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29.03.2010 ·

What I learnt about dating from Junot Diaz

Many things in life, I have one way or another—either through osmosis or through careful reading—learnt from books. Now in this particular instance, I am not referring to instruction in the intellectual or spiritual sense but on more practical concerns and matters.

I’ve received edification from books on the most pragmatic of topics—on everything from how to date through to how to take intelligent vacations.

Steve McQueen from Life magazine

Photo of Steve McQueen from LIFE.com via Sartorially Inclined

Case in point: dating. Now I won’t go too much into this. Only to say that Junot Diaz has especially been influential in my thinking and that I daresay that men and women alike would profit more from reading his didactic short story “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” than from taking heed of advice found in The Game or The Rules respectively (both extremely embarrassing to buy to begin with and requires much explanation if found by a potential partner sitting innocently—with many a dog-eared pages—on your bedside table).

I found paragraph two especially useful:

Clear the government cheese from the refrigerator. If the girl’s from the Terrace stack the boxes behind the milk. If she’s from the Park or Society Hill hide the cheese in the cabinet above the oven, way up where she’ll never see. Leave yourself a reminder to get it out before morning or your moms will kick your ass. Take down any embarrassing photos of your family in the campo, especially the one with the half-naked kids dragging a goat on a rope leash. The kids are your cousins and by now they’re old enough to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Hide the pictures of yourself with an Afro. Make sure the bathroom is presentable. Put the basket with all the crapped-on toilet paper under the sink. Spray the bucket with Lysol, then close the cabinet…Shower, comb, dress.

This seems sensible enough advice and one, which fortunately enough I came across before I was a full-fledged adult. It has served me well. My Facebook photos for instance, while not especially flattering, are devoid of any pictures of me with an Afro, in hen night ensembles, or in poses that may suggest that I have had a pint too many. This ensures, I would like to think, that a potential date/partner in the habit of Facebook stalking won’t be able to find pictures that may prove particularly incriminating or just plain embarrassing, many of which I probably have but have taken great pains to un-tag.

Now summer is just round the corner (or at least it should be) and if you’ve already booked your holiday then I’d like to impart some practical advice received from Umberto Eco on “How to Take Intelligent Vacations” via his illuminating book How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays.

It begins:

It has become familiar custom, as summer vacation time approaches, for the political and literary weeklies to recommend at least ten “intelligent” books that will enable their readers to spend their “intelligent” vacations intelligently. But thanks to a persistent and unpleasant habit of considering their reader underprivileged or ill read, some quite celebrated writers take great pains to suggest reading matter that any person of average culture should have read in high school, if not before. It seems to us, if not offensive, at least condescending to insult the reader by advising him to look into, say the original German edition of the Elective Affinities, the Pléiade Proust, or Petrarch’s Latin works. We must bear in mind that, bombarded by so much advice over such a long time, the reader has become more and more demanding; and we must bear in mind those who, unable to afford luxury vacations, are game to venture into experiences as uncomfortable as they are thrilling.

I won’t go into too much detail into books that Eco suggests, only to conclude that he adds at the end “Or, if you resist intellectual stimulation, stick with Agatha.”

Agatha Christie, I found is not exactly beach material but I did find that on holidays at least, it is best to resist intellectual stimulation. The only thing that carrying round 2666, Ulysses and David Copperfield gave me was a major backache (though when stacked, they did come in handy as a makeshift table for a plate of shrimp skewers I was not too keen on being seasoned with sand).

To lead a well-balanced life, some semblance of a schedule is required especially for people like me born with multi-tasking deficiency. In this regard, Jay Gastby’s schedule in The Great Gastby has been, in particular, a suitable example:

Rise from bed………………………………………6.00 A.M.

Dumbell exercise and wall-scaling…………………6.15-6.30 “

Study electricity, etc……………………………….7.15-8.15 ”

Work……………………………………………….8.30-4.30 P.M.

Baseball and sports…………………………………4.30-5.00 “

Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it………5.00-6.00 “

Study needed inventions……………………………7.00-9.00 “

General Resolves:

No more wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable]

No more smokeing or chewing.

Bath every other day

Read one improving book or magazine per week

Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week

Be better to parents

Now, my ambitions are decidedly more modest than Jay Gatsby’s so my schedule from 5.00 P.M. onwards will most likely involve a pub while my general resolves will perhaps look quite similar except that I’d cross out “other” in Bath every other day.

Now these, of course are in no means comprehensive and I could go on and on but what I’d be interested to know is: what books, for you have been, on practical matters especially instructive or edifying?

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