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A love of books can lead to love of another kind. (istockphoto/istockphoto)
A love of books can lead to love of another kind. (istockphoto/istockphoto)

Dating site finds booty calls for book lovers Add to ...

He had me at Thomas Pynchon.

Bookworms are having their moment with the rise of a slew of new dating sites and events geared toward the literary set.

There's alikewise.com (tagline: "Dating by the book"), which lets users scope out would-be partners based on their reading picks. Brooklyn's Word Bookstore matches up customers with a corkboard in the shop and also hosts mixers, proms and running groups for the brains in the neighbourhood. And in Belgium, "lib-dating" sees bookworms speed-dating among the bookshelves of their local libraries, where participants have 10 minutes to hook a date by expounding on their favourite authors.

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Although dating sites have been growing increasingly niche over the years - think TrekPassions.com, SingleParentsMingle.com and HumanitarianDating.com - some have reeked of exclusivity more than others, including BeautifulPeople.com, which booted 5,000 members for gaining weight last Christmas.

While not aesthetically superficial, bookish dating sites and events have a snooty connotation: Can literary tastes really make or break a couple?

"I think there's more to talk about: People see it as shorthand for educated and literate," says Stephanie Anderson, 25-year-old manager of Word in Brooklyn.

That said, Ms. Anderson questions the suggestion that "there's anything elitist about reading."

The inspiration for "Between the Covers: A Matchmaking Service for Book Lovers" came when a regular customer eagle-eyed two books on Word's special-order shelf.

"She said, 'Oh my God. Who are those books for and is he single?' They were two of her favourite books of all time and she wanted to meet him. Unfortunately, the books were for two different people, neither of whom was single."

Soon after, Word staff hung up a corkboard and had customers who were game fill out slips of paper noting the authors they loved and loathed, as well as their contact information. Some ended up dating; the one corkboard is now two, with about 50 hopefuls.

"My goal is for someone to get married as a result of it," Ms. Anderson says. "I would feel very pleased about the whole thing. And if the proposal could happen here, too, that would be great."

She points out that liking the same books isn't crucial - in fact, having different tastes means couples have more to show each other. At the same time, the literary likes and dislikes are important because people use them as "signifiers."

"I've noticed that a lot of women put that they don't like Charles Bukowski or Jack Kerouac," Ms. Anderson says. "I don't think they genuinely dislike Bukowski. I think they're wary of men who really love Bukowski."

Similar manoeuvres play out on Alikewise.com. Launched two months ago, the dating site has attracted 4,000 members, including Chin Ma, a 25-year-old New York consultant who joined in July.

The "voracious biography reader" quickly realized few women were biting on his top picks, which included Team of Rivals, a 944-page tome on the political genius of Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Ma proved luckier with a post he wrote about Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. This attracted the attention of a young woman who met up with him for coffee soon after reading the post.

Mr. Ma likes the set-up because, unlike other dating sites, "You're not just saying, 'I'm an investment banker and I make this salary.' You get to see what the person is thinking and why they read the book."

Still, he believes that just as a "400-pound person" using a more traditional dating site might lie and say they have an average body type, users can manipulate their image here as well.

"If you're a guy and you put Pride and Prejudice up there, I'm sure you'd get a couple of hits. But bottom line is this is a relationship. Once you have a conversation, it would fall apart pretty quickly, like when she asks you what you like about the book."

Tweaking your book picks to attract would-be partners is okay with Alikewise.com co-founder Matt Sherman.

"On Facebook, there's an element of a persona - you put out an image. I'm sort of hoping that's what people will do with our site. It's not about every single book you've ever read, but listing a few that say something about you or make for good conversation," Mr. Sherman, 41, says from New York.

And just as having kids or a chain-smoking habit can nix your prospects on eHarmony, there are literary deal breakers as well.

"People like to put out strong opinions, like, 'If you read Dan Brown, there's no way we'll get along,' " Mr. Sherman says.

Yale, not Dan Brown, might be the wrong answer on another brainy dating site called DateHarvardSQ.com, which lets female users pick and choose Harvard graduates, all of whom look suspiciously buff on the main page online.

"We want to match men and women who share the values inherent in a Harvard lifestyle, such as love of learning, intellectual curiosity, drive and determination," says Beri Meric, 25, who founded the site with Philipp Triebel, 28, last month. (Both are MBA grads from Harvard Business School.)

The site has attracted 50,000 visitors, with a few hundred registered. Is the premise snobby? Not really, Mr. Meric says.

"These qualities are by no means exclusive to the Harvard individual. … We believe these are positive qualities that are in no way elitist, but rather the qualities that allow people to build truly meaningful relationships that are lasting."

Likewise, Mr. Sherman insists, "You don't have to be an egghead or a librarian to use [alikewise.com]"

He says large, mainstream dating sites allow people to get pickier, with a litany of info boxes on religion, children and body type. Mr. Sherman fancied an experience that mimics the "serendipitous discovery" of spotting a hunk reading, oh say, your favourite Violette Leduc novel at a café.

"I saw it as a needle-in-the-haystack kind of thing - to find that person who's as quirky as you are."







 

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