For any reader worth her salt, the road to courtship is paved with books. Books you loan, books you borrow, shelves of books you scan for red flags and common ground the first time you’re invited in. Romantic histories can be told as a series of literary stepping stones, from the cute boy in preschool who chewed up the corner of your Harold and the Purple Crayon to the grown-ass man whose copy of The Game sent you screaming for the nearest taxi. Here are the greatest hits from my own ex-boyfriend bookshelf.
Howl. In high school I had a thing for boys who wore cardigans and underlined passages in those little black-and-white City Lights editions. I make no apologies.
If Chins Could Kill. Though it was released several years after we kinda sorta dated, I picked up this memoir by the professionally charming Bruce Campbell in celebration of the high school semi-ex who introduced me to the Evil Dead trilogy. He was a Sam Raimi–obsessed aspiring filmmaker whose oeuvre included such impeccably titled films as 40 Ounces of Evil and Liquid Kung Fu.
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. Klosterman’s acerbic collection was a loaner from the dude who also burned me a Smiths mix, but more than once declined an invitation to leave the house because he was busy “drinking to Joy Division.” In the words of Klosterman, in the title of his book’s opening essay: This is Emo.
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Passed along by a speed-metal guitarist I dated for five seconds, this jittery, black-and-white comic follows the unpunished spree of a punk rock serial killer. Tellingly, my favorite strip was the one where Johnny lures a hapless victim into his bloody lair…only to enlist the guy’s help in cleaning out his fridge before letting him go.
The Bridge on the Drina. The masterwork of Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Ivo Andric was gifted to me by a would-be scholar (who also enjoyed Balkan love songs, written not about women but about…the Balkans), and it bored me to tears. See, the bridge is a metaphor, and the river is a…zzzzzzzz. It’s not you, book. It’s me.
Blankets. This coming-of-age graphic novel about two artistic brothers, their disciplinarian parents, and the older brother’s first love was given to me by an ultra-sensitive writer type. He kept seven cartons of soy milk in his fridge and lived with two elderly cats afflicted with unfortunate butt conditions. Things got weird when I questioned the soy milk thing, but Blankets was pretty damn good.
The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. This hard-hitting Mötley Crüe biography contains such anecdotes as an unforgettable account of how to use a burrito to cover up the damning scent of groupie tail. It was also the only reading material in sight the first time I went to my boyfriend’s place. I later discovered the location of his bookcase (well-concealed second bedroom), and our shelves have since been combined. The Dirt has exited our lives, but its lessons—chief among them, never get hoodwinked by a burrito—remain.