Without a doubt, I would classify myself as a bibliophile. Every year when the YU Seforim Sale rolls around, I know I’ll end up spending an unreasonable amount of time browsing the aisles, checking out each section, often more than once. There are simply so many interesting and intriguing titles in such a large variety of subjects that grab my attention, I almost can’t help myself. I am constantly enticed to pick up a book, flip through it, and add it to the growing pile I schlep around in my circuitous path that eventually ends up at the cash register. ASoG can personally attest to all this.
However, as basically everyone knows, you’d be crazy to take a date to the Seforim Sale unless you are already serious with one another, the relationship’s existence is public knowledge, and/or you happen to already be engaged – unless you both work there, which provides a decent cover story (or does it?). Going to the Seforim Sale with an opposite gender companion other than your grandparent, parent or sibling instantly puts you on display and gives birth to scuttlebutt which can be a bit annoying. Even hanging out with your other-gender sibling, as innocent as that is, can appear suspicious if no one knows him/her. This actually happened to a friend of mine this year. People asked about the girl he was with, who happened to be his younger sister, for several days after their shopping experience.
While going on a date to the SOY Sale isn’t the best idea, going to Barnes and Noble, on the other hand, is quite a fun and enlightening experience. I personally wouldn’t recommend it as a suggestion for one of the first few dates, but rather as something to do once the initial ‘getting to know you’ phase has been completed. At this point, you’ve established that you like your date a bit, you’re interested in finding out more about his/her interests and personal passions that extends beyond introductory small talk that established a basis of commonality between the two of you.
The Barnes and Noble store in the Manhattan area which I find most suitable for dates is the 4 story location at 66th and Broadway. There are numerous large, varied areas to browse, including DVD’s, periodicals, travel, children’s, cookbooks, classics, current popular releases, science fiction, and a large comic book / manga section.
One fun place to start off is the travel section, especially since it’s located on the entry level (though you could start at the bottom with the movies/DVDs - I’ve also started in the popular fiction/new releases or children’s section). This part of the store is particularly fun if you’re from different states, or are both out-of-towners. The reason why this collection of books is fun is because it allows you to “visit” your hometown and show it off, to a degree, to your potential significant other. Granted, it’s nothing like actually heading off for an actual tour of all the locales where your family resides, but it’s a close enough facsimile – at least to whet their appetite of curiosity regarding where you grew up. Aside from all the little travel guides, I often find it fun to check out the Weird State series, wherein you can learn about all sorts of kooky stuff that even you probably didn’t know about.
Popular/new releases is entertaining, because it gives you a sense of what the world finds interesting these days. Here you’ll find a ton of instant conversation starters that cover the wide range of issues, ideas, and genres that people are talking about. Whether it’s the annoying newest teen series on vampires/wizards/werewolves/whatever, some controversial political book about Israel, a tell-all (auto)biography, or the latest thriller, you can check out the most recently released reading material.
The children’s section is an enjoyable place to revisit favorite books from when you were young, as well as check out all the zany new stuff on the market these days. I was a big fan of Animorphs and Goosebumps, but others might have fond memories of another series you’ve never heard of, particularly since boys and girls generally don’t read the same sorts of books at that age. Going through your childhood reading – both pleasure and school assigned – and talking about your likes and dislikes is always an interesting conversation.
Cookbooks are a fun place to browse, and particularly in the aforementioned Barnes and Noble since it has a fairly decent sized selection of kosher cookbooks of various kinds, from the New York Times collection of kosher recipes to Pupa Dweck’s Aleppo cookbook. Particularly for people who have different backgrounds, whether Sephardi/Ashkenazi or even Tri-State/out of towner, I always found it interesting to talk about different trademark family dishes, personal preferences, as well as using this section as a bit of a launching point to talk about Shabbos/Yom Tov experiences growing up, which naturally include the food served at those meals.
I generally shied away from the self-help, philosophy, and romance sections, primarily because most things found there are probably not so conducive to conducting informal, non-invasive conversation. Particularly if this is an earlier date in the relationship, it would be rather awkward to stumble across a book addressing an issue one of the daters had at some point in his/her life (or are still struggling with) and have that come up in such a haphazard way instead of a proper, face-to-face/heart-to-heart conversation later on when such things should be revealed and discussed for the relationship to progress into more serious territory. Unless both the people are big philosopher-types, not much worthwhile can be found there for fun date conversation. Romance is clearly out the window based on the unrealistic, not to mention, often-vulgar content found there. What good Jewish boy/girl reads that trash anyway?
The marriage relationship section may be interesting, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone not seriously dating, contemplating engagement, or already engaged.
There is also a religion/Judaism section, which may be a place to see what sort of interesting/more religious things are stocked at the store (how many Artscroll/Feldheim titles, for example), but unless you’re into academic Jewish studies or perhaps something more mainstream like Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, I don’t think you’ll find much to talk about there.
I always had a lot of fun going through the science fiction and manga/comic book sections. Granted, the appeal of these areas are limited based on personal preference and interest, but for someone like me, I took it as an opportunity to safely “geek out” on my dates (not in an absurd fashion, I did maintain proper decorum) and see how they reacted. I think it’s very important for people to introduce their date to all the aspects of their personality and their significant interests/hobbies, particularly in relation to pop culture. Presumably, whatever it is you’re “into,” be that a certain book series, comic, movie, TV show or whatever is important enough to you that it helps the other person understand you and what you’re about a bit better.
Along the lines of my long-ago post, Pop Culture Conundrum, I feel that it’s important to personally understand your relationship with pop culture, and that it is absolutely necessary to share this part of you with your potential spouse. If you are going out with someone who is vehemently against general pop culture, or perhaps only invests their time and brain space on more “serious” aspects of secular culture such as “classic” literature, but has little tolerance for anything more mass pop culture, that could be a big problem. For a while, I looked for someone who had similar pop-culture interests, hoping that would be a point of connection, as it often is with shared interests in the secular dating world. After experiencing several shidduchim with girls who were “my type” but didn’t really have any interest whatsoever in my pop culture ventures, I decided (wisely) that the appropriate approach is to find someone who isn’t A) Opposed to or offended by my pop culture interests and B) Can at least tolerate my pop culture interests, but also perhaps enjoy them with me on some level, with the understanding that I shouldn’t have expectations of “converting” her into a sci-fi fanatic or whatever.
In the end, this worked quite well. As I mentioned in my birthday post, ASoG picked up on a point of discussion about a certain book that I was looking forward to buying at some point in the near future, and actually purchased that very volume some time after our date, then presented it me as a gift on my birthday.
Anyway, there are other sections in the store, such as the current fiction, classics, games, periodicals, and the lower floor with all the CDs and DVDs – all ripe for conversation topics, personal insights, and opportunities to tell stories from your life. I never really spent much time in any of them (particularly the DVD section, which is on the bottom floor), simply because we lingered for significant periods of time in the sections I have described.
One of the great things about book stores, such as Barnes and Noble, and especially this particular location, is that they allow you to custom-tailor your conversation experience, offering a very wide range of topics to discuss (I won’t go so far as to say an unlimited). Whereas coffee-shop date conversations can often meander all over the place, there is no real structure to what is brought up. Here, you can have some guidance regarding what is talked about and when – particularly if you know the layout of the store and have a specific story or topic you’d like to talk about – such as me with my sci-fi/comic geek out.
In the end, it’s really up to you. While my examples may be somewhat far-reaching in application, the experience is entirely your own, and I strongly encourage Barnes and Noble as a great date location. As I mentioned before, I would recommend reserving it for a 4th, 5th, or 6th date, after most of the fluff Jewish Geography and Israel experience topics have run their course. When you’re ready to start getting to know your date’s deeper intellectual interests (and to have fun too), Barnes and Noble is the place to go.