Disclaimer: I do NOT know Sebastian Stan. All the information is taken from various social media posts and interviews and could potentially be outdated.
Welcome to the latest installment of this very special feature! In case you missed the previous ones, don’t hesitate to check out the following posts:
– Are Tom Hiddleston and I compatible (readers)?
– Are Chris Evans and I compatible (readers)?
In this series, I read the favorite books of actors and determine whether we would be a good match based on our reading tastes alone. All of this is done with the sole intention of it being fun and not taken too seriously. Enjoy!
From what I gathered, Sebastian Stan is a very private, introverted guy and that’s completely in his right. No objections whatsoever, but, for the purpose of this post, I still had to dig into his life a little bit. Born in Romania, he moved to the US at the age of twelve, however, before that, guess where he spent a couple years? That’s right! My hometown – Vienna, Austria. It’s so very strange to me to think we lived in the same city at the same time. The fact that our birthdays are also just ten days apart and both in August, had me very determined to post this feature this month.
All of the above always makes me think of him as a European rather than an American, although I guess, at this point, he is definitely both. I’m pretty sure the first time I saw him and noticed him was on Gossip Girl, but I’ve enjoyed him in many TV shows and movies since. His choice of roles is interesting, because he definitely doesn’t go for the most mainstream projects outside of the MCU, which always leads to surprising new things to watch for me. You never quite know what to expect with him and, similarly, I felt that as well when I was looking for his favorite books. Most (but not all) of what I ended up picking were books he mentioned during the 2018 Fandemic Panel. Take a look at my final decision below:
- The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
- Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubinstein
- Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
- The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
This is now the third time that I’m doing this kind of post and I will admit to having cheated a little bit with one of the books. It wasn’t mentioned as a favorite anywhere, but I know for a fact that he has read it. Why did I make that particular decision? Well, I got tired of only having male authors for the reading experiments. While I understand that men can probably relate really well to male characters or a male POV, I don’t think that’s all they should read? Or at least not that it’s all they can like? My own list of favorite authors is very mixed.
Anyway, so, how do I feel about the experiment this time around? I wish I knew what to say, but I just don’t know. I’m not super hyped, but I want to go into it with an open mind. Maybe it will all have a very masculine touch again, but I’m really trying not to have any prejudice based on that alone.
The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
The Course of Love is a very analytical and detached look at 20+ years of the relationship between Rabih and his wife Kirsten. I can see how the style of writing might not be for everyone, as it really feels like you’re someone watching the mess unfold from a distance instead of getting the emotions first hand, but I quite enjoyed it. Anecdotes from their life and marriage are mixed with commentary on love and relationships in a more broad way, giving it the feel of a research paper. Personally, I thought that was an interesting approach and actually found it easy to follow the story that way, however, there were still some things I struggled with.
We don’t need to be constantly reasonable in order to have good relationships; all we need to have mastered is the occasional capacity to acknowledge with good grace that we may, in one or two areas, be somewhat insane.The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
As the story progresses, I appreciated that the book didn’t focus on the beginning of love or the many other romanticized qualities we often associate with it. Relationships that endure are inherently tied to struggles and the people involved in it need to be really good communicators to make it through some of the lows.
Where the book kind of lost me a little bit was the constant equating of monogamy with unhappiness and marriage with frustration. I do realize that not everyone is meant to get married or be in a monogamous relationship, but, at the same time, I don’t think you can fault people for wanting exactly that. To me, it felt like the book was stating that you cannot ever be truly happy in a committed relationship, that compatibility is a myth and that we all just need to settle for hardship and impermanence, because there will never be a “right” person for us. I guess, in some ways I am too much of a romantic for this book to hit home in all ways.
For someone listing this book as one of their favorites, I genuinely hope that they don’t believe we, as a species, are terrible at picking our partners. Yes, loneliness can play into us holding on to things that aren’t meant to be, but I’d still like to think that, if you wish to find someone to spend your life with, there’s someone out there for you.
Click here for more information on The Course of Love on Goodreads.
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubinstein
The full title of this book is Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts. This might possibly be the longest title for a book I’ve read thus far, but really accurately summarizes the experience.
Just like I couldn’t quite believe that Sebastian Stan and I lived in the same place for several years, I struggled to wrap my head around the fact that most of what happens in this book took place in my neighboring country while I was already born and alive. It reads like fiction, making me wonder how much is dramatized or exaggerated due to the unreliable nature of humans and their memory, but at the same time, I was highly entertained.
This read was informative as well as fun, which I simply didn’t expect picking it up. It showcased how little I knew about the history of Hungary and Romania for that matter, which was appalling, considering how close I live to those countries. I feel like we get taught a lot about Germany, France, the UK and Italy, the “successful” Western European states, but so very little about the Eastern demographic, unless you actively seek out information. In that way, despite the repetitiveness in the middle of the book, I’m really glad this story was brought my way.
If anything, I understand why Sebastian Stan is drawn to this material due to his background, but also the charismatic personality that is Attila Ambrus, the Whiskey Robber himself. There are already some Hungarian film adaptations of the story out there, but if Hollywood ever picks this up, I sincerely hope they’ll cast Sebastian as the lead. I can 100% picture it being fantastic!
Click here for more information on Ballad of the Whiskey Robber on Goodreads.
Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
There is absolutely no way to put the following thing nicely, so, here goes nothing … I really felt myself losing respect for Sebastian Stan with every page I read. For the life of me, I cannot fathom how he, or anyone else for that matter, can name this book as a favorite, because it was such a huge struggle for me to read Still Life with Woodpecker.
Some might say that Still Life with Woodpecker is about the eternal search for how to make love stay. Others might claim this book is about choices and living with their consequences. Well, those are definitely ways to look at it, although I failed to see anything but a toxic, delusional relationship and someone fulfilling all their redhead fantasies. I really powered through and hoped that at least the pay-off would be worth it, but it was weak.
There is nothing wrong with liking Robbins’ general style of writing, although it resembles freestyle jazz in a way that it’s just not everyone’s taste. There are many run on paragraphs that go on tangents that have little to do with the plot and ridiculous metaphors that are difficult to comprehend. All of this makes it feel like a creative writing project taken a bit too far, but still, that isn’t even what I struggled with the most.
One of my main issues was the way the author was obsessed with the female anatomy, especially breasts, and how he simultaneously had disturbingly little understanding of how menstruation or general reproductive organs work. I shudder at the mere thought of a few passages I had to read. All of it felt self-indulgent, self-absorbed, smug, arrogant and like he was living out his sexual fantasies through the book, which I would now like to purge from my memory.
I understand that many people love this story and I doubt that my words can take anything away from that, but to me, it was simply contrived, irritating and, at times, downright gross. I wish I was exaggerating when I say this book gave me the creeps.
Click here for more information on Still Life with Woodpecker on Goodreads.
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
As mentioned early on in the post, I was tired of solely reading books written by men for these compatibility tests. In a way, this isn’t Sebastian Stan’s fault. He was just unlucky enough to be the third person I do this experiment with and me not willing to take it anymore.
Had I gone with books he had mentioned, I would have either had the option to pick The Catcher in the Rye or Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Seen as I find it more interesting to have a mix of fiction and non-fiction, I would have naturally picked Sapiens, but I had already read that one for the last post with Chris Evans. It’s really a fantastic book, but what could I possibly add to my statement from just the month before? Instead, to mix it up a little, I went with The Lonely City, which Sebastian Stan read during his COVID isolation in New York City. The author, Olivia Laing, is non-binary, but has expressed that the pronouns “she/her” are alright, so I will use them moving forward.
The Lonely City is Olivia Laing’s exploration of her own loneliness and that of iconic as well as more obscure artists of the 20th century, all living in New York City. Many of you already know this about me, but as an adult, I moved around quite a bit. I’ve more than once found myself in a city, all by my lonesome self, and therefore, the premise of the book immediately drew me in. I generally don’t mind being alone, I often relish it, but something strange happens with you when you are alone all the time. Even though you might usually be a quite rational human being, you suddenly find yourself yearning for just about anyone to see you, hear you and maybe even touch you. It almost becomes a desperation. I still remember the ridiculous times when I wondered if I could get away with just sneakily hugging a stranger, but obviously never went through with it. In the end, The Lonely City was interesting, but not what I expected.
While reading, I often felt like I was attending a class on contemporary art history and theory, with a lot of the chapters being brief biographies about the artists. It more than once overshadowed the author’s own experiences and her point of view on things, because her voice got lost in the details and information. Although a lot of them were queer, it was notable that the people that were most heavily featured were all white men. I wish, if it had to focus on artists so heavily, it would have been a more inclusive list.
Again, this is not to say that the content wasn’t interesting, but the connection to loneliness was feeble at best and even though Olivia Laing tried to intertwine it all with her own experiences, it felt a bit disconnected, even more so the longer the book went on. I wish it had been more of a memoir and that Laing had gone deeper on her own life, because she definitely held back and that made the book seem aimless. However, there is value to be found on the pages, not just on loneliness but a range of subjects. Reading this during a self-imposed quarantine hence makes sense to me, especially with the New York City backdrop of it all.
Click here for more information on The Lonely City on Goodreads.
When I do these reading experiments, I always try to find a trend or common theme in the books and I found one here as well. A lot of them, be it fiction or non-fiction, on the one hand dealt with complex romantic relationships, which were informed by the behavior of, trauma and experiences with the respective parents, but mostly mothers during their childhood. We take a lot of what has happened to us, good or bad alike, and carry it with us into adulthood. Sometimes that carries over into our love life.
On the other hand, there was always an element of people feeling misplaced, without a real home. It didn’t matter if they were simply born in the wrong country, an exiled royal or someone who found themselves alone in a city after a failed relationship – they weren’t feeling like they belonged. Seen as Sebastian Stan is very close with his mother, who mostly raised him alone, and has lived in several countries, often feeling alien at first, I wonder if that was the reason he was drawn to these books. It would certainly make sense in my eyes.
I think it is safe to say that, despite me empathizing with Sebastian Stan’s life and circumstances, we are not very compatible when it comes to books. While there were some interesting stories here and there, I have rarely found myself despising a book as much as I did Still Life with Woodpecker. I think that’s really the point that is putting me off the most, because I cannot wrap my head around how anyone could potentially enjoy reading it. Also, he mentioned it as a favorite not just once, but on several occasions, which means it really must have stuck with him. I’d love to pick his brain on why he likes it so much, because I’d be fascinated to hear actual reasons, but right now, it makes us utterly incompatible.
For now, I don’t think I would follow another book suggestion coming from Sebastian Stan, with the only exception of non-fiction books. They definitely worked out better for me than the fiction ones, this time around.