Sexually, I'm More of a Switzerland: More Personal Ads from the London Review of Books

 

PART-TIME BOOK REVIEWER WLTM BOOK THAT MAKES HIM LAUGH, FEEL SAFETY IN DYSTHYMIC NUMBERS. BOX NO. 0000.

 

The quality and wit of the London Review of Books's personal ads speak for themselves with more eloquence, anomie, and humor than any essay about them could. In the world of personal ads -- if there is such a thing as the world of personal ads -- the LRB's are to others' as Keats's poetry is to mine. Take

Love me, love my fungal skin complaint. Man, 37, charmless and flaky.

Or

Women to 35 -- You're all invited to the party in my pants. It's bring your own bottle and, please, remember to remove your shoes before you step on the carpet -- mum's just had it cleaned. Stupid man, 33.

The New York Review of Books has a well-known Personals column, but it not only pales by literary comparison, it falls far short of the LRB in honest existential awareness:

SLIM, TALL, EPICUREAN Santa Barbara widow, artist, enjoys piano, wine, swimming, sailing, and spending half the year in France, seeking active man (57–65) to share life's pleasures.

Santa Barbara v. stupid man. No more need be said.

 

David Rose, the LRB editor who assembled this second collection of selected personals -- the first was They Call Me Naughty Lola -- has arranged them by categories whose titles derive from the ads themselves: "Only Love Is catching," "Mentally, I'm a size eight," "A time capsule of despair," etc. You have to read the book to see how funny and smart these groupings are, especially "You know who you are."

 

And that's the thing, isn't it (as the Brits might say, in that annoying way they have of turning their dicta into faux questions)? The people who place these ads do know who they are -- all too human, un- if not disillusioned, mordantly funny about their own bafflements, and, unlike their American counterparts, realistic about love, sex, and fungal skin diseases. It's a hilarious microcosm of the variegation of our species, and like many list and collage-y books, it's best read in small doses, when the reader wants something to raise his or her spirits between subway stops or in the dentist's waiting room.  

 

For these ad-takers are indeed looking to please you in addition to looking for love. They are clearly ambitious in a nano-literary way, and they want to get read and laid. This self-aware writerliness doesn't detract from the poignancy of the ads; it increases it. Like the rest of us, these seekers want to be more fulfilled than they are, and this probably explains why so many of them mention their avocations. We meet part-time shrimp peelers, undertakers, baguette-fillers; weekend chicken farmers and taxidermists; amateur thises and thats. And in these yearnings for something more, in love and in work, no matter how self-critically expressed, we are confirmed that there is a little Santa Barbara even in the gloomiest London fog.

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