The Sexist

Books You Don’t Want Your Lover to Love

"Books": it's the most dangerous section of a young lover's Facebook profile. A bad favorite novel—whether revealed by accident, or deliberately placed on one's bedside table as an act of intellectual seduction—has the power to put a damper on a once-exciting courtship. I've never stopped seeing someone based on their favorite book, but looking back, there were signs. Here, I'll note that heated literary disagreements can actually help to build a healthy and intellectually stimulating relationship. Or, it can devolve into resentment, condescension, and spirited book-burning. Here are my deal-breaker books:

The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Maciej Cegłowski hit the nail on the head when he described Milan Kundera as "the Dave Matthews of Slavic letters." He goes on: "Kundera has a sterile, cleanroom writing style meant to suggest that he is a surgeon expertly dissecting the human condition before your eyes, but if you look a little more closely, you see he's just performing an autopsy on a mannequin. Or more accurately, a RealDoll." Personally, I'm wary of any book which glamorizes cheating as some sort of tortured philosophical exercise. Just keep your pants on, dude, it's not that hard.

The Catcher in the Rye (see also: Lord of the Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird). I'm all for celebrating the classics, but if your favorite book still contains highlights from your 7th grade humanities class, maybe it's time to mix it up a bit.

Atlas Shrugged. I dated a guy in college who kept his collection of Ayn Rand novels hidden underneath his bed, next to his Magic: The Gathering cards. When you discover that your significant other has a secret Rand fetish—and if you're dating high-school or college-aged males, this is a significant possibility—you may be occupied with concern that their idea of good literature is a thousand-page glorification of capitalism. But don't forget about the sex!

Rand's Ideal Woman, Dagny Taggart, is a self-made railroad baron and defender of industry. Taggart defers to no one, except for basically every dude she has sex with. In sex, Taggart submits fully to Man, an act which symbolizes surrender to her sex partner's superior industrial capabilities, or whatever. Many critics have described Rand's sex scenes as "rape," but in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, Wendy McElroy explains that it's not rape, because Rand makes Taggart secretly want men to take her by force. "With our godlike perspective we can eavesdrop on Dagny's psychology as she silently pleads with him . . . Our knowledge of Dagny's unspoken desire for sex with Reardon converts what seems like an act of rape into one of passionate and mutual consent."

So, not only does the Ideal Woman submit sexually to the Ideal Man, the Ideal Man has the crazy ability to discern a woman's secret rape fantasy without asking! Did I mention it's 1,000 pages long?

Photo by Fly Navy

  • Victor

    I once had a girl tell me Richard Bach was the greatest author ever. After reading one of his books, I lost all respect for her. I feel the same way about anything Harry Potter or any other tween book.

    Amanda, I'm disappointed in you that you would include books which make fodder for worthwhile intellectual discussion. Whether you agree with the author's point or not, everyone should read something of Ayn Rand's. And Kundera's ability to depict the senselessness of life in a Soviet run country in The Joke, makes reading it worthwhile.

    I'm also disappointed that your main criticism of Rand is based on something not really central to the book. I'm sure you can dig up some rape scenes in Tolstoy's or Lermontov's books... I believe some of Chekhov's short stories demean women. Does this mean you'd drop a guy for reading these books as well?

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    Victor, I wouldn't drop a guy for reading any of these books. I said that! I would, however, probably end up having annoying, prolonged, and ultimately fruitless debates with them. I'm not interested in most parts of Atlas Shrugged---I find it monumentally boring---but I am interested in the sex parts (hey, it's my wheelhouse) and I was particularly put off by the way she un-writes her strong female characters in the bedroom. I would continue, but I don't want to dredge up old relationships.

  • Ken

    "...you may be occupied with concern that their idea of good literature is a thousand-page glorification of capitalism."

    Marx's Manifesto would be better?

  • Victor

    "I’m not interested in most parts of Atlas Shrugged—I find it monumentally boring"

    Weren't you supposed to be an english major? ....

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    I majored in English, not in All Books Are Interesting Studies

  • Victor

    snarky!

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    I did minor in Snarky.

  • Victor

    Lot of career options for someone who minored in Snark...

  • Jesse

    I won't try to sell you on Ayn Rand (although I agree with Victor that everyone should read at least something by her), but I have to point out something about the sex scene in question. When Dagny sleeps with Rearden, she is clearly dominating him, and when he flips out over it afterward, she laughs in his face.

  • KaFaraqGatri

    I guy i know once tried to get me to read one of Ayn Rands books. I dont remember which one it was, but it was a non-fiction book. In the opening chapter she quoted atlas shrugged as an example of some point she was making on capitalism...

  • Grant

    Amanda,

    Perhaps you should be interested in other parts of Atlas Shrugged. Then you would learn that your willingness to suffer through a relationship with a guy who gives you nothing but annoying, prolonged, and ultimately fruitless discussions is not an admirable trait.

  • Victor

    ^ okay... that was funny.

  • Fuchsia

    I wouldn’t say there are any rape scenes in Atlas Shrugged – Dagny clearly wants her partners and she enjoys having sex with them– a lot! In fact, especially for its time, I would say that Atlas Shrugged contains a couple of strong and, even today, much needed statements about female sexuality: that women can desire men and enjoy sex, that they can sleep with more than one man (and outside of marriage too!) without being labelled sluts (or that those who label them as such are the ones in the wrong), that women can seek sex and take initiative before the guy does and that’s ok, that women needn’t feel guilty after sex, that women can change sexual partner’s whenever they want because they don’t owe anybody anything and that if they choose to do so the guy has no right to object…

    It’s not that I can’t find anything to fault with Rand portrayal of women: they are still shown as wanting (if not needing) a man to look up to and submit to – but given that the book was published in ’57, I’d say there’s some pretty radical stuff in there!

    But the Fountainhead? Now that book does contain a rape scene, yes.

  • Victor

    "I wouldn’t say there are any rape scenes in Atlas Shrugged"

    I dunno about that... may have been alcohol involved in one of those scenes.... :) (oh.. I kill me)

  • http://culturalminefield.blogspot.com Peter

    "A bad favorite novel—whether revealed by accident, or deliberately placed on one’s bedside table as an act of intellectual seduction—has the power to put a damper on a once-exciting courtship."

    Your premise is pretentious, snobbish, and silly. If you are so disappointed with your partner's supposed bad taste in literature that it actually "puts a damper" on the relationship, you might as well call off romance completely and retire to the library. No one will ever live up to your impeccable taste, I'm sure.

  • Victor

    Peter - it's a valid judgement for a number of reasons. First, there are dumb-ass guys who like to walk around pretending to read some work of literature so that women will associate them with the style of the work (Kerouac seems to be popular for this). Secondly, some people are just stupid. And you may not have noticed it until you show up at their place and see just what kind of crap they spend their time reading (Harry Potter comes to mind here).

    I do disagree with her choice of books to judge an individual on, but the premise is sound.

  • http://twitter.com/nomchomspky Nom Chompsky

    Victor, the fact that some of the readers of these books are stupid affirms neither that all stupid people gravitate towards them, nor (more importantly) that any given person who enjoys any of these books is unworthy of Amanda's time.

    The premise that it's worthwhile to snarkily judge people who happen to still enjoy a book they read while in "7th grade", and moreover to have that be a "dealbreaker" is just shrewish.

  • Dan

    Freely substitute Catcher in the Rye for Perks of Being a Wallflower and I think you have a match.

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