In possibly the first ever book made of up of reprinted classified advertising, the London Review of Books is publishing a collection of its personals ads. Personals have long been a feature of The New York Review of Books, and over the last few months Australian Book Review has been trying to imitate the northern book magazines.
I can see why The New York Review of Books had such success with its personals classifieds. If books are your main interest in life, meeting possible partners can be hard. Not only is reading an inherently solitary activity, even reading the same book separately can be rare. Serious readers tend to take the bestseller lists as a guide to what not to read, on the grounds that what’s appealing to the masses can’t be much good. But this attitude sacrifices their opportunity to at least have something to talk about when they do meet other readers.
Personals columns in literary publications are an attempt to get around these problems. A friend of mine once considered putting an ad in The New York Review of Books even though he knew it sold few copies in Australia, because he thought it might help him find a girl with the right book collection. A NYRB ad would reach a small but well-targeted audience.
But as the examples from the London Review of Books James Button quotes in The Age this morning suggest, it’s not clear that its advertisers are always serious: