If you like this book, ask me out

Over the weekend, I read two essays related to reading and relationships which made me think of two questions — of which we shall come back to later. But a little bit of disclaimer first: all throughout my life I don’t think I have ever had any long-term relationships with anyone who are avid readers such as myself, which was really unfortunate because one of the things I enjoy with my close friends was the ability to discuss about books and recommend our favourites to each other. In return, no one could ask me these two questions I am about to pose.

Question 1: What book would you give someone if you suspect they like you, and you’d like them to ask you out?

The first essay was written by artist Emma Kohlman, about her crush Jane of whom she knew from online. After an incident where she drunkenly sent a text to Jane and where Jane did not exactly reciprocate, she tried to shrug it off. A few weeks later, Jane messaged her asking for her address because she wanted to send her a book, which soon arrived with a note, “Emma, hi! If you like this book, ask me out. And if not, we can be mutuals forever.” Dumbfounded by this grown-up gesture, Emma wrote, “I was a veteran resident of unreturned texts and the half-hearted next day apology, unfamiliar with the near mythical concept of being treated well.” Personal note: This is a feeling I knew too well. If Emma was a veteran resident of unfortunate romantic relationships, I am the patron saint. They eventually dated and broke up, but the idea of giving a book to someone you like, and whom you suspect liked you back too, seems like a good idea.

Which brought to the question: What book would you give someone if you suspect they like you, and you’d like them to ask you out? I have always been cautious about whom to date (refer life experiences above) and might be pretty oblivious as to whom had a crush on me, if ever, but if there is one book I could think of this moment, it would be Channel Miller’s Know My Name. I am still, unfortunately, leaning towards hetero-attraction, which means I still would be visibly dating men. In choosing this particular book, I want to know his views on the themes revolving around the text — the prevalence of rape culture, the idea of consent in sexual relations, how the existing system in place fail sexual assault victims and women as a whole, the inequity of a legal system that is lenient toward the wealthy and the privileged (in Channel’s book, the white), and in seeking for justice, survivors are made to go through precarious processes which made healing even harder and trauma even compounded, among others.

And if the writer in the essay didn’t get quizzed on the book she was given by her crush, best bet I am going to quiz my potential date on Chanel Miller’s book.

Question 2: Would you combine bookshelves with a partner?

Alexander Chee already posed this question, along the lines of, in this essay of his: “One of the funniest and most interesting questions you can ask a group of couples at a party is whether or not they have combined their bookshelves.” The last partner I used to live with barely had a book of his own, and even he had one, it was of ideas I did not endorse (which at this point of time made me think how stupid I was to be attracted to someone of whose harmful — think MRA, racial politics, the idea of women with an exception of his mother and sister as a dehumanised other, etc. — ideas not only something I do not endorse, but also heavily oppose) so he barely had a bookshelf of his own. I don’t think this is something I could answer on the fly, if the question was directed at me, but given my previous experiences I would want to be particular on what kind of person I date, and what kind of ideas influence him, and how open he is to personal growth. I sure as hell don’t want his Jordan Peterson to be shelved next to my bell hooks — not that I will be dating any Jordan Peterson fanboy.

What about you? What book would you give someone if they suspect they like you, and you’d like them to ask you out? Have you combined your bookshelves with a partner? And if you haven’t, have you thought of that?

What I am reading today:

  • Very important: “Moving towards the practice of a more-than-human politics is a revolt that I can get behind, because it feels like now, more than ever, we need to reject the division within ourselves, between ourselves, and from the deep ecology that sustains us. Because we don’t exist in isolation, we never have.” Anab Jain with the edited transcript of her talk On Critical Activism and Fungal Revolts, presented at the Tentacular Festival in November 2019, calling for a more-than-humane politics.
  • The hidden pro-union politics of Space Jam.
  • One of my first advertising copywriting jobs was to work on cultural transliteration for Axe (in Malaysia as well as some other countries, it was re-branded as Lynx). The fragrance and its iconic ads upheld a bygone image of masculinity but now as we glimpse from the vantage point of the #MeToo era, Axe looks like a spasm of late patriarchy.
  • “All of these were phrases with “aspirational authority,” she told me. “If you’re in a meeting and you’re a 20-something and you want to sound in the know, you’re going to use those words.”” The horrors of corporate speak. I must say it’s the same case with academia too — and something I am also guilty of!
  • Chanel Miller to the people reading her book, “I love when I see people saying “I’m reading but I’m taking breaks.” That to me is saying you’re listening to your body. You’re going slowly as you need. You’re stepping away and remembering that you have the power to step away, that you can go outside and have a cup of tea. That no one’s going to force you through reliving everything. I love that people are immersing themselves at their own pace and hopefully coming out of the book a little more clearheaded and freed from the shame that we all learn and then slowly unlearn.”
  • Partisanship explained.
  • What you can’t fathom requires embrace.


  • Reading: Just finished reading Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. The essay about writing in the seemingly fall of democracy hits me hard, especially in times of political upheaval in Malaysia at the moment (have you heard?)
  • Listening: My friend A directed me to listen to new music from Natalia Lafourcade, and it’s called Veracruz. It’s brilliant, it’s dreamy. And I love songs with city names in their titles.
  • Viewing: Vivir Dos Veces, a Spanish heart-rending movie on the effects of Alzheimer’s on the elderly and the family and friends around them. And also there’s a roadtrip!
  • Food & Drink: Stayed home, feeling powerless over the precarity of democracy in my own country and ordered pizza delivery — to be specific, a regular Domino’s chicken barbecue — today.

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