By Lynn La
Russ doesn’t remember the day he told Marley he loved her. It was some time around late January of this year. No, early February. Definitely early February. But Marley doesn’t remember either, and so neither of them cares. What they do know is that they’ve been together for 10 months and they’re in love—all because of Marley’s distaste for both Joyce Carol Oates and authors named Chuck.
This seemingly inconsequential fact was first discovered in a small bookstore in Greenpoint, which sits on the corner of Franklin and Milton Street. The store is called WORD, and in July of last year, manager Stephanie Anderson had an idea: Why not match people romantically through their love for books? It came to her after a customer peeked behind the counter and saw two books next to each other on the hold shelf. The customer identified the books as two of her favorites; she demanded to know who they were for and if she could marry him. Unfortunately, the books belonged to two separate (and married) people, but Anderson’s proverbial light bulb clicked on.
“It’s very hard to meet people in New York and everybody knows that,” said Anderson. She adjusted her purple framed glasses with her hand, which had the word, “word.” repeatedly tattooed around her wrist. “This was another thing to try, and you may have slightly better luck instead of waiting for someone to set you up.”
A week later she started the store’s “Between the Covers” matchmaking service. She put up a cork board and on little slips of paper, let customers post answers to four simple questions: what’s your sex, what sex are you seeking, what are your favorite books and authors, and what do you not care for. And of course, there’s space left at the bottom of each mini-questionnaire to write down contact information, just in case a “literary soul mate,” as it were, should bite.
“Anybody who loves books just knows what it feels like to love a book,” said Anderson, as she sipped from an oversized bowl of tea that she had to grasp with two hands in a restaurant just down the block from WORD. “And especially if books are your jam, loving a book is a feeling you can’t get from anything else. To meet someone who has the same feelings about the same book and knows exactly where you’re coming from about that book is not a normal thing.”
For Russ Marshalek and Marley Magaziner however, it wasn’t really their mutual love of any book that sparked an interest—instead, it was more like Magaziner’s one-liner about Oates and Chucks. In the different universe known as What If You Never, Marshalek might have just glazed over Magaziner’s three by eight inch slip of paper, tacked up amongst all the other 50 some odd entries pinned to the board, and would have never contacted her for a date. Luckily for them that didn’t happen.
“The phrasing of, ‘I don’t like authors named Chuck,’ I was like, that’s witty,” said Marshalek. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon; the two of them were sitting at the dining room table in their kitchen, tired from throwing a house warming party in their new apartment the night before. Although he exudes a sort of anxious energy, repeatedly running his fingers through his hair and occasionally tapping the lid of his Macbook, Marshalek gleamed as he remembered the day Magaziner’s post caught his eye. “I thought whoever wrote that obviously either had way too much time on their hands to have stood there and thought of that joke or was really smart. So I was going to assume it was the latter.”
Unbeknownst to him at the time, they already knew each other. They met at a general curators meeting a few months prior, while volunteering for a theatre called the Tank in Hell’s Kitchen. He thought she looked bitchy. She thought he was more into his phone than the meeting. They developed a friendly professional relationship, organizing events for the theatre together. Their connection was lukewarm at best, until Marshalek mentioned in passing that Magaziner should check out WORD’s amusing matchmaking board since she lived two blocks away from it.
And so she did. She wrote her comment, along with an obscure email address she used for buying things off Craigslist, and posted her entry expecting very little. Weeks went by and she received an email from Marshalek’s eponymous email address: “Saw your post on the Word board. Love your literary taste.”
“The thought crossed my mind that I could kind of drag this out in a mysterious way, but I didn’t think the joke would really be that funny,” said Magaziner. “I thought it was cute. I thought it was kind of funny. I thought well, maybe there’s something more here, some bigger attraction that I should consider more seriously.”
They turned to face each other most of the time, asking follow up questions as if they were the ones conducting the interview, answering as if they were confessing these thoughts for the first time. And when Magaziner asked Marshalek what he thought when he found out that the Oates comment was from her, Marshalek replied that it was his ah-ha moment. “It was nice to find out that the sort of friendship rapport that we had, had a literary slant to it too. Because when you’re into somebody and you can’t share something as big a part of you as reading and book are for us, it sucks. So it made me happy.”
