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Caleb Lee participated the Vancouver library's version of speed dating. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
Caleb Lee participated the Vancouver library's version of speed dating. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

Speed dating goes literary Add to ...

If you’re looking for love and you’d rather cuddle up with a book than belly up to a singles bar, read on.

Picture yourself in a basement room at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library the night before (or after) Valentine’s Day, tables covered with tablecloths, soft rock playing in the background. You are carrying a book, one that says something about you. You’re going from table to table, looking for a literary connection or, in the best case scenario, a love match.

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You are Read Dating.

The VPL tried this out for the first time this winter: a book-club/speed-dating hybrid, where singles rotate around the room, spending four minutes each with about 20 others, all armed with a favourite book (or DVD or CD) to break the ice; something to help fill in those awkward pre-first-date gaps.

To protect privacy and add another layer to the literary high jinks, each single is provided with a bookish pseudonym: Scarlett O’Hara, Jay Gatsby, David Copperfield. Imagine the fun when Yuri Zhivago meets up with Lara!

The two previous events (one for heterosexual 19- to 35-year-olds and one for gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer bookworms) were wildly popular, so librarians have planned two more events bracketing Valentine’s Day (doing it right on the 14th seemed like too much pressure): one for singles aged 35 to 55 and one for the 55 and older set. The Greater Victoria Public Library is getting in on the action too, with Literary Speed Dating events Feb. 11 and 14.

“It’s like a first baby step into the dating world,” says VPL information assistant Sheila Maier, who proposed the idea for Vancouver after reading about a similar event in San Francisco. “It’s safe. They feel comfortable in the library.”

Consider Elly Stornebrink, 52. The blogger/aspiring author/enthusiastic reader works full-time for a non-profit agency and describes her life as “chaotically busy.” She’s never been married, and it’s been well over a year since her last relationship.

“I think I’m a little more at peace with being single,” she says. “I think I’d still love to be married one day, but I’m kind of letting that go as I get older. Everyone seems to want younger chicks.”

Ms. Stornebrink has always wanted to try speed dating, but figured she was too old. She’s signed up for the library event to try something new and maybe, just maybe, find love.

“It would be a great side benefit,” she says, “but I don’t have any expectation that oh my God, this will be it.”

Neither did Ambrose Kwong. At 29, the suburban Vancouver mortgage broker has had a few relationships, but has never had a girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. Thinking he might break the pattern – and, frankly, curious – he signed up for last November’s Read Dating event.

“I couldn’t wait to see when Hercule Poirot met his Miss Marple or when Cathy met her Heathcliffe. I thought it was going to be epic. But I was kind of caught up in my own conversations,” says Mr. Kwong, whose own pseudonym, Tony Blake, came from Jackie Collins’s The Stud.

Then there’s Caleb Lee, 28, who has had “zero relationships.” Raised by Christian missionary parents, Mr. Lee came out two years ago and is looking for ways to meet men. He finds online dating stressful, and the club scene isn’t his, well, scene. He was interested in speed dating, though, especially at the library.

“It just seemed like such a nerdy place to do it and I liked that,” says Mr. Lee, an ESL teacher. He brought two books: William P. Young’s The Shack (a Christian-themed novel his mom recommended), and Gregory Stock’s The Book of Questions, figuring he could rely on its contents (example: “Do you pick your nose in public?”) for some conversation starters.

Mr. Lee didn’t feel sparks fly at the library, but a group of read daters moved over to a nearby pub afterward. He and another guy connected over matters spiritual, and made a coffee date. Around Christmas, there was a second date, where they visited both of their churches. It may sound like a match made in literary heaven, but Mr. Lee got cold feet. “We hit it off, but then I think I wasn’t quite ready for it.” They’re still friends, though.

If there were any happily-ever-afters that resulted from either night, Ms. Maier is unaware of them. Mr. Kwong may be single again this Valentine’s Day, but he got something else out of the experience: He has been plowing through the reading list he acquired that night: Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, Gregory David Roberts’s Shantaram, Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals, Dionne Brand’s At the Full and Change of the Moon.

“It’s very cool to be able to discover new treasures,” he says. “You’re meeting new people. And hey, if you don’t connect, you’ve got a great list of books to read. So it’s win-win.”

Reading between the lines

What a book might say about your potential date:

Anna Karenina Dramatic. Patient/perseverant. May not believe in happy endings.

Pride and Prejudice A hopeful romantic. (May also be a gold digger.)

The Scarlet Letter Likely won’t stray.

The Stone Angel This person will be kind to your grandma. (Also may have a lit. degree.)

The Happiness Project Chances are, if they’re reading this, they’re not. Then again, they aspire to be.

No Logo Politically engaged. Left-leaning.

The Joy of Sex Really?

Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking A keeper.

The Secret Run.

American Psycho Run faster.



The Vancouver Public Library will hold Read Dating events on Feb. 13 (35-55 year olds) and Feb. 15 (55+). The Greater Victoria Public Library holds its Literary Speed Dating events Feb. 11 (60+) and Feb 14 (25-40).

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