The partner book swap challenge

Posted by Jenn Shenouda-Levine August  10, 2017
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While my husband Jer and I are self-professed book nerds (we even had a book-themed wedding last June) we don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on what makes for a captivating read. I often remark on the sheer number of science-fiction books that occupy his bookshelf and eReader, just as he wonders how I can take pleasure in rereading Anna Karenina or The Picture of Dorian Gray for the second or third time. Our tastes are polar opposites, and sometimes when we settle down for the evening I glance over my shoulder and ponder what it is about space sagas that captivates him.

Alas, it seemed as if our beloved bookshelves were destined to forever be divided until a tiny lightbulb went off in my head recently. Instead of dismissing each other’s book recommendations until the end of time, what if we ‘assigned’ each other a beloved book to read from our pool of all-time personal favourites? Maybe we’d have a greater appreciation of each other’s preferred genres, or maybe we’d quit halfway through and decide that personal tastes, are just that, personal.  

At first I thought the idea would be greeted with a polite “Thanks, but no thanks” from Jer, but he was surprisingly up for the challenge. This got me thinking about the rest of the world. How many people can say they read the same genre of books as their significant others, and can sharing your favourite novels with your partner really give you a deeper understanding of each other?

Here’s how it all went down…

Jer’s Pick for Jenn:

I’m a die-hard fan of sci-fi, virtually all my favourite authors write sci-fi. Larry Niven, Iain M Banks, Neal Stephenson, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov …Frank Herbert. I’ve been trying to get Jenn to read Dune for years now so, when she brought up this article, I had no hesitation in picking Frank Herbert’s masterpiece as my selection for her.

I loved Dune the first time I read it, I was fascinated by Paul and the path took to become the hero of the Fremen. I loved all the elements of the history, the religion and economics that seemed to rule this universe but, most of all, I loved the mystery. I’m really looking forward to see what Jenn thinks of the novel, to see if she is moved the way I was moved when I first read it, to hear the questions she’s going to ask me.

Dune-Jenn's Bookshelf

Jenn’s Pick for Jer:

I didn’t think that the Brontë sisters or anything from the Victorian era would be quite Jer’s speed (he attempted a few pages of Wuthering Heights before calling it drier than burnt toast) so I thought it was best to stick to a book that was set in a time that appealed to us both, The Jazz Age. I mean, we’ve watched Boardwalk Empire together. That’s a start, right? Jer has never read the The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, so I figured we’d start there.

I’ve read it at least three times but it always seems to leave me with the sense of something altogether fleeting. I’ve described it to Jer as a book of pure atmosphere, in which Fitzgerald’s depiction of the age itself is the prime source of fascination for me, the characters secondary. I wondered if Jer would have a similar experience.

Great Gatsby-Jer's Bookshelf

Jer’s Initial Thoughts:

American Literature was never offered at my high school so I definitely missed out on Fitzgerald along with many other great authors. I must admit, I’ve seen the movie before reading the book. In this case, so far, I agree with most - the book is better than the movie.

I do most of my reading on the subway to and from work and this book is so easy to read and keep turning the pages, I’ve almost missed my stop a few times recently. To me, that’s the sign of a good book! I’m really enjoying Fitzgerald’s style and find the characters and story to be vivid enough to really keep me reading.

Even if I do miss my stop.

Jenn’s Initial Thoughts:

I find there to be so much that is fascinating about the world we live in, that I often read less for escape then I do to understand both nature and human nature. I’m drawn to the classics, historical fiction and nonfiction essays. I once tried to read The Martian by Andy Weir, which isn’t hardcore Science Fiction, since Mars exists, and was totally underwhelmed. Too much isolation and too many potatoes, in my opinion.

But I’ve been told that Dune is an absolute masterpiece that covers politics, religion, and so much more, so I figured I’d overlook the fact that it’s set on a fictional desert planet called Arrakis. So long as there wasn’t a potato in sight. So far, I’m drawn in by the beauty of the language. Herbert’s descriptions of Arrakis and its people are so evocative, and the characters’ inner monologues guide the book.

Jenn and Jer

How Jer felt after reading The Great Gatsby:

Fitzgerald’s writing style really captured the roaring ‘20s for me, I found his descriptions of not only the fashion, glitz and glamour of the era to be completely enthralling but also his nuanced characters too. There’s enough descriptive detail to build the character in your mind’s eye but also enough holes and mystique to make each character uniquely your own rendition.

I found a lot of parallels with Boardwalk Empire, one of my favourite TV shows of recent times. Either Fitzgerald totally nailed his description of the era or the creators of Boardwalk Empire were heavily influenced by The Great Gatsby. I kept getting the sneaking suspicion that Nucky Thompson or Arnold Rothstein were lurking just off stage, perhaps joining Jay Gatsby at one of his infamous parties or smoking mysteriously in Meyer Wolfsheim’s study.I have a feeling that I will explore more of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work.

How Jenn felt after reading Dune:

It’s been 52 years since Dune was first published but I can see why it’s considered one of the best, if not the best, Science Fiction novels of all time. So many of the themes that it deals with, how economics and power divide people, the complex nature of what makes for enemies, mirror our world so completely that it is utterly unnerving. I found Paul’s transformation from noble teenager trained in the Bene Gesserit ways to Muad’Dib, leader of the Fremen, to all-seeing Kwisatz Haderach to be detailed unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and yet I can see how so many other books must have been influenced by Dune. I can’t wait to have long debates about the nature of the book with Jer. Would I read other science-fiction novels? Only if they were as well-written as Herbert’s masterpiece. 

Comment (1)

If you're looking for great writing in Sci-fi then I think Harlan Ellison or William Gibson might be good tries!
Michaela Buckley August 10, 2017

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