As I entered the large room crowded with books and eligible singles, I briefly considered inventing a completely new personality for myself. I grabbed two glasses of free champagne and made my way to the end of a long, white table, where I sat down across from an attractive woman with hair and eyes equally brown. What was I, a 22-year old idiot, whose best idea of a pick-up line is something like “Do you think this place is a fire-hazard? As is so often the case, I had no idea what I wanted. They were blocked, crowded with singles on their way in. I wondered if the woman across from me noticed it too.
I was in the Rare Books room of Greenwich Village’s legendary Strand Bookstore, on another gritty, hard-hitting reporting assignment, investigating an annual event called Literary Speed Dating. ” or “Hey, are you going to drink the rest of that? A fevered embrace atop of a stack of rare paperbacks? Near the Max Brenner chocolate stand in the center of the room, a middle- aged woman with a microphone began to speak.
“It’s like, about World War 2,” I muttered, holding my copy in front of my face in order to avoid eye contact. Literature is, after all, an art form dealing in connections: emotional, intellectual, but above all human.
“It’s like, funny, and uh, kinda sad at parts.” I waited for the eye-roll. This night, people came for the atmosphere, for the conversation, for the possibility of finding love, or a new friend at least, for the free chocolate, for the champagne, for the story.
Everyone was looking for something different to take away from the night. And though I did not leave the Strand Bookstore that night with any newfound love interest, I walked out into the brisk Manhattan air, book in hand, feeling not at all lonely.
Looking around, feeling lost for about the 10,000th time since moving to this monstrous city, I began to question myself.
The woman was pretty, no doubt, but Literary Speed Dating as a concept was overcoming me.
I noticed now that a number of clearly older men were making their way to the dating tables. Gradually, my effortless charm and immense personal magnetism returned, and I got the hang of speed dating. A blonde’s favorite book was "Ender’s Game"; one girl, whose eyes were sharply blue, had brought a cookbook.
One man, wearing a red-collared shirt and an unnervingly broad grin, had written his favorite book on his nametag: "The Joy of Sex This sniffed vaguely of entrapment. As the night wore on, as I moved from table to table making dumb jokes and obvious points to a series of variously lovely and intelligent women, it became more and more clear to me that the difference between Literary Speed Dating and plain old un-capitalized speed dating is likely academic.
The middle-aged woman talked for a few more minutes, over gales of nervous laughter, but I had other things on my mind. Here we were: a bunch of hopeful, hopeless romantics, going out of our way on a cold night to engage in awkward, mostly meaningless three-minute conversations with perfect strangers. To go to these lengths just to tell someone that the "Game of Thrones" books are so much better than the show would be preposterous and futile; no, in fact, the majority of discussion wasn’t literary at all.
She could have been improvising bawdy limericks or outlining a 9-9-9 economic plan for all I was paying attention: frankly, this is the point in the story where your intrepid reporter’s journalistic professionalism wavered. ” The guy next to me leaned over then and pointed to the book he had brought: as well. Rather, most of us preferred to discuss the obvious: how odd it was to be speed-dating, how we didn’t normally do things like speed-date, how speed-dating as a concept was antithetical to our personalities, how we weren’t even really, like, looking for romance anyway. This was not just a collection of literary-minded people smugly seeking other literary-minded people to delicately paw at, but rather a case of just people seeking people.
I held the book I had brought for the occasion in my shaking hands, and began to fill with deep, existential dread, for I had brought "Catch-22" and realized all of a sudden that I remembered almost none of it. People seeking connection, as people are wont to do.
(Photo: Ritz) The starting gun sounded – maybe it was a bell – and my heart sank. Surely, I’d come all the way here, to the Strand, this hallowed cathedral to reasonably priced new and used books, just to be publicly shamed by some erudite graduate student for my lack of contextual expertise, my unclear grasp of theme and nuance. Over the course of the night I met: a law student, a civil engineer, a chef, several bloggers, a particularly attractive girl who was visibly rattled that earlier an elderly man had informed her “all my favorite books were written before you were born,” while demurely placing his hand on her knee – all book lovers no doubt, (even him) but this was really just their excuse for coming.