The Girl Who Reads

Because I spent most of today in a car, I didn’t have time to come up with an original post – so instead I decided to share with you this amazing piece first written here by Charles Warnke.

I know it’s been around for a bit, but if you haven’t read it yet, I couldn’t encourage you enough…(unless you hate swearing).  One of the most moving pieces I’ve come across in a long time.

“You Should Date an Illiterate Girl”

By Charles Warnke

Date a girl who doesn’t read. Find her in the weary squalor of a Midwestern bar. Find her in the smoke, drunken sweat, and varicolored light of an upscale nightclub. Wherever you find her, find her smiling. Make sure that it lingers when the people that are talking to her look away. Engage her with unsentimental trivialities. Use pick-up lines and laugh inwardly. Take her outside when the night overstays its welcome. Ignore the palpable weight of fatigue. Kiss her in the rain under the weak glow of a streetlamp because you’ve seen it in film. Remark at its lack of significance. Take her to your apartment. Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.

Let the anxious contract you’ve unwittingly written evolve slowly and uncomfortably into a relationship. Find shared interests and common ground like sushi, and folk music. Build an impenetrable bastion upon that ground. Make it sacred. Retreat into it every time the air gets stale, or the evenings get long. Talk about nothing of significance. Do little thinking. Let the months pass unnoticed. Ask her to move in. Let her decorate. Get into fights about inconsequential things like how the fucking shower curtain needs to be closed so that it doesn’t fucking collect mold. Let a year pass unnoticed. Begin to notice.

Figure that you should probably get married because you will have wasted a lot of time otherwise. Take her to dinner on the forty-fifth floor at a restaurant far beyond your means. Make sure there is a beautiful view of the city. Sheepishly ask a waiter to bring her a glass of champagne with a modest ring in it. When she notices, propose to her with all of the enthusiasm and sincerity you can muster. Do not be overly concerned if you feel your heart leap through a pane of sheet glass. For that matter, do not be overly concerned if you cannot feel it at all. If there is applause, let it stagnate. If she cries, smile as if you’ve never been happier. If she doesn’t, smile all the same.

Let the years pass unnoticed. Get a career, not a job. Buy a house. Have two striking children. Try to raise them well. Fail, frequently. Lapse into a bored indifference. Lapse into an indifferent sadness. Have a mid-life crisis. Grow old. Wonder at your lack of achievement. Feel sometimes contented, but mostly vacant and ethereal. Feel, during walks, as if you might never return, or as if you might blow away on the wind. Contract a terminal illness. Die, but only after you observe that the girl who didn’t read never made your heart oscillate with any significant passion, that no one will write the story of your lives, and that she will die, too, with only a mild and tempered regret that nothing ever came of her capacity to love.

Do those things, god damnit, because nothing sucks worse than a girl who reads. Do it, I say, because a life in purgatory is better than a life in hell. Do it, because a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder. A girl who reads lays claim to a vocabulary that distinguishes between the specious and soulless rhetoric of someone who cannot love her, and the inarticulate desperation of someone who loves her too much. A vocabulary, god damnit, that makes my vacuous sophistry a cheap trick.

Do it, because a girl who reads understands syntax. Literature has taught her that moments of tenderness come in sporadic but knowable intervals. A girl who reads knows that life is not planar; she knows, and rightly demands, that the ebb comes along with the flow of disappointment. A girl who has read up on her syntax senses the irregular pauses—the hesitation of breath—endemic to a lie. A girl who reads perceives the difference between a parenthetical moment of anger and the entrenched habits of someone whose bitter cynicism will run on, run on well past any point of reason, or purpose, run on far after she has packed a suitcase and said a reluctant goodbye and she has decided that I am an ellipsis and not a period and run on and run on. Syntax that knows the rhythm and cadence of a life well lived.

Date a girl who doesn’t read because the girl who reads knows the importance of plot. She can trace out the demarcations of a prologue and the sharp ridges of a climax. She feels them in her skin. The girl who reads will be patient with an intermission and expedite a denouement. But of all things, the girl who reads knows most the ineluctable significance of an end. She is comfortable with them. She has bid farewell to a thousand heroes with only a twinge of sadness.

Don’t date a girl who reads because girls who read are the storytellers. You with the Joyce, you with the Nabokov, you with the Woolf. You there in the library, on the platform of the metro, you in the corner of the café, you in the window of your room. You, who make my life so god damned difficult. The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied. So out with you, girl who reads. Take the next southbound train and take your Hemingway with you. I hate you. I really, really, really hate you.”

Any Thoughts?


6 thoughts on “The Girl Who Reads

  1. Can’t argue with that. Reading is knowledge. Knowledge is power. Power is best kept in your hands…On the other hand, I can only take stupid people in short doses.

  2. This post is certainly food for thought. But it is also one-dimensional and in some ways quite innacurate. There are many passionate, illiterate, socially conscious, loving, and intuitive people who for whatever reason can’t read.

    My Beloved Wife is dyslexic. While she can read, it is much harder for her to do so than for me. But what she reads, she remembers forever because it took so much effort to do so. She is also only a small hnful of units away from a Master’s Degree.

    The author could have just as easily advised his readers to go after women with very low self-esteem, and much of the same things in his comments would have applied. And I think it would be just as one-dimensional and innacurate.

    My Beloved Wife had very low self-esteem when I met her and struggles with it to this day nearly 33 years after our wedding. She is also someone that the “author” would never, ever, want to tangle with.

    Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking post, Andrea. I was about two-thirds of the way through my first paragraph before I remembered my Beloved’s dyslexia, and the same thing happened in the third paragraph when I remembered her struggles with low self-esteem.

    I’m all-the-more proud of her because of what she has had to overcome to become who she is.


    • That is a very good point Russ!

      My dad also has dyslexia and reading is definitely a struggle for him.

      I think it would have been helpful had the writer tried to find some way to make the distinction between those who can’t read and those who choose not to.

      There are many people out there with many other fantastic abilities – we all have our weak points and should never be judged for them. Especially, as you said, because most of them have had much to overcome to become those people.

      However, I have also discovered there are a lot of super smart and capable people who choose to live in the “shallow end” because it’s easier. When I read this piece the first time that’s how I viewed Warnke’s definition of “illiterate” – although now I realize since it does have more than one meaning, he probably should have been more clear.

      Your wife is so very lucky to have you as her supporter! It sounds like you have a truly great relationship and have found a way to weather the storms and appreciate each other for who you are.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and wisdom!

  3. I hadn’t ever read that before. Interesting thoughts. My father didn’t learn to read until he was a senior in high school. He struggles with it to this day and he’s passionate, and has amazing “work arounds” for 90% things literary. I think his struggles have led him to be more creative.

    Thank being said, reading is important. I can’t imagine getting through today’s society illiterate. I love the written word and I love to write. I don’t know that this has really helped me understand plot and syntax, or perhaps they are so ingrained in me because I have spent so many days reading. . . interesting post for sure. Thanks for sharing!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      But yes, that is a really good point – there are many people out there who struggle with reading, and it often does make them stronger and more creative people because they DO have to come up with work arounds.

      Thank you for your comment and for your perspective! I had not thought about it in that way and it was really nice to hear some more view points :)

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