It’s an easy test to fail. The Book Test. Early on in a relationship, be it romantic or platonic, one party will test the other by giving them a book. And not just any book. Not merely the last book they read or one they thought the other person might like. If only. No, any book you’re given soon after you meet someone should be accompanied by a loud warning siren because it’s a test and invariably, it will determine your future relationship.
Years ago, after dinner on our first date, a guy I really liked took me to a late night bookstore. How cool, I thought. Better than, you know, taking me to a sex shop or to meet his dealer. Those are – cough – different stories perhaps best shared another time. Or not!
Anyway, back to the bookshop. It turned out we weren’t there to browse. To my delight, my date went straight up to the counter and bought me a book called Wonderland Avenue which he described as “Brilliant! Fantastic! Amazing!”. Book Test books are always described this way. Also ‘life-changing’. Nothing like managing expectations. No pressure.
Wikipedia describes Wonderland Avenue as a memoir that “…covers the first eight years of author Danny Sugerman’s career, starting with his first job at age 12 opening the Doors’ fan mail, and concluding just beyond his 21st birthday, when he is a frail and severely drug-addicted mental patient who has been given less than a week to live. His exposure to the decadent music industry world of parties, groupies, and drugs at such a young age facilitates a relentless heroin addiction that very nearly killed him. Notable is Sugerman’s close personal friendship with late Doors frontman Jim Morrison, who served as a kind of mentor. The book chronicles the decadence of the LA rock and roll lifestyle, lived to its most degrading and shocking extremes, in the early to mid-1970′s.”
Did you pick my mistake? That’s right. Having read the blurb, I should have put the book down, thanked my date for dinner and walked out of his life at a brisk pace. Instead, I gobbled up his recommendation and was instantly seduced by how hilarious and interesting the book was. At least I think it was. When you’re really into someone and you’re 19 years old, it’s easy to transfer those puppy love feelings onto pretty much anything.
As much as I did adore Wonderland Avenue – it’s one of the few books I’ve finished and turned straight back to the first page and started again – I should have read between the lines. The books that resonate most strongly with us (making them ripe for testing) are usually the ones where we identify with the protagonist. Thus, if a guy urges you to read a book about “the decadence of the LA rock and roll lifestyle, lived to its most degrading and shocking extremes” don’t expect him to be keen on early nights or herbal tea.
Predictably, my fling with Mr Wonderland Avenue blazed out like a firecracker, breaking my heart a little bit and teaching me a thing or two about a thing or two. Let’s just say if I was Kylie Minogue, he was my Michael Hutchence. He certainly was a hedonist. Just like the book said.
So. Next time someone you’ve recently met suggests you read a particular book, remember it’s not a friendly gesture. It’s a screening process. Are you their kind of person? Do you share common values? Interests? Philosophies? World views? Another reason somebody gives you a Book Test: to fast-track your understanding of them. Here I am. In print. Are you literally on the same page?
Booktopia’s social media guru John Purcell recently asked this question on Twitter: “What book has been given to you in a new relationship as a test?” His anecdotal research showed that more women test men with books than men test women. And the book most often chosen to test a prospective partner is Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. “Partly because it is supposed to be very deep and partly because it’s a book non-readers read” says John, pointing out there are more non-readers on the planet than readers.
It turns out books ARE an effective screening method. “Back when I was single, as soon as a woman mentioned The Alchemist in conversation I began inventing excuses as to why I had to leave immediately” said John. I hear you.
A guy I knew – an actor – once gave me his dog-eared copy of Siddhartha which I struggled through heroically. We never did get past that. Similarly, another guy gave me the famous meaning-of-life novel The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Didn’t finish that either. I’ve never been good with homework.
One woman told John that she tested a man’s devotion with 800+ page literary classics, not to see if he understood or enjoyed it but to see if he would finish it. Just because she’d asked him to. Ah. The Book Endurance Test. Read it and weep.
Been Book-Tested? Book-Test someone else? With what? How did it go?