The Help Desk: Jonathan Livingston See-ya

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

What’s the protocol for weaseling out of a relationship with someone over a book they own? I just discovered that my new-ish girlfriend has Jonathan Livingston Seagull steadying a wobbly sideboard in the basement of her apartment building. She oozes a snobby nastiness regarding her otherwise excellent taste in books that really turns me on, and I suppose there’s a chance that the sideboard isn’t even hers, but those facts are irrelevant. I don’t want to do the whole “it’s not you; it’s me" thing because it’s obviously not me, and I do believe that she deserves an honest explanation. I'd prefer a recommendation for action that doesn't make me look like a jerk.

Pavel, Capitol Hill

Dear Pavel,

Here is what you must do:

  1. Invite yourself over to your newish partner’s house and ask her to take a seat on her own furniture.

  2. Tell her you have something to say, and you hope she doesn’t judge you for it because you’re rather insecure and even though what you have to say will definitely make you seem like a jerk, you hope she is mature enough to keep those thoughts to herself that because maintaining the illusion that you’re not a jerk is very important to your half-baked ego.

  3. Tell her that you spotted Jonathan Livingston Seagull sitting in her communal basement propping up piece of broken furniture that may or may not belong to her.

  4. Explain to her that this has killed your boner for your fledgeling relationship. Since your previous few statements may seem nonsensical to her, you may wish to use an analogy to explain yourself: Your boner is like a whistle pig – a speed racing copulator that’s suspicious of its own shadow and absolutely terrified of top- or even bottom-level predators like seagulls and women who may or may not read books it disapproves of. Explain that your rodent boner for her is dead now and its carcass is being carried off by metaphorical seagulls to a new plane of existence that is not unlike heaven, yet isn’t heaven (if she’s actually read Jonathan Livingston Seagull these words may comfort her).

  5. Finally, shit your pants. This will ensure she’s too busy getting you off her furniture and out the door to care about what a jerk you are. Months, even years from now she will remember you with confusion and pity. Your story will become the fodder of legendary happy hours, which may be the best thing she gets out of this abbreviated relationship.