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Dear Paris Review, What Books Impress a Girl?

June 8, 2012 | by

Dear Paris Review,

Someone sent me this text message yesterday: Whats a book I should read to make girls think I'm smart in a hot way? I want to seem like a douchey intellectual instead of my deadbeat self. What should I tell him?


Dear A,

The correct answer is probably that your friend should be secure in his tastes, find someone who loves him for who he is, and not worry about impressing anyone. Many movies have demonstrated the pitfalls of posturing and the inevitable public unmasking that follows. That said, our job here is to try to answer questions, and as such, I took the unusual step of soliciting a range of answers from both men and women.  (My own immediate response was to offer the following formula: worst book of great author, a gambit that men of this type also apply to albums, i.e. Metal Machine Music, which they will claim is underrated.) Then too, there is the dual nature of the question: Does the author wish to come across as a poseur for some reason, or attract a woman of substance?  If his goal is (inexplicably) the former, the female contingent offered the following names: Madness and Civilization; The Power Broker; Žižek (any), The Brothers Karamazov. (All worthy reads, needless to say, but often used for ostentatious or intimidating purposes.) And, added one, “I like DFW, but he’s the novelist equivalent of a neg.”

As to books the women whom I spoke to found appealing (and please note that this implies actual reading, not use as props): At Swim Two Birds, The Beauty Myth, “any book read twice.” Elaborated one: “Extra points for Martin Amis memoir, minus points for other Martin Amis nonfiction. Someone who actually appears to be reading William Gaddis for real and not just carrying it around will always rate a second glance. And a straight man reading Mary Gaitskill would be nearly irresistible to me.”

When faced with the same question, male correspondents provided the following terse responses: “Cantos, Pound.” “Kathy Acker.” “Sontag.”

Portnoys Complaint,” said one, “may as well be Yiddish for douche.”

Others were more expansive. “How about Laszlo Kraszahorkai’s Satantango? It’s ostentatious, hip, handsomely designed (looks great on a bedside table), and comes with seals of approval from Sontag, Sebald, and James Wood. It is also, for the most part, unreadable.”

Gravitys Rainbow, all the completed Caro LBJ books, Brothers Karamazov. But if you really want ‘I am a brooding intellectual with an effortless knowledge of contemporary culture,’ I think Matterhorn is tough to top.”

“There’s a difference,” remarked one colleague, “between getting a girl to think you’re smart, and getting a girl to WANT to talk to you. The following are books that will make girls want to talk to you.

—Greatest pick-up book of all time is Just Kids by Patti Smith, because every girl has read it and they ALL want to talk about it.
—Any book ever written by Haruki Murakami
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
White Album by Joan Didion
What We Talk About, When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. (Don’t question it. Just trust.)”

And in corroboration, one fellow says: “If it means anything, the only time a girl ever sat down and started talking to me out of nowhere was when I was reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem in college.  Didion has an effect on people.”

Take this for what it’s worth, and we hope you actually find a book you love in the process.

Have a question for the editors of The Paris Review? E-mail us.



« Older Comments
  1. R. Armstrong | June 16, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I am female and I have never read the Patti Smith. Nor would I be interested in talking to men reading most of the above. I would want to talk to anyone reading any bell hooks, C.D. Wright, Eliot yes, Nabokov yes, even Lolita if they’re on to the second half and have never seen the movies, Tolstoy if they can talk about it, Didion is fine, I strongly dislike Murakami and think it’s dull that everyone wants to talk about it, I would talk to, out of the blue, anyone reading Keri Hulme’s The Bone People. Or, though this will likely never happen, the Collected Works of Elizabeth I or Drama of the English Renaissance: the Tudor Period. I’d probably get off the train with you if I caught you reading that. Only if you were annotating.

  2. Shana | June 18, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    For me, it was less about what they did read and more about what they didn’t read. I wasn’t interested in a guy who’s book shelves were filled with Robert Ludlum and James Patterson. I couldn’t care less if you were reading Pynchon or Delillo (considering I hate them both), but I did care that a guy was reading interesting and mentally stimulating books, rather than drivel. And working in a book store for 2+ years, I encountered a lot of guys reading drivel.

  3. David | June 18, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    If I ever met a woman laughing while reading PG Wodehouse, I would talk to her.

  4. scott | June 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    I wouldn’t date a woman who was impressed by anything about the pompous and hypocritical Zizek.

  5. Tim | June 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    The Brothers Karamazov does not belong in this kind of discussion. Don’t befoul it with your list-making like it is any other book.

  6. Tim | June 18, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    P.S. Do you know of any literary blogs I should mention reading if I want to come across as a poseur?

  7. nicholas | June 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Fifteen years ago I sat down on a crowded subway train from Berkeley to SF across the aisle from a woman reading V14 of the Collected Works of Marx/Engels. Astounded, I struck up a conversation. Alas, her husband was a grad student writing a paper on 19th century British history and she was reading it on her way to work because she didn’t have something else to read.

  8. SF PROF. | June 20, 2012 at 3:42 am

    The Fountainhead. Read it on campus. A cheerleader type will sit down and tell you, eyes wide, how BRAVE you are and how she thought she was the only one in the world who LOVED that book. Say, “You too? I thought I was the only one!” You’re off! Another day, a leftist will sit down and tell you she HATES Ayn Rand and ask if you’re CRAZY or WHAT? Later you will have fabulous hatesex with her.

  9. Jagan | June 20, 2012 at 4:52 am

    My current love interest was initially attracted to me when I started talking about the debut novels of Barnes and McInerney. We both laughed our guts out when reading about the debauched NYC in Big City, Bright Lights.
    On a general level, this article is of no help to me. I live in India and, apart from Sheldon, Rand, Bhagat, M&B’s, girls here read zilch.

  10. george | June 20, 2012 at 9:29 am

    The question, the answers, most of the comments: pathetic.
    What a poverty-stricken way of looking at life, relationships…

  11. djk simon | June 20, 2012 at 9:51 am

    In high school, guy carrying around well-worn copy of Bertrand Russell – I married him (even though he later admitted it was all an enigma to him).

  12. djk simon | June 20, 2012 at 9:55 am

    In high school, guy carrying around well-worn copy of Bertrand Russell – I married him (even though he told me later that it was all an enigma to him).

  13. April Putnam | June 20, 2012 at 11:04 am

    No one, not even the most cloying hipster, claims that Metal Machine Music is underrated.

  14. chris | June 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    “Do USAians view USAian writers as intellectual?”
    Not usually, art is sort of pre-intellectual imo. You don’t have to write intertextual novels to be an intellectual.

    Although, of course, all these labels and signifiers and ways of identification are kinda silly.

  15. chris | June 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I’m not going to say I like non-writers, but I do enjoy dating