It was this same line of logic that Matt Sherman and Matt Masina considered when they created Alikewise.com, a niche online dating site that emphasizes literary tastes, allowing users to display and discuss their favorite books. About three years ago, Sherman and his girlfriend broke up, and when taking into account what he looked for in his next ideal mate, two things came to mind: “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and “The Road to Serfdom,” by F.A. Hayek. The former is a book about statistically improbable events that end up influencing the course of human history; the latter is about economic tyranny and politics.
“You could see the challenge there,” chuckled Sherman. “At the time I was thinking how might I meet someone new who I might really engage with. I thought, ‘Boy, I’d really love to meet a woman who read this book or that book.’ I thought it would be a great way to just have a conversation and perhaps know a little something about the person you’re meeting.”
Two years later, after quitting his job at a design firm and moving to New York, the site debuted in July. Sherman wrote the code and Masina handled the business. Ironically, Sherman has a policy of not dating anyone through Alikewise, despite the fact that it was first conceived for him to meet a girl. He has a profile though, for kicks (where he states he’s “a heck of a nice guy” and a “well-adapted nerd”), and he welcomes anyone else, including the 4,500 users who are currently registered, to use the site and start their own romance.
“Reading is really sexy. Brains are really sexy,” said Sherman. “People, deep down, are more turned on by a personal sort of chemistry, ultimately. You’re not looking for a one night stand at a bookstore.”
To steer clear of the checkbox-like criteria other dating sites have, Alikewise asks other quirky, yet informative, questions too. Questions like, “The bravest thing I’ve done recently…” “Two things I can’t live without…” and “When people meet me, they notice…”
But for Sherman, the books are what remain at the core, serving as adjectives by proxy for one’s personality. “That’s the funny thing about books, they can be about anything,” said Sherman. “We’re using books as a means to an end, to get people to reveal themselves.”
There is a real word for this phenomenon: projections. Psychologists have been using this for years to describe how people use their tastes in books, music and art as a way of telling other people who they are, or at least, who they liked to be perceived as.
“Characters and storylines that you relate to in books are very revealing or indicative of your real life or your ideals,” said Dr. Judy Kuriansky, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist at Teachers College Columbia University. “They are very big vehicles for learning all about the person’s life, dreams, and hopes. It’s a good screening tool.”
Kuriansky also believes that because a lot of young people have become disillusioned with the previous ways of meeting a mate, the bar for example, looking towards the Internet or your local bookstore with these projection filters in hand, is a good thing.
“Number one, the more you can really profile a person’s taste psychologically, it gives you some indication that you are going to be on the same wavelength,” said Kuriansky. “Number two, there is now some ground to start a relationship and the conversation.”
Of course, no dating place is without its undesirables—there are such things as unattractive projections and unattractive literary tastes. Anderson noticed that many women who post on WORD’s board write that they don’t care for authors like Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski.
“I don’t suspect women who say they don’t like Kerouac or Bukowski actually don’t like these authors or the books they write. They just don’t like men who really identify with them. That sort of detached, negative worldview,” said Anderson. “And I’m positive that I would never date someone who liked Tucker Max.”
Fortunately for Magaziner, Marshalek prefers Bret Easton Ellis novels over Tucker Max, and as she momentarily excuses herself from the room, Marshalek reflects privately on the story of How We Met.
“I never expected to move to New York and within a year, meet someone, fall in love, and move in together. It’s sort of a whirlwind,” and then he adds under his breath, “I am incredibly lucky.”
For Magaziner, it was more about how they met than how quickly it all happened. “Sometimes I think we jinx our whole relationship by talking about it so much,” she says, perhaps wary of the fact that she finds herself talking about it again now. Magaziner is less jittery and speaks slower than her significant other. She leans back and sits cross-legged in her chair, sipping water from time to time from a cup she rests on her thigh. To an outsider, it may seem as though she is less enthusiastic about their relationship than Marshalek, but she is merely contemplative and tickled by their story. “It’s just a little too cute, you know?”