I noticed his wavy hair, his feline eyes and his lips, which moved slightly as he read. But the first thing I noticed was his book: Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint,” one of my favorites, was cradled in his palm. Between Delancey Street and Bryant Park on the uptown F train, I fell for him hard. It wasn’t the first time I’d flirted my way into a Saturday night date with a simple phrase: “I love that book.”
I had one good pickup line, and e-readers ruined it. I can no longer hit on a handsome man on a long commute by asking about his book — because I can’t see it. Gone are the days when, sitting on a train delayed in the station, I could imagine exactly where in the New York Public Library we would first kiss — in the stacks between Mailer and Malamud or Foer and Franzen? E-books may be saving literature, but my dating life has suffered.
We all know you can’t tell a book by its Nook, but for for me, a geeky 29-year-old N.Y.U. graduate, this problem is particularly acute. A man’s literary taste can score as many points as being good with my parents or an ace in the kitchen. I promise there is nothing flattering about me awkwardly straining my un-swanlike neck toward a cute guy’s Kindle to guess what he’s eyeing. Instead, I am limited to those who peruse The New Yorker in print. And I fear those days are numbered.
Ladies and gentlemen, take out your books! In New York they are more important than your Facebook photo. As our cyber personalities grow more detailed, we see less of one another in person. A literary flirtation is less risky than a bar pickup — at least you know you have one thing in common. And there’s more chance for chemistry riding the L train than scrolling through Match.com, where you’ll see what novels a guy claims to read but his profile pic may be of his hotter brother.
I‘ve had wonderful encounters over books — in cafes, in parks, on subway platforms. Not just with potential dates, but kindred spirits — a septuagenarian reading Nicholas Sparks, a tourist from Abu Dhabi who introduced me to Italo Calvino. A woman new to the city reading E. B. White’s “Here Is New York,” another favorite, is now my good friend.
During the Murakami craze a few summers ago, when everyone was carrying around his Vintage-issued paperbacks with their distinct covers, I found myself in a subway car full of passengers bonding over their “Wind-Up Birds” and “Hard-Boiled Wonderlands.” That is what I love about New York. I don’t need 10 best sellers on an iPad; it only takes one dog-eared title to recognize a soul mate.
Since I can’t scope out a guy for his good books, I’ll have to find my love stories elsewhere. Perhaps I’ll start reading romance novels — hello, Nora Roberts. At least if I get an e-reader, no one will know.
Lisa Lewis, a freelance writer and playwright, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and can be found online at LisaLewisWriting.com.
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Complaint Box: How E-Readers Destroyed My Love Life