It’s Not You, It’s Your Books

This NY Times Sunday Book Review essay was written several months ago-a good friend sent it to me at the time, and pointed out the tragic humor of the Isabel Archer/Gilbert Osmond example.  I found the essay to be a very humorous and interesting one, and I shared it with family members.  They however were not as pleased!  They thought it demonstrated caring far too much about insignificant details.  I recently met someone and the essay topic came up again, as he knows the essayist and had gotten into a disagreement with her about it when the essay came out.  It’s an essay that seems to be polarizing, and so I’m interested to hear what others-bookish or not-have to say! I must say, that I also cringe when I hear people claim to love Ayn Rand (often celebrity actors and Alan Greenspan).  But I did think it was a bit funny for this essay to call out Rand enthusiasts-as the Times had not that long before published an article on the success of Rand devotees in the financial world. 

7 thoughts on “It’s Not You, It’s Your Books”

  1. G. Karen Merguerian

    That’s why it’s nice to do a “group read” like “NU Reads,” for example, to get first-year students to come here with at least one text in common. Even if they don’t all like it, shouldn’t books be a starting point for conversation, and not an end point?

  2. Karen, that’s a great point about NU Reads. Books (partiuclarly when you know you have one in common) can be a good conversation starter–either for an in-depth discussion, or as an introduction to some of your new classmates.

  3. That NY Times essay also mentions arguments about The Corrections: “Overrated! Brilliant! Overrated! Brilliant!”

    I’ve had those arguments.

    But overall, I agree that it’s an interesting, humorous essay. I’m not sure the author really meant to set out a Grand Unified Theory of Interpersonal Relationships, so I don’t see the essay as particularly polarizing.

  4. I meant polarizing in the sense that I think that one’s responses to the essay can really vary depending on whether one likes to have “Brilliant! Overrated!” arguments, or whether one thinks those very types of discussions are overrated. I really liked the essay and the handful of other readers I spoke to about it seemed to either love it or be irritated by it. (The “hate its” being more along the lines of “This is the type of thing you care about that only 16 people in the whole world would think to care about”–sort of a navel-gazing criticism). But this could also just be limited to my circle of friends.

  5. Jonathan Iannone

    To me the article oozed with elitist smarm. Judging people by the books they have read is sort of like judging a book by its cover. People’s attitudes and opinions can change over time.

    If you want a good literary example then read Martin Eden by Jack London. The novel shows how book learning is not enough and that pretentious attitudes are naught but shoddy masks for empty intellect.

  6. I guess that’s sort of my point: I don’t see the article as particularly supporting elitist views. Rather, I think it was meant to be a light little essay pointing out the ridiculousness of the strange details we all use in judging other people. (Especially in the dating arena!)

    Some people use sports team affiliation, some people use taste in music, some people use style of clothing… but we’re all ridiculous in how much value we place on details like that.

    Or maybe I’m crazy! But I read the essay as gently making fun of the book-judging people.

  7. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler (and which I’ve written about on this blog) is a book that springs to mind. While I imagine the book would be much more enjoyable to Jane Austen readers, one of my favorite parts of the book relates to the romance between Prudie and her husband, Dean. (If you’ve seen the movie version, this aspect was very different in the book). Prudie is the type of character who could easily have contributed a few choice quotes to Donadio’s article—she’s frustrated by how different their tastes are. But over the course of the novel she comes to realize how much he cares for her, and that his love is a gift. She comes to understand that for her, this is more valuable than him admiring her adroit use of French phrases.

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