Singles check one another out at S.F. Main Library

Fiddling with a heart-print pencil in one hand and a New York Times bestseller in the other, Ameet Kamath waited for his date – a fellow book lover – to pop the question:

“Will you explain why you chose this book?” Blake Love asked, like two dozen others at the Main Library’s literary speed-dating event Wednesday, as he leaned in to examine Michael Gruber‘s thriller “The Book of Air and Shadows.”

“It says it’s ‘breathlessly engaging … brilliant,’ ” Kamath, 36, explained, flipping the novel to its backside and pointing out a review. “I’m halfway through and that hasn’t happened yet, so I’m hoping someone finished it and tells me the ending.”

Love, 27, laughed and shook his head. He hadn’t.

“This is a good book,” he said, offering “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving as an alternative. “It deals a lot with faith and hope and belief.”

“It was on my list,” Kamath said, smiling.

Four minutes later, they were back at introductions with other book-clutching speed daters. Twenty-five lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender participants, and 38 straight participants the night before, got a chance to find love before Valentine’s Day during the library’s first literary speed-dating events. The events drew so much interest that the library hopes to replicate them again soon.

Announced at the start of the year, each free event was designed to accommodate 36 people. Enrollment for the straight night closed at the end of January with a waiting list of 50 people, said librarian Donya Drummond.

“This is changing the image of the library, showing that it can be a social place and not just a studious place,” she said.

The buzz at the tables, decorated with heart-shaped Valentine’s Day candies and flowers, seemed to tell that story.

“I’m definitely a person that gets turned on intellectually when someone shares what they’re passionate about,” said Jesse Mills, a 33-year-old homeless San Francisco writer and musician who attended the straight event.

But books didn’t help break the ice for everyone.

Some dates wound up in awkward moments of silence, and participants wandered shyly when the rotation system hiccupped and they were told to find bookworms they hadn’t yet met.

Speed dating can be nerve-racking for people who aren’t outgoing, said Jeremy Bollinger, owner of, a speed-dating service in the city for six years. Still, “it’s a good thing to go outside the box and leave your comfort zone. … Every five minutes the bell rings, so that’s going for you,” he said.

Though the library welcomed people in their 20s and 30s – much to the chagrin of some who complained about age discrimination on the library’s Facebook page – participants were asked only for their names and e-mails, so a variety of characters showed up.

Sharing a book about cooking and a sci-fi novel, 41-year-old Iris Tashjian, who said she came to find “if not love, maybe a book club,” walked away with the latter.

Because of the great turnout, the library is looking to include silver foxes and cougars for their own speed-dating event, Drummond said.

At the conclusion, some participants who decided they were lovers of more than books exchanged names and numbers instead of waiting for library staff to give contact information for those who checked each other off on purple match sheets. The name that one man jotted down, however, was that of Octavio Paz, a Nobel Prize-winning Mexican writer.

Kamath found a seat at an empty table at the back of the room. He chuckled, looking around and back down at his match sheet. The speed dates allowed just enough time to scratch the surface of the characters he’d met, and none had finished “The Book of Air and Shadows.” But he admitted he encountered some who were “breathlessly engaging … brilliant.”

“I checked off a lot of people … seven,” he said. “I didn’t fall in love, but I did meet some lovely people here.”