Secret”.

    My man has an annoying reading ‘quirk’, I guess, in which he mostly owns sci fi/graphic novels/classical and refuses to read anything, and I mean ANY thing, that I recommend, because he’s busy re-reading the Illiad or some godawful thing for the tenth time. Bugs the shit out of me.

  • Jess says:

    If you’d told me in 2000 I’d end up married to a guy who reads maybe 3 books a year, I would have probably made the sign against the evil eye. Ah, how naive I was. Turns out it’s cool to be married to a non-reader, because you can hog all the shelf space with no fights and you get a special sense of accomplishment when you press a book into his hands with a “READ THIS” admonition and he says later, “You know, that kind of rocked.”

    That said, I’d deal-break any guy with a library heavy on conservative religion teachings, earnest endorsements of communism/socialism, or vanity press items. That just would not work out.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    “My husband isn’t into reading books, but I let it slide as long as he doesn’t interrupt me when I’m reading.”

    This is key. Some people aren’t into reading, or don’t think it’s a good use of their time, would rather do something physically active, whatever — that I can live with, although I kind of don’t get it, but I don’t really get jazz either and it seems to make people happy. Not respecting the fact that reading is up there with oxygen and caffeine for me, however, will not work. Also not workable: “You read a lot,” uttered in the same tone used to describe bad smells.

  • ferretrick says:

    I read Fountainhead when I was 13 and its still one of my two favorite books. I was very impressionable at the time, and I’d say it was a major infleunce on my life. When I reread it in my 20s, I saw a lot of the flaws for the first time. I still enjoyed the book and agreed with some of the ideals, though I don’t endorse it as wholeheartedly as I did in my teenage years. And I won’t get offended if you make fun of it, God knows there’s passages that deserve to be made fun of, i.e. the rape “seduction” scene.

    But you want to talk breakup material? I have forced Boyfriend to watch Once More With Feeling, Surprise/Innocence, and lots of other miscellaneous bits of Buffy and he still won’t get into it. But he thinks CHARMED was a great show, even owns DVDs. Its a good thing he has many other qualities.

  • Laura says:

    Well, I’ve never broken up with someone over reading taste, but I was once seduced by a guy who’d turned a weird closet/hallway bonus space in his apartment into a library. Homemade shelves from floor to ceiling, cozy chair by the window, little table to set your cappuccino on… I was in love with the reading room. (It was filled mainly with non-fiction stuff that was way over my head… he was a physicist.) But then we broke up for unrelated reasons.

    My current boyfriend was an English major (well, he double-majored in that and computer science). I think I fell in love with him the day he described being the only boy in his Jane Austen class. We steal each others’ books a lot.

  • Dawn says:

    I dated a guy who felt threatened by the amount of books I owned. I had never said word one to him about reading, or not reading. One night he came out with “You’ve got all these books, and you read all the time. I don’t have any books. I could read, but I don’t.” First, but not last, clue that it wasn’t going to work… Last clue was the one book I did spot in his house – “How to read people.”

  • DPR says:

    I was once matched on a dating site with someone who described the last book he read as “like The DaVinci Code, but not as good.” My soul cried at the state of the world, then into the bin he went. (Another common answer that got people tossed: “I don’t really read books / I only read magazines / I don’t bother with fiction.”

    Sometimes I feel like we could skip all of the annoying matching questions on dating websites if the subscribers simply sumbitted photos of their bookshelves, DVD collections, TVs, and computers.

    Seeing the entire Left Behind series on someone’s shelf would send me scurrying for the door.

  • Jennifer says:

    Okay, I’m a genre slut, so I can’t be too judgmental. I love to read and even though in the past year or so, my consumption has fallen off dramatically, books are still a very important part of my life so a guy has to understand that. Too many self-help books would bother me (if he needs that much help, maybe he should invest in some therapy); one or two are acceptable.

    He doesn’t have to be a voracious reader, as long as he understands and has experienced the great pleasure to be had from the act of reading a book even if done only occasionally. And he absolutely, positively cannot get on my case for the fact that I read romance novels, Raymond Chandler, children’s fantasy, Shakespeare, history and theology with equal passion.

  • erin says:

    I most recently dated a surgical resident (28 years old) who hadn’t read anything since Jurassic Park. This concerned me. However, he was super cute, so I thought he was just really busy being in med school, then residency, so I could guide him towards the reading light. I gave him “The Ruins.” He didn’t finish it, but he said he enjoyed it…and then broke up with me a month later. Hmm…I’ve come to realize now that he might not have been that deep (who doesn’t read…ever??), but I was willing to put in some work to reform him! And you can see how well that turned out! I’m hoping the next guy is a reader!

  • Kymster says:

    Deal breakers in the past have been ONLY sports books on the shelves (to the exclusion of anything else), or not a reader.

    The hubby and I are both voracious readers, and crossword fanatics. We sometimes have to get 2 Sunday papers so that we can BOTH do the crossword puzzles.

