One of the first questions men ask Angela Liu on dating apps is “What are you reading?” The question is a softball for Ms. Liu, a self-proclaimed lover of literature. “I really care about the human condition and emotions and stuff,” she said.
What she has noticed, however, is that many men aren’t into those kinds of books, and a question that may have been intended to screen her often ends up backfiring.
“I can’t stand dudes who just read self-help books or things specifically related to the job that they’re doing and that’s all they read,” Ms. Liu, 27, said on Friday at a book club for singles in Manhattan.
There’s something flirty and magnetic about a physical book that tablets and smartphones can’t really capture — the idea of meeting someone in a library, in the aisle of a bookstore or while reading on the subway, for instance, remains stubbornly high on the list of many people’s romantic fantasies. Although there might be more romantic activities a single person could do on a Friday night in New York City, very few beat potentially stumbling into your next bibliophile boo while surrounded by shelf after shelf of sweet prose.
“I love when people have bookshelves, because I just go there immediately and stare at what they have,” Ms. Liu said.
At a meeting of McNally Jackson’s new After Hours Book Club (tag line: “Read, flirt, sip”), single attendees including Ms. Liu gathered at the bookseller’s location in South Street Seaport, a former maritime hub turned shopping district in Lower Manhattan, for an evening of wine, beer and discussion about “Dogs of Summer,” a novel by Andrea Abreu.
More than 20 people, a majority of them women, chatted in small groups about the book, a coming-of-age story of two girls in a working-class neighborhood of the Canary Islands during the summer of 2005. They were encouraged by the event’s host, Mikaela Dery, to switch tables every 20 minutes or so to meet and interact with others. They also shared their thoughts on the connection between reading and romance.
Michael Hoang, 28, said he was motivated to attend the After Hours discussion partly because of the book selection and partly because of the event’s name. He hasn’t put much effort into dating, Mr. Hoang said, but the few people he has gone out with have not shared his interest and taste in books. As someone who reads mostly for beauty and occasionally for escapism, he considers himself biased toward fiction readers in terms of compatibility.
“Reading is a pretty decent self-selection in terms of mutual interest,” he said. “So interactions with folks that I enjoy, romantic interest or otherwise, have usually been pretty good if there’s a reading factor.”
A fondness for books is a trait that many seek in a prospective romantic partner, almost to the point of cliché. It’s the glue that connects the rival bookstore owners turned lovers in the romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail”; it’s present in the tiny bookshop where a bumbling Londoner charms a movie star in “Notting Hill”; it’s part of what draws a love-struck stalker to imprint on his first victim in the Netflix thriller “You.” Considering how pop culture has been spoon-feeding us this fantasy for decades, it’s little wonder there’s an appetite for it in real life.
Megan Mueller, a 24-year-old graduate student in architecture at Cornell University, said she usually she spent her Friday evenings hanging out with classmates. But they had the day off from school, so she took the opportunity to do something she ordinarily wouldn’t after hearing about the After Hours Book Club on Instagram.
She said that a love of reading was preferable but not quite nonnegotiable when dating.
“I think I would have more to talk about and I would get along with them a little bit better,” she said, “but it’s not a deal breaker.”
Ms. Mueller recalled a man she dated more than three years ago while she was an undergrad. After going to his apartment (it was “like a frat house,” she said), she discovered he had no books. It didn’t completely faze her, but it was something she noted.
“Everyone has different interests,” she said over a glass of red wine and cocktail napkins printed with conversation starters. “I have friends that don’t like to read or they’d rather listen to audiobooks or podcasts and stuff.”
Still, the connection between reading and sex is well established. A popular tote bag from the Strand, a New York bookstore, advises, “If You Go Home With Somebody & They Don’t Have Books,” don’t throw them a bone (though, as the line is attributed to John Waters, the full quotation uses spicier language). And we can’t forget Instagram pages like @HotDudesReading, which once captivated the internet and was later turned into a book.
“There’s a lot of cruising in bookstores,” said Tom Rothacker, a college theater professor. “The Strand, the Drama Book Shop — and it’s predominantly women and gay men.”
Kendall Erickson, an attendee of the After Hours Book Club who is an art director and has already logged about 50 books on her Goodreads account this year, said that, “just for fun,” she maintained a list of books that she spotted people reading on the subway. This summer, she was riding the B62 bus from Whole Foods back to her home in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn when she noticed a man staring at her reading “Penance” by Eliza Clark and appeared to be into her, but neither of them made a move, so it was a missed connection.
“It was like, OK, we’re still on the bus together for like 10 stops,” she said. “And then finally he got off the bus. He was very cute.” (In case he’s reading this article, she added that he was wearing a beanie and was “kind of blond.”)