Let me clarify from the outset that I never discovered a much-loved copy of Mein Kampf or Atlas Shrugged in a romantic interest’s underwear drawer, or had it revealed to me that a favorite book — say, Pride and Prejudice — was so loathed by a beau that he had to be ejected out of my bed, my heart, or even my life.
What books have done, however, is become flash points within already troubled relationships, especially with regard to the fact that I pay any attention to books at all. Books, and more broadly, the written word, have strained some of my most important love affairs — and in certain cases contributed to the disintegration of them. I was drawn to men who displayed a tendency to chafe at the very idea that I might find sustenance or succor in anything other than them.
I suspect I am not the only woman to become involved with men who profess to value her for her ability to be emotionally present, curious and passionate only to reveal, down the road, an expectation that this sort of generosity of time and energy be restricted solely to interests and activities that include them. I hate the idea that there is a type of person whose impulse when witnessing a partner’s clearly rewarding, other-directed engagement is to react with contempt, not celebration; to expect the prioritizing of one’s own needs far above hers. In my experience, daring to honor my interior life — not to mention my professional commitments — has proved, in the context of coupling, to be a controversial, radical act.
Fantastic short essay by Anna Holmes on reading, relationships, and the frequently fraught relationship between the two.
Holmes knows a thing or two about literary breakups.
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