    We read entirely different genres – I love historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, biography, historical non-fiction. He loves noir detective stories, Dick Francis, Raymond Chandler, and such. We both love Ann Rule, and laugh at Dan Brown. And fight over shelf space.

    We aren’t TV people, but we aren’t snobbish about it. We live in a *very* rural community, and the only way to get TV reception is with a satellite. I’ve already got one dish on the roof for my internet connection, and I can’t afford a 2nd one for a TV.

    Oh, and musically, we both love classical stuff, but for more modern things, we’re polar opposites.

  • solaana says:

    I have to second the Scientology tomes and raise you anything more than 2 self-help books. That’s probably really small-minded, but I was raised by wolves anyway, so hey.

    And is it just me, or does someone else out there judge people by the catalogs they receive?

  • teej says:

    I hate to be That Girl, because I am a reader, and i mean READER. but really, too much sci-fi kind of freaks me the hell out. Star Wars, i realize this makes me unpopular, is kind of a game-over moment.

  • erin says:

    @ Rebecca: I think we were on the same dating website. And now that i think about it, if i saw a guy have anything on his favorite reading list, I autmoatically thought he was…not that interesting. Same thing if I was a guy and a girl listed Nicholas Sparks. Seriously. List something interesting.

    Also, my best friend’s boyfriend LOVES Atlast Shrugged, and he’s kind of a pretentious windbag (I think he discounts most non-Rand fiction too). And a mutual friend has a theory that guys who LOVE Rand are pretty much pretentious windbags. So he fits that to a T.

  • Brenda says:

    For me it’s not really any specific book (as I am also stealing the candy vs. steak comment above), but more that a dude would only have one specific kind of book. Like if his whole shelf was just sci fi, or just mass market Dan Browny stuff, or even just continental philosophy, that would be an issue.

    The main thing though, is reading in general.

  • SP says:

    I once had this totally hopeless crush on a seriously adorable guy for MONTHS, right up until the point when we were talking all flirty-flirty, and he referred to his ex-wife (quite seriously) as “a reader.” I tried not to care, I really did, but I could actually -feel- my crush dying as he talked. Body temperature dropped back to normal, started thinking about the stuff I really ought to be getting done…

    I read for fun much more often than my husband does, and he sometimes likes to refer to me as “a reader,” but he does it with the full-on finger-quotes and the goofy voice because he knows it makes me laugh.

  • Liz says:

    The main thing for me is that you can’t take your reading preferences so seriously that you can’t cope with me saying “Ayn Rand? SERIOUSLY? Blekh.” I read a lot of different kinds of books, but none of them are so elevated in my mind that I can’t conceive of a reasonable person not liking them.

  • Michelle says:

    I had a previous significant relationship with a non-reader which left me feeling oddly isolated from him. It felt like there was so much I couldn’t share with him, or at least that it’d be futile to try. I’m now married to an English major, which is mostly a joy. But to play devil’s advocate, 3 problems with shacking up with someone who’s as much a whore for reading as I am:

    – He has an OCD need to spot and deconstruct symbolism out loud the way some people do play-by-play on the outfits on their favorite TV shows. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes the rain is not a symbolic baptism, OK? If that’s what an English degree does to your ability to just enjoy a good story, I’ll stick to the sciences.

    – He used to make fun of me for reading The New Yorker; I think he thought it was pretentious of me. This struck me as both unfair and factually incorrect. But these days I kind of miss that period of our relationship, because the next time he steals the latest issue out of the mailbox before I even know it’s arrived, I’m going to shank him with an Oneida Dickinson butter knife.

    – Piles of books and magazines in the bathroom: so tacky. But I cannot break him of it.

  • Sharn says:

    Experience has taught me that if a person’s books are all on the same subject/genre, they’re going to be way more intense and obsessive than I’m comfortable with. That’s not just for boyfriends, that’s for people in general.

  • Lethe says:

    Anybody else got the I-tried-to-get-him-to-appreciate-books-and-then-we-broke-up-and-he-still-has-half-my-bookshelf blues? The boy I was with liked to read, but read mostly trash (read as: blown through in an hour or so, didn’t make him think at all, regardless of genre/author), so I gave him a couple of my favorites…and then he’d pick up one or two when he was over and bring ’em back to his place…and now one breakup later, he has a good chunk of my favorites. Thankfully we’re on good terms now, so I’m trying to get them back from him, but with limited success.

  • Jill says:

    Not a book snob — I don’t see anything wrong with Dan Brown, for example, as long as the person knows it’s junk food — but the Left Behind series or shelves with more than one right-wing nutjob (Limbaugh, Coulter, O’Reilly) would send me screaming out the door.

    One of the most pretentious guys I know takes Ayn Rand as his guru. I can’t figure that one out, ’cause he’s pretty intelligent otherwise.

