Literary Crush: Rob Sheffield

This pop culture memoirist loves like a Midwesterner, and reminds me that I once did, too.

Jul 26, 2011 at 3:02pm | Leave a comment

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I can't rememer being romantic. 

I know I must have once been all rosy-cheeked and fresh-minded in the ways of love, a nebulous ball of unformed dough, untouched by life’s sullying events.

Don't get me wrong, the human spirit is remarkably resilient. I'm no longer the fire-bombed ruins of a person I was when I dragged myself into recovery on my burned-out belly. And I'm lucky that somehow in my decade-long spree of bad decision-making that I miraculously chose a partner who is unquestioningly, achingly good to me.

But I'm not ever gonna be a certain kind of gooey about the boy-girl stuff again -- my stint in the dating world was too based on emotional carelessness and manipulation and gamesmanship, on using other people to fill my holes, and not in the fun way. I tinkered all around in the mechanics of seduction, and now I can't ever unsee the sprockets and gears underneath the flesh and blood. Because boys are so easy, you see, as long as you don't care one bit.

But when I read Rob Sheffield, author of "Talking to Girls About Duran Duran" and "Love is a Mix Tape," I sort of remember a time when I felt differently. His books are about romance dressed up in music-nerd minutiae, and while for all I know he's a jerk in real life, at least on the page he comes across as truly loving women in a way few men do. 

Take this passage from TGDD:

"My sisters were the coolest people I knew, and still are. I have always aspired to be like them and know what they know. My sisters were the color and noise in the black-and-white boy world -- how I pitied my friends who had brothers. Boys seemed incredibly tedious and dim compared to my sisters, who were always a rush of excitement, buzzing over all the books, records, jokes, rumors and ideas we were discovering together. I grew up thriving on the commotion of their girl noise, whether they were laughing or singing or staging an intervention because somebody was wearing stirrup pants. I always loved being lost in that girl noise."

A straight man wrote that! Swoon city. It wasn't the only time while reading that I found myself flipping to the back cover and checking out the author photo while conveniently ignoring that sentence about "living with his wife in Brooklyn." (Nice catch, Rob Sheffield's Brooklyn wife! Although apparently she's a freaking astrophysicist, so nice work all around.) (Also, Rob, same picture on both book jackets? Please take some new photos so I have something else to look at while I ponder whether you would love me a lot or a whole lot if we met in real life.)

Years ago, I had read "Love is a Mix Tape," Sheffield's true account of his relationship with his wife who died unexpectedly after 7 years together, and it had broken my heart and taped it back together again, made me sob, crawled up inside my head and never left.

And maybe I love Sheffield so much because in both books, he comes off as just a boy who believes in love, the pure, simple kind this young girl from the middle of the country must have once believed was waiting for her. He has such a uniquely untainted voice that it sometimes seems as if Sheffield alone has figured out how to bypass all the baggage and jadedness and hang on to a pop song's vision of love.

It's enough to turn a girl into a romantic.