The Opposite of…

Photo on 2013-03-31 at 19.40 #2

Mirabile Interviews Her Opposite.

I have long theorized that one should never marry a man with similar literary tastes.

My first husband and I had opposite tastes, which made our marriage fun while it was fun.  He read Arthur Koestler and the Russians, while I read Dickens and Poldark.  The thing we had in common, and which I have in common with ALL my husbands, is that we love languages.  I once rushed off to study at Grace and Rubie’s (a women’s club in the ’70s; see T. C. Boyle’s short story, “Grace and Rubie’s, ” in Descent of Man) only to find I had his Russian flashcards instead of my German.

inferno pinsky danteBut all that is long ago. A few years ago, when he tracked me down on the internet via a mortifying essay which I have begged the website owner to delete–apparently it remains there for maximum humiliation–we both agreed that Robert Pinksy was a good poet.  He thinks Pinsky’s translation of Dante’s Inferno is stunning, and naturally I prefer Allen Mandelbaum’s translation.

The opposite literary tastes have been a lifelong theme.  Of course, my friends find this opposite literary problem  odd.  One says she has never picked a husband on the basis of literature.  She thinks more about whether they can dance or not.

Although today I did not get out of my  “lounge pants,” which some might call pajamas, I got quite a lot of thinking done on this question of opposites. I interviewed A Certain Kinsman, whom I shall hitherto refer to as ACK.

ACK, who has opposite tastes from mine, does not think we are opposites.  He points out that we both are fans of Gary Shteyngart, Chekhov, Edith Wharton, and Alice Munro.

But since this is an in-depth blog on opposites, requiring deep digging, I will tell you what I know.

His favorite book last year was Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for a King.  My reaction was, “Why?”  My favorite book last year was Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.   He found it very boring.

emma jane austenThe following may be deeply offensive to you, so brace yourself.  ACK is not a lover of Jane Austen.  That is why I allowed him to wear a mask and assume a different identify before I interviewed him.

“I’m just tired of hearing so much about her.  I don’t think people should spend their life on her.”

Oh dear.  I mean, who doesn’t think the opening sentence of Emma is the best sentence in the world?

I am trying to get him to read Rudyard Kipling’s “The Janeites.”

He also doesn’t care for Nancy Mitford, another of my favorite writers.

I don’t like to have to go out in the middle of the night to get her book of letters and hear at Barnes and Noble that there’s a Mitford industry.”

It is just possible I asked for that book at night.  I’m sure I needed it for something…like reading!

He also doesn’t like Barbara Pym.  “It’s a cozy read if you want a good night’s sleep.”

He doesn’t like Colette.  “I didn’t like Claudine and it’s hard in French.”

He won’t read Ursula K. Le Guin.  “I don’t like science fiction.”

Will Self-UmbrellaI have strongly recommended Will Self’s Umbrella, which is a great book, but not my kind of thing.  He was able to identify a quote from the Kinks’ “Apeman” for me on the opening page, so I know he would enjoy it.

He says, “Maybe you have to be a Kinks fan to appreciate it.”

And I agree.

But I, too, don’t care for many of the books he likes.  After I read Celine’s Death on the Installment Plan, I told him,

It made me want to jump off a bridge.”

On Faulkner’s The Hamlet I said,

I hated the guy who had the affair with a cow.”

On Moby Dick, after the chapter “The Whiteness of the Whale,” I closed the book and said,

I don’t like American literature.”

So is it a Battle of the Sexes?  He likes Faulkner, I like Caroline Gordon.  He likes Joyce, I prefer Virginia Woolf.  He likes Dostoevsky, I like George Eliot. I love Zola, he thinks he is terrible.   He likes Saramago, I like Elena Ferrante.

But to be fair, here is a list of the writers we both like:

Bess Streeter Aldrich

Willa Cather

Joseph Conrad


Elsa Morante

Joe Queenan

Do any of you have “the opposite of” literary problem?

5 thoughts on “The Opposite of…

  1. Although not the major reason I split from an ex-partner, the problems were typified by the fact that if I didn’t agree that the books he liked were brilliant he would sulk and accuse me of being deliberately petty. Not the basis for a sound relationship.


  2. I’m not sure what aspects of people’s personalities literary tastes come out of. Jim and I share some literary tastes and especially some art (paintings, sculpture, architecture), plays and music (though he’s the opera lover and he likes modern classical music far more than me and cannot stand country rock which I like very much), but we are also incapable of reading some books the other person probably likes best. Jim has never read any Jane Austen and in general does not read novels (though he loved Anthony Powell as did I, read Trollope’s Pallisers and some Barcestershire novels and TWWLN, much of Proust, likes the group of French writers who include the man who wrote _Life: A User’s Manual_), especially novels by women and memoirs of a type I cannot do without. He used to read and when he still reads books, he reads these tomes of history and politics, politicians memoirs, certain kinds of gay men’s novels used to amuse him. Nowadays he spends most of his time reading on the Net.

    Some sharing is indicative of congeniality. This business of congeniality is important in a marriage but it’s hard to concretize. I do agree with Scarlett O’Hara’s father in GWTW (Margaret Mitchell in a mask) that like must marry like but what we mean by that is hard to say. Jim and I share a political and religious outlook closely; our way of life is one we both agree on. Some of our clashes have come when something important comes up we disagree on: attitudes towards bringing up children, towards when our responsibility for helping them fades, towards what we should try to do to help them. Then we’ve had our rare and fierce quarrels.

    To turn back to books. It depends. Sometimes a share taste might indicate something important. You were able to list authors both of you like. What in this list is its thread? or are we making this idea of a thread up when we look at it? and it helps enormously _the attitude towards literature_ in general that Jim holds. He does respect my blogging, he does not think that getting published is a criteria for success nor even making money from it. This outlook of his is very elite: basically he thinks popular tastes are pretty awful; he never watches TV — or hardly ever. And he likes few films (Bergman is a rare film maker he will go to see)



  3. Alex, I hate the sulking! 🙂 No, we don’t go that far, but we often wonder at one other’s tastes. I will not read Washington Irving under any circumstances; he will not read H. G. Wells. We are simply amazed… And sorry that relationship didn’t work out for you.

    Ellen, I think it is important that both partners read, though it probably doesn’t matter WHAT. Otherwise there would be long periods when the other might say, “Let’s go rock-climbing” or to the Obama meet-up or to the tractor-pull when all we want to do is finish a book. (That is why I take so many books with me when we go out on bicycles! But we do like bicycling.)

    It fascinates me that I can live in a household with people for many, many years and read such different books. But it is a quiet activity, and it doesn’t seem to matter. Some friends say they live with husbands and other household members who don’t read at all. And they get to read as much as they want, so…


  4. Oh Kat. This is so funny. Neither of my two exes were readers at all. Of course that never stopped me. When I left the first one, I had boxes and boxes of books to drag with me across country. I liked the books better than the man.


  5. Belle, it’s great you got to keep the books! I’m sure books had nothing to do with the break-ups, and it proves readers and non-readers can live together.


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