  • Katherine says:

    For me, it’s not what he reads, exactly, but how narrowly he’s focused on it. I used to work with a guy at a bookstore who fancied himself God’s gift to the book-reading world, and all he read was Palanhiuk, McCarthy, and thrillers. I got so tired of hearing how great those writers were and how everything else paled in comparison. My husband, reads just as much as I do, and isn’t too into one thing or another–sure, he reads goofy Star Wars novels, but so do I, and when I read something that I’m sure he will like, he always gives it a try.

  • Alexis says:

    I know this is all about totally personal quirks, but I’m honestly surprised by the number of people who are turned off by self-help books. I have some on my shelf, because some of them are, well, actually helpful. And some of the rest are interesting — they’re kind of about mindhacking, in a strange way. Figuring out how we work, enhancing the positive parts and short-circuiting the negative parts.

    I just have to hope that the rest of my collection redeems me, I guess. Along with the fact that I’m not actually a groupie of any of the self-help authors, despite having read their books. :)

    I don’t think that any given book itself would bother me; for me it would be all about what the person thinks of the books, which ends up being more about what they think in general than about what they read.

  • Sandy says:

    One date. He did not read at all. Eh, but whatever. It was all over when he said, “I don’t want to read about it. I’d rather live it.” Blech.

  • Jade says:

    It wasn’t so much reading preferences as his habit of picking up a book I quite enjoyed (and I won’t pretend it was an in depth or ‘serious’ novel) taking it into the bathroom with him (Pet Hate 17B) and emerging half an hour later to throw it dismissively on the bed and say ‘I can see how you might have liked this book, it’s just the sort of thing you girls like to read’ – subtext: It’s all your tiny female brains can handle.

    Meanwhile his idea of a great book was anything by Terry Pratchett or pulpy detective novels heavy on the sex with mysterious chain smoking women…

    Out of there so fast he left skidmarks on the hallway floor.

  • Another Kate says:

    I’ll be the hundredth person to say that non-readers are an automatic out. And I agree with Brenda on the all continental philosophy thing, since that seems to be a surefire sign of windbag types. But I admit to being a reading snob in a lot of ways. Any Christian inspirational stuff, novelisations of tv shows, and Daniel Quinn fans are out.

  • Laura says:

    He must read books. He must not be judgmental about my book collection.

  • Ted says:

    I don’t think there’s anything someone can really *own* that would create a deal breaker. I mean, I got Chicken Soup for the Teenager’s Soul for Christmas when I was 15, and I have it, but… yeesh. And I own a copy of Rush Limbaugh’s The Way Things Ought To Be because… surprisingly? Hilarious. If you don’t take into account that whole he’s being serious thing. Unless things start multiplying. Whole walls of manga are a red flag – not a deal breaker, but it’s going to be amongst a stack of evidence as to why we can’t date – and believe me, with a wall of manga, there’s gonna be something else too. Or ALL of the Dragonlance books. Really? Not to mention that a guy who I went to high school with who is now a registered sex offender had his collection well through the end of high school… eek. Large collections of Poe or Shakespeare but no literary criticisms next to them… I’m a little leery. Not downing Poe or Shakespeare (or the multiple “Shakespeares,” whatever you’re working from) but there actually IS other literature out there.

    I mean, I haven’t read a lot of what I know I should have read, but I generally know the references. I have a long list, so it’s not surprising I’m behind. I’ve never read A Clockwork Orange, but I know what’s going on (bonus: I’ve never seen the movie either and I know the differences between the two). There are some things that I just can’t accept that people have never heard of. Like – and not that I’m now defending Dan Brown – but if you never heard of The Da Vinci Code? It’s pretty much as bad as saying it changed your life. Dante’s Inferno not on your radar? At all? I’m concerned.

    Oh, and since the article did bring up Unbearable Lightness of Being, I have to say that it is the definition of mindfuck when the last thing you saw Daniel Day-Lewis in before watching There Will Be Blood is the film adaptation of Unbearable Lightness of Being.

  • Jill says:

    As long as he reads any kind of fiction, it is okay with me. Even if it is only fantasy. But when I tell him that I did not finished Lord of the Rings, I don’t want to be judged. I was once forced to read a fantasy book by a guy, I suffered through a 100 pages and hated every word. The bad writing style totally bugged me. When I told him I hated it, he told me everybodyelse loved it. His frieds did not like me much, so that should have been a clue.
    A friend of mine seriously does not understand why anyone would read the book when there is the movie to watch.
    I have a lot of bad non-fiction on my shelves, I tend to buy stuff like “The sex life of Hollywood goddesses” if it is cheap.

  • KerstinMSD says:

    Certain kinds of books (or a lack thereof) probably wouldn’t be a total deal-breaker, though it would be a huge red flag. Music is a different story, though.

    There was a man at my gym that I had been flirting with for months. I thought he was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen. One day, he told me he only owned one CD, and it was Eddie Grant’s Greatest Hits. I couldn’t have found him more instantaneously repulsive if he’d morphed into a giant booger right before my eyes.

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