June 29, 2011 | by Sadie Stein
Life of Pi, Yann Martel (F, 20s, long hair, worn black T-shirt, skinny jeans, brown purse, L train)
Any Man of Mine, Rachel Gibson (F, 40s, stripey tote, black pants, F train)
For those of us prone to paranoia, the tumblr CoverSpy has made the New York commute infinitely more harrowing. The site (which also has a Twitter arm) enlists a “team of publishing nerds [who hit] the subways, streets, parks & bars to find out what New Yorkers are reading now.” It makes for addictively voyeuristic reading. And it’s enough to make you long for the soulless inscrutability of a Kindle. Do they know this is for work? you think, and Why are so many people on the L reading Ayn Rand?, and How old would they think I am?
Judging others by their books—or, more charitably, forming relationships based on shared literary tastes—is also the guiding principle behind the online dating site Alikewise.com, which was conceived when one of the founders voiced his wish for a woman who liked The Black Swan. (One friend described it as “actually, a very convenient way to expedite the weeding process.”) As always in such situations, the question quickly becomes not whether people are lying but why and how well. In its way, it is every bit as harrowing as the roving judgments of CoverSpy. So it is perhaps natural that the two organizations should join forces and produce an event that’s either a bibliophile’s dream or a neurotic’s nightmare, depending on how you look at it.
The second resulting mixer, titled “I Like Your Glasses Too,” took place at Housing Works Bookstore. Attendees were asked to fill out a name tag on which they stated their first name; whether they were seeking men, women, or books; and what they were reading—a moral quandary for those of us halfway through a conversation-stopper like Wagner: the Terrible Man and His Truthful Art. The first fifty to arrive got a free beer. Afterward, they were three dollars.
“I panicked and wrote Ulysses,” confided one guy (mid-20s, brown hair). “I’ve never read it.”
“It’s easier when you have time to think about it, at home,” agreed a woman allegedly reading To Kill a Mockingbird.
“I decided to be honest,” said a girl whose name tag read The Help.
Alikewise has, says its founder, spawned matches—at least anecdotally. “People write in to tell us success stories,” he says. About half the people to whom I spoke were affiliated with the site.
“I’d really like to meet someone who reads Murakami,” said a woman (20s, bangs, Water for Elephants).
“I’d settle for someone literate,” responded her friend (Little Bee) glumly.
For others, literary sensibility was a deal breaker. “That dude was 'reading' André Breton,” said my friend. “And he was not prepared to joke about it.”
“Really?” said another, upon spotting a suspicious “Don Quixote.”
“Tom Robbins—that’s a deal breaker,” muttered a woman upon catching sight of a Still Life with Woodpecker. “Arrested or perverted. I know from experience.”
Later, there were readings by the writers Dan Wilbur, Maris Kreizman and Emily Gould. Afterward, participants were encouraged to move down Houston to Botanica bar, where a name tag resulted in drink discounts. “I’m not sure it’s worth it,” muttered a guy wearing horn-rims and claiming The Savage Detectives.
“It got crazy last time,” answered his friend.
So was it all people expected?
“I met some nice people,” said a Dune fan.
“Well, I got a free beer,” said Little Bee.
“I came in off the street,” said one man (40s, polo shirt) with a shrug. He was reading Stock Trading for Dummies.