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June 19, 2013

20Something Bachelorette Weekends, and Judging Books By The Hot Guys on Their Covers

The other weekend I made the three-to-six hour drive to Atlantic City to join my cousin for her bachelorette party weekend. I’m generally a good sport, but any 20something who’s been a bridesmaid understands that sometimes the magic is missing from the bridal party dynamic. (That is not a euphemism. That is just life.) Which isn’t to say that everyone wasn’t civil --- everyone was lovely. We just didn’t seem to have that much in common. So as we sat quietly around the pool on Saturday, soaking up the hazy New Jersey sun, I was simultaneously pleased that I could enjoy my book in peace --- Dana Spiotta’s STONE ARABIA (which, by the way, is the perfect beach book for readers who like a little weight to their fiction, but are also easily distracted by sand and water and sun) --- and also a little bummed that the weekend was living up to my bachelorette expectations.
I was reading next to the pool, minding my own business and becoming increasingly absorbed in Spiotta’s fascinatingly neurotic, pop culture-saturated world. I’m a tunnel-reader, and the rest of the world entirely disappears when I’m getting really into a book. So you can imagine I practically jumped out of my sunburnt skin when the girl sitting next to me put her hand-shadowed face to my book and started scrutinizing the cover. 
“He’s kind of hot,” she said as a means of explanation. She was referring to the guy in the black-and-white photo on the cover, who looks like a young, more rock n’ roll Kyle MacLachlan, with shaggy hair and some seriously '70s style. “What’s it about?” she asked, her interest sufficiently piqued...any past admonitions not to judge a book by its cover seemingly forgotten. (I admit, before we go any further, that the guy on the cover is kind of hot, and while the book has been sitting around my apartment collecting dust (among other things) for months because I got it for free, my recent decision to actually read it had a lot to do with that cover and that guy). 
At that point I was only about 30 pages in, so most of my recap had to do with the characters, the writing and the very meta way Spiotta folds time and memory into the plot. I have this great, deep fear of sounding pedantic when I talk about literary fiction in inappropriate settings (or basically anywhere), so I quickly switched gears. “Hey,” I said with a sly grin, subtly tucking the page I was up to into a neat dog-ear, “I feel like I’m always picking up books with hot guys on the cover.” 
By then, a few of the other girls had starting casually eavesdropping on our conversation. My cousin, the bride-to-be, had rolled over onto her evenly sunned side to listen in. “I know!” my new confidante exclaimed. “I just read BEAUTIFUL CREATURES because the movie cast was on the cover and Alden Ehrenreich [who plays the narrator/main character in the recent film adaptation] is super cute.” There was murmured agreement from the crowd, whose interest had by now progressed from mild to something much giddier.
“Does anyone remember the cover of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT?” one of the girls asked. “It was a pencil drawing of Raskolnikov that I was so into.” More laughter. Someone else volunteered, “In tenth grade I thought I was going to marry Ralph from LORD OF THE FLIES. Something about that curly blond hair and those crazy eyes on the cover.” “Yes!” another girl heartily agreed. “I totally hear that.” 
You can imagine how the conversation continued. I think it peaked when I admitted that Quentin Compson, the tragically romantic and fiercely protective brother from THE SOUND AND THE FURY was my first literary crush. Someone else admitted that she always had a weird thing for Atticus Finch (“His wisdom!” “His integrity!” “His totally retro glasses!”). Pip from GREAT EXPECTATIONS was mentioned, too. The group agreed that that was probably mainly about Ethan Hawke (who played him in the 1998 movie version and whose name had been changed to Finn for the theatrical adaptation). “Guys,” one of the girls interjected, with an air of quiet authority, “Sirius Black. ‘Nuff said.” It seemed that everybody in our little group --- readers and non-readers alike --- had some kind of literary crush, be it totally obvious and shallow, almost-but-not-quite forgotten, recent and raging...or even borderline perverse (I mean --- no judgment --- but Raskolnikov?).
And --- I’m telling you --- the craziest thing was happening in the midst of all those noisy Atlantic City pool-goers. We were bonding. We were bonding hard. There was this budding sense of camaraderie among us that had a little to do with our eager girlishness, but mostly had to do with our new sense of common ground (and of trust, I guess). We really seemed to have found a groove.
The rest of the weekend --- I’m happy to report --- turned out to be just the kind of riotously fun pre-wedding weekend any bachelorette could ask for. Point is, books have something for everybody...and judging them by their covers can make for rewarding conversation.