When Tania O’Donnell was dating, she met a man online and went back to his place … where he proudly showed off his book collection.
“It was about 20 books on Nazi Germany and 10 Andy McNab novels,” says O’Donnell, an author. “I could feel my vulva constructing its own chastity belt.”
A more edifying tale: Hannah Love, senior publicity manager at the children’s book publishers Scholastic, met a man online. He asked her about her favorite book (The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle) and read it before their first real-life date, to which he brought his favorite book to lend to her (from the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce), thus securing at least a second date for her to return the book.
Reader, she married him.
Reading taste can make or break a relationship for the bookish-minded, and literary preferences are highly subjective. But a new app in development is aiming to remove the uncertainty about literary tastes when meeting new people. Klerb has already been dubbed Tinder for bookworms because it matches you with people in your area according to your shared interests in books.
For those looking for love, a prospect’s bookshelves can be a minefield. What if they just read the wrong books? “I generally don’t care, but I did once go back to a guy’s house post-date, and the only book I could see was Fifty Shades of Grey,” says Alice Furse, publicity manager at a publisher.
“To be clear, I was more concerned about his taste than the possibility of kinks.”
Or even worse, what if they don’t have any books at all? The film-maker John Waters famously said: “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em.”
With Klerb, you don’t even have to date them. You can just meet up with people who like the same books as you, or form a book club.
“It’s not a hook-up app,” insists Abe Winter, the New Yorker who is developing Klerb, which is still being tested. “Or a dating app of any kind. But Tinder, which is not without its problems, delivers real value to communities by connecting strangers in geographical proximity. I’m trying to bring that model to reading.
“Readers are hungry for discussion, and introverts are hungry for social outlets. It’s easy to socialize if you like partying or sports; it’s harder if you have academic interests.
“From an informal survey, around 10% of age 30-plus dating app profiles talk about books or reading. This is a neglected category for socialisation. Goodreads is great at the book side of this, but is not a geo-radius social tool, and I’m guessing doesn’t want to be.”
Winter says he’s a solo founder with “low expenses and no investment”, and is trying to make this work without the criticism leveled at advertising-based apps that harvest users’ data.
He has a waiting list, and plans to roll out the app when he reaches enough interested users in enough geographical locations to make the algorithms work.
For people like Abbey Heffer, a PhD candidate in Germany with a penchant for dystopian fiction, Klerb could be a godsend. “I wouldn’t use the app to look for a romantic relationship – I’m happily married! – but I love the idea of vetting potential friends based on their taste in books,” she says.
“It would make the hunt for literary friends so much easier for people like me: immigrants who read in other languages, mums looking to talk about something other than babies, or just introverts who want to socialise… but gently.”