Monday, July 11, 2005

I'm a books man myself

You know how some men just can't stop ogling women? They're just totally obsessed with checking them out - they'll be walking down the street, having a perfectly normal conversation, but every time anything remotely shapely in a skirt passes by, their eyes will make this little nervous leap, like a frog catching flies with its tongue. It's like they're some sort of accountants and are convinced that the world is trying to pull a fast one on them. (Thought you get get those figures past me, did you? I'm afraid this is going to have to show up in my report). It's not even like they seem to be having fun doing it - it's almost a solemn duty, like the salvation of their souls depended on it or something (I can imagine it now - you get up to Pearly Gates and there's St. Peter saying "On the 14th of July 2005, did you see that stacked blonde in the tight-fitting sweater who went past you on 42nd street? You didn't? Oh, well, it's hell for you then.)

Personally, I don't see the point of this. I think men only came up with it because they needed something to do while women were window-shopping. There isn't really that much difference, you know. Look, look - I've never seen one with that pattern before. And wouldn't that look just spectacular on me? And will you check that out? If I could just get a pair of those they would really liven up the living room. And meanwhile the guy / girl they're with is thinking - what's the big deal, they all look the same to me. (Of course I've never seen the point of window-shopping either - I mean why spend hours looking at things you're too poor / fat / technologically challenged to afford / fit in / operate? If I want to spend time contemplating the unattainable, I might as well start going to church)

I realised recently, though, that there is one sense in which I'm the worst lech of all - I'm a confirmed books man. Let a 20-something pass by me in a bikini made entirely of rubber bands and I probably wouldn't even notice, but put a book in her hand and I wouldn't be able to take my eyes off it. I'm insanely drawn to the sight of a woman reading a book in public (Only women, you ask, not men? Listen, just shut the door to the closet and let me get on with this post, will you. It's my blog, after all). If I'm walking down a street and come up from behind on a woman reading a book, I have to turn around to see if I can get a closer look at the front cover. If I'm sitting next to a woman reading I'll keep watching her surreptitiously from the corner of my eye, waiting for that one critical moment when she turns a page and the entire title of the book is visible for an instant. If she catches me looking at her when I'm doing this, I'll look away guiltily, pretend I'm thinking about something else - but the minute she gets back to reading I'm watching her like a hawk again.

It doesn't even matter how good the book is (it goes without saying how young / good looking the woman is is totally irrelevant - I can spend weeks dreaming about a 55 year old blue stocking I happened to catch reading Ovid on a train) - even if it's something really crappy (like a Danielle Steel novel, for instance) I will still get a perverse thrill from sneaking a look at the cover when she doesn't know I'm watching. Of course, if it happens to be a really good book I go completely wild (I once rode four extra stops on the New York subway because there was a woman next to me reading Albee and she was sitting real close and leaning over in a way so I could read every line; it took all of my willpower not to follow her out of the station and accost her with some speech from Becket in a dark alley)[1]. Sometimes, if I'm really lucky, a woman will unconsciously let me read the entire blurb at the back - this makes me almost dizzy with excitement - I need to get home and spend half an hour with whatever book I happen to be reading before I can calm down again.

It's not like I take these quasi-encounters at all seriously, you understand. I'm not going to up and leave the book collection I have sitting at home to follow some annotated edition of Flaubert I saw for a moment on a street corner. I'm not that crazy. Most of the time I don't even imagine going beyond that one glance at the book (though sometimes I fantasize about meeting a woman reading, say, the collected poems of Robert Lowell in a coffee shop and striking up a conversation about West Street and Lepke[2], but let's face it, I'm never going to have the nerve; the closest I ever got was a half-hour spent on a BEST bus trying to make eye contact with a woman across the aisle who was reading the Silmarillion), it's just a casual thing - a way of showing interest, an aesthetic creed.

I've often wondered, of course, whether women do this too. So while I'm sitting in a Starbucks reading my Iris Murdoch is that woman three tables down trying desperately to get me to raise the book up, so she can get a good, long look at the cover? Am I getting evaluated for this stuff? Are there women out there who take one look at the bulge of my new Murakami peeping through my coat pocket and want to go home with me? Would it help my non-existent dating life if I let it be known that I once managed three Fitzgerald novels in a single night?

People ask me if I believe in love at first sight, and if so, what do I think it would be like? I usually say no, but somewhere deep in my head there's a vision of a woman sliding into the seat next to me on an airplane and opening up her copy of the newly released 'authentic' version of Plath's Ariel.



1. My first year in college back at SRCC I almost had a heart attack given the sheer number of women who were going around reading The Great Gatsby. It was only six months into the year that I discovered that it was a course requirement and they ALL had to do it. Ah, the sweet days of my youth.

2. Or maybe Henry Miller - remember that scene in Scorsese's After Hours where the guy meets this woman in a diner who strikes up a conversation with him because he's reading Tropic of Capricorn? You probably don't.


DoZ said...

Good to know am not the only one. I even notice books in movies... can't help it... You're lucky to be in a city equipped with subways & literate passengers... I do my very best in Dallas - I like to imagine that the driver in the Hummer next to my car is listening to A Widow for One Year, instead of Garth Brooks (given Texas, it's probably the latter, but we are talking wishful here)... & Yes audio books (a painful oxymoron) are an abomination and should be banned forever, but am grasping at straws here.

Sony Pony said...

you managed three Fitzgerald novels in a single night? That's hot.

Ritu said...


Oh, I do that to books all the time and am usually not even sure if the books were being read by men or women.

Back when I was single and available, I'd go for coffee with guys just because they were holding books. That stoped after a boring 30 minutes with a chap who said he was an avid reader - turned out that his reading was limited to 'Stardust' and 'Filmfare'.

So if I were to ever spot you with an interesting book today, I'd prolly come over and talk to you while drinking coffee, but I wouldn't follow you home. :)

ggop said...

Oh this is a great post!

deweyinfinity said...

"I've often wondered, of course, whether women do this too. So while I'm sitting in a Starbucks reading my Iris Murdoch is that woman three tables down trying desperately to get me to raise the book up, so she can get a good, long look at the cover?"

Of course - always ... half the joy of sitting in a coffee shop is to be able to scope out what the guys are reading ... plays right into my fav fantasy ... meeting hot guy reading classy book in coffee shop, we strike up a dazzling conversation wherein we both proceed to impress each other with our amazing wit and charm ... cut to riding off into the sunset together with trunk load full of books of course :-)
Great post !

Anonymous said...

Excellent, love it! » »

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November said...

umm..the reverse is true too.. Sometimes, I'm reading a crappy crappy book [the type you[not you you] read between the good ones] [ chick-flicky-books] [yes, I'm human :( ] i'm so ashamed at the quality of literature[?] i'm holding...i ensure that noone can ever see the cover. I try my best. And then sometimes, in defiance, flaunt the copy of >insert name< that i'm reading.

p.s. i overdid the brackets. :)