“Date an Illiterate Girl” (triptych)


Charles Warnke wrote: “You should date an illiterate girl”


Date a girl who doesn’t read. Find her in the weary squalor of a Midwestern bar. Find her in the smoke, drunken sweat, and varicolored light of an upscale nightclub. Wherever you find her, find her smiling. Make sure that it lingers when the people that are talking to her look away. Engage her with unsentimental trivialities. Use pick-up lines and laugh inwardly. Take her outside when the night overstays its welcome. Ignore the palpable weight of fatigue. Kiss her in the rain under the weak glow of a streetlamp because you’ve seen it in film. Remark at its lack of significance. Take her to your apartment. Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.

Let the anxious contract you’ve unwittingly written evolve slowly and uncomfortably into a relationship. Find shared interests and common ground like sushi, and folk music. Build an impenetrable bastion upon that ground. Make it sacred. Retreat into it every time the air gets stale, or the evenings get long. Talk about nothing of significance. Do little thinking. Let the months pass unnoticed. Ask her to move in. Let her decorate. Get into fights about inconsequential things like how the fucking shower curtain needs to be closed so that it doesn’t fucking collect mold. Let a year pass unnoticed. Begin to notice.

Figure that you should probably get married because you will have wasted a lot of time otherwise. Take her to dinner on the forty-fifth floor at a restaurant far beyond your means. Make sure there is a beautiful view of the city. Sheepishly ask a waiter to bring her a glass of champagne with a modest ring in it. When she notices, propose to her with all of the enthusiasm and sincerity you can muster. Do not be overly concerned if you feel your heart leap through a pane of sheet glass. For that matter, do not be overly concerned if you cannot feel it at all. If there is applause, let it stagnate. If she cries, smile as if you’ve never been happier. If she doesn’t, smile all the same.

Let the years pass unnoticed. Get a career, not a job. Buy a house. Have two striking children. Try to raise them well. Fail, frequently. Lapse into a bored indifference. Lapse into an indifferent sadness. Have a mid-life crisis. Grow old. Wonder at your lack of achievement. Feel sometimes contented, but mostly vacant and ethereal. Feel, during walks, as if you might never return, or as if you might blow away on the wind. Contract a terminal illness. Die, but only after you observe that the girl who didn’t read never made your heart oscillate with any significant passion, that no one will write the story of your lives, and that she will die, too, with only a mild and tempered regret that nothing ever came of her capacity to love.

Do those things, god damnit, because nothing sucks worse than a girl who reads. Do it, I say, because a life in purgatory is better than a life in hell. Do it, because a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder. A girl who reads lays claim to a vocabulary that distinguishes between the specious and soulless rhetoric of someone who cannot love her, and the inarticulate desperation of someone who loves her too much. A vocabulary, god damnit, that makes my vacuous sophistry a cheap trick.

Do it, because a girl who reads understands syntax. Literature has taught her that moments of tenderness come in sporadic but knowable intervals. A girl who reads knows that life is not planar; she knows, and rightly demands, that the ebb comes along with the flow of disappointment. A girl who has read up on her syntax senses the irregular pauses—the hesitation of breath—endemic to a lie. A girl who reads perceives the difference between a parenthetical moment of anger and the entrenched habits of someone whose bitter cynicism will run on, run on well past any point of reason, or purpose, run on far after she has packed a suitcase and said a reluctant goodbye and she has decided that I am an ellipsis and not a period and run on and run on. Syntax that knows the rhythm and cadence of a life well lived.

Date a girl who doesn’t read because the girl who reads knows the importance of plot. She can trace out the demarcations of a prologue and the sharp ridges of a climax. She feels them in her skin. The girl who reads will be patient with an intermission and expedite a denouement. But of all things, the girl who reads knows most the ineluctable significance of an end. She is comfortable with them. She has bid farewell to a thousand heroes with only a twinge of sadness.

Don’t date a girl who reads because girls who read are the storytellers. You with the Joyce, you with the Nabokov, you with the Woolf. You there in the library, on the platform of the metro, you in the corner of the café, you in the window of your room. You, who make my life so god damned difficult. The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied. So out with you, girl who reads. Take the next southbound train and take your Hemingway with you. I hate you. I really, really, really hate you.

To which Rosemarie Urquico retorted: “You should date a girl who reads”


Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or if she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

And Ballet to the People replies: “Date a girl who e-reads”


Date a girl who e-reads. Find her in an independent coffee shop, with dependable wi-fi and three types of milk substitute. Not because she’s lactose-intolerant, but because she likes to have choices.

Date a girl who wouldn’t be caught dead without her e-reader. The type who never leaves home without it, for fear that something unexpected might happen – an earthquake, a terrorist attack, an elevator malfunction, being stood up on a date – that would result in her being stuck in one place and in need of a book. A girl who thinks ahead, and anticipates the worst, the girl with a library at her fingertips – and, most likely, a portable battery pack in her handbag – could make an outstanding companion for adventure.

Get to know the girl who e-reads, over a double espresso. Glance through her e-library, take note of its size and breadth (is she partial to Japanese sci fi?) and whether she has organized it by title, by genre, by author name, or author nationality, by number of words, book cover color, or date of publication. Does her appetite extend to the complete works of each author: is she the kind of e-reader who stalks an author, who cannot rest until she has consumed his or her every word? Or is she the more restless kind who traipses through literary gardens, plucking a stray bloom here and there?

Spot the books in several languages. Does this suggest that she leads a double life – could she be a spy? Or a TCK (Third Culture Kid) raised in a culture outside that of her parents’, for whom no Where is home, and every Where is intriguing?

Does she indulge in the fastest growing category of literature, namely self-help books? Is she insecure, or does she simply have a vigorous desire for self-improvement, the driving passions of an autodidact?

Scrutinize her bookmarking habits: does she highlight stirring passages? Does she scatter sticky notes over the e-pages? Does she dash off to Wikipedia to learn more about the aftermath of the Battle of Sekigahara while she is in thrall to Shogun?

Observe how she carries her e-book: is it tightly clutched in her hand or under her arm, ready to fend off boredom whenever it rears its ugly head? Or is it stashed at the bottom of a capacious messenger bag, where it is liable to remain for days, undisturbed, slowly draining the battery of life?

Marry a girl who e-reads. Envision the serenity of your future home, free of cluttered bookshelves and physical books gathering dust. Enjoy tranquility in the middle of the night when, racked by insomnia, she reaches for her e-book without having to turn on a light to read. Delight in vacation trips for which she packs light – just a swimsuit, a few beach dresses and sandals, sunscreen, and a waterproof cover for her e-reader.

Divorce a girl who e-reads, when you discover that she has a short attention span, that she has a habit of not finishing a book before starting another, but vaults between several simultaneously, depending on her mood, or the weather. In life, as in books, she cannot commit; she is too frequently lured by the siren call on the home page of Goodreads to “meet your next favorite book.” Damn the technology that has liberated her.

But before she walks out the door forever, hand her a parting gift, wrapped in plain brown paper: the dog-eared copy of The Divine Comedy from her college days, her annotations scribbled in fading ink in the margins.

From the brilliant xkcd.

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4 thoughts on ““Date an Illiterate Girl” (triptych)

  1. Wow. Warnke has a seductive way with words. Urquico took him at face value in her passionate defense of girls who read. I think he had his tongue firmly in cheek, he wasn’t beating up on educated women, he was just venting about some artsy girl who dumped him. I hope he got over her.

    Ballet to the People realized the game Warnke was playing. Her reply is hilarious. She sounds like the very practical type, though, not the kind of girl a seriously romantic guy would want to date. The restless type, always on the lookout for a better deal.

  2. :)))
    Cliff notes synopsis:

    Date An Illiterate Girl, by Charles Warnke –
    Hating on this girl who betrayed me. Because I couldn’t live up to her expectations. She was looking for some combination of Mr. Darcy, James Bond, Howard Roark and the Vicomte de Valmont.

    Date a Girl Who Reads, by Rosemarie Urquico –
    Hang on there, Charles, don’t put it all on her doorstep. Maybe it was something that you said? Don’t diss girls who read. They can be wise, compassionate and adventurous.

    Date a girl who e-reads, by Ballet to the People –
    Technology rules. If you’re looking for fidelity, get a dog.

  3. Alexander, I can’t speak for the first two authors, but there is a structural device that frames all three pieces. I don’t think a judgment is actually being made on people who read vs. those who don’t. The device (reading vs. non-reading) is a way to express the emotional devastation of romantic loss, an attempt by Warnke to pin the blame on the woman who walked out on him, and attempts by Urquico and myself to defend her. We could substitute some other activity for reading and spin the same narrative thread. Books just happen to be a very rich source of yarn for this purpose.

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