Sunday, March 30, 2008

Literature and Love

I'm currently reading Julie Phillips's excellent biography of an SF icon, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon. Although occasionally given to sweeping psychological statements that not even meticulous research can make one that sure of, this is a terrific book. Phillips has insight, access to letters between Sheldon and such writers as Joanna Russ and Harlan Ellison, and a graceful prose style. Here is Sheldon in 1941:

"Turning from a broken marriage to a shattered world, she filled her journal with notes on Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West. She was appalled by Spengler's thirst for war and power, his glorification of man's "animal" over his intellectual life. After six years of stormy marriage, Alice didn't think people had to get any closer to their animal nature."

Alice Sheldon didn't always choose lovers well -- which brings me to the sly article in this morning's New York Times Book Review, "It's Not You, It's Your Books." Rachel Donadio takes up the question of literary compatibility -- how important is it that people who read marry 1)other people who read, 2) people who like the same books you do, or 3) your exact literary clone? A Manhattan psychiatrist opines that book choice "is a bit of a Rorschach test." A book critic confesses that she broke up with a lover because he was enthusiastic about Ayn Rand. A writer says he "just wrote people off completely because of what they were reading." A book publicist says "If you're a person who loves Alice Munro and you're going out with someone whose favorite book is The Da Vinci Code, perhaps the red flags of incompatibility were there prior to this big reveal."

We in SF have a special problem. If an interesting person hits all the right notes about Ayn Rand or Dan Brown or Tolstoy, what if he or she has a condescending, patronizing, or dismissive view of science fiction? For me, that would be a deal breaker. But, then, I write the stuff. Your view may be different.


José Iriarte said...

I'm pretty relaxed about people liking things that I don't like or disliking things that I do--even, to an extent, if it's ideological stuff like Rand, so long as they respect my right to see the world differently.

But being condescending about stuff I like, especially science fiction, would be a deal-breaker for me, I think.

Peggy K said...

When my husband and I started dating, it was a happy discovery that we both loved reading science fiction. We swapped paperbacks and spent some marvelous Sundays reading together. I love being with someone who I can share books with. I don't think I would have had a problem if he wasn't into SF as long as he enjoyed reading something and wasn't snobbish about genre fiction. I knew a couple guys in college who claimed to only read "serious" fiction and turned up their noses at SF, murder mysteries, horror, and romance, and they were total bores.

John Nicholas said...

I think reading in general is more important than the same exact taste. I like scifi and laymen's science books, my wife loves crime thrillers especially if they have a medical examiner or doctor in the lead. We rarely read each other's books though we occasionally share a spy thriller type book like Follet or Deighton. Strangely, she does like scifi TV/movies and I like crime movies.

Now we are raising a daughter who is an avid reader of historical fiction. Same thing there, I'm just proud of her reading.

Daniel said...

Kind of funny... I love SF, while my wife loves Disney and classics. When we were dating, I was a little uncertain about how that disparity would play into it all. However, when we got married, she was open to being "educated" in some SF movies, as long as I was willing to sit through some Rogers and Hammerstein. She has come to realize that she actually likes some science fiction (given certain criteria).

Personally, I think people with the same tastes risk taking things beyond reasonable, whereas people of different tastes keep each other in check. But that's just my unsubstantiated opinion.

Luke said...

I read voraciously and my wife reads little to none. Maybe I need a divorce.

Steven Francis Murphy said...

I write SF and read it yet I find I'm in a relationship with someone who doesn't have any interest in SF at all. And she is my first reader.

More often than not, her advice is what enables me to put that final polish on the story.

So, I don't know.

S. F. Murphy

bluesman miike Lindner said...

I don't think I could be simpatico with an hombress or hombre who =distained= sf. I just couldn't.

Yeah. Thinking about it for a minute here. No way.