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If Falling in Love with People Were Like Falling in Love with Books

Michelle Anne Schingler, a former librarian and Hebrew school teacher, is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. Her days are books, books, books; she knows how lucky that makes her.  Twitter: @mschingler

The bigger the bed, the more you can fit.

When I moved last year, I downsized from a king, and the immediate result was that I could no longer brag about starting out with five nighttime companions before whittling my choices down to the ideal one–the one who gives me the best first taste, who excites me most on first pass. These days, the limit is two—otherwise, I know I’ll wake up with sharp edges in my spine, wondering why I didn’t push the rejects out before switching off the light.

….I’m talking about books, of course. Books are where I’m most simultaneously indecisive and insatiable. So many options, so few pairs of eyes. My habit for beginning with someone new is: grab a stack that strikes my fancy, read first lines, and then settle on the tastiest.

Puritans: breathe a sigh of relief? Yes. Just books.

But what if we did allow ourselves to fall in love with people like we fall in love with books?

(By “we” I mean “me.” I’m sure that my selection methods—both with volumes and with men—aren’t exactly within normal bounds. Are rude. Are misanthropic. Are impatient.)

If the sensual delight with which you tumble through bookstores—tracing fingers along spines, gobbling titles voraciously, nodding in recognition at that name you recognize from recent recommendations—transferred to dating scenes: would that be equally as satisfactory a gamble?

With the right book, you can burn a whole night away, gathering every beautiful line inward, becoming totally immersed in someone else’s world; you can greet the morning with “the end,” shelve it, and not come back for years.

Or you can pass the title on. Or that can be that. No book feels ill-used or underappreciated for such liaisons—and, aside from lingering sleepiness, there is literally no risk.

Readers treat book sales like bar scenes anyway, moving from table to table or shelf to shelf with a determined eye, with a vague but certain concept of possible success—pulling Hawkins, Whitehead, Atkinson, and Robinson to their chests in passionate embraces,without so much the bother of introductions. We collect price tags like phone numbers. We trust our  instincts implicitly (with a touch of arrogance, even); not everyone in the stack will work out, but you can be confident that someone will. You have taste. You know what you like. And covers often tell you everything.

This is not a prospectus; I am not attempting to formulate a new blueprint for love. In my life: the stacks and stacks of books against my wall, some of which I adore but won’t pay attention to again for ages, would not translate well into a collection of men. My personal library, in love terms, is basically a variation of Bluebeard’s closet sans violence.

As a woman whose first love is books, and whose thoughts on love beyond that trend toward the easily annoyed: a night out with a shiny new title is a more exciting prospect than chasing dating site leads, or dealing with strangers at restaurants. I don’t want to come out with my story; I wholly want to devour someone else’s.

So it works out that I’m not afraid to take a hardback out on the town—to crack it open over cocktails, and consume its lines  in full view of even the politest company. If I fell in love like that: those waiting for the tables I take up at restaurants might look less annoyed. (Or more?)

As it is: I carry my current loves in my purse. Sometimes I leave them in my car overnight—even in the snow. Sometimes I trade them in for someone new. I spilled coffee all over one recently, and I mostly felt sorry for myself about it. Mine are totally selfish and concretely fleeting affairs, and I kind of love that about loving books.

…this is probably not the Valentine’s Day message that you wanted (um: A little Leaves of Grass is always nice for date night? Break out the Fifty Shades?), but it’s a truthful one. My Valentine’s Day plans include: wine. A cozy environment. And a big ass tome.  No awkward family meetings or accidental discoveries of off-putting predilections required.

Maybe there’s a human personification of Carl Sagan’s writings, or a living breathing Whitman, out there somewhere who I’d be sort of cool meeting and sustainedly resting with. Maybe. If he’s cool with me cheating at the library on the regular.

But on this ooey-gooey red heart holiday, I have to say: I’m awfully glad that I don’t fall in love with people the way that I’ve learned to fall in love with books. For now, where that’s concerned: please pass the next portion of my to-be-read stack. I’ve got some more indulging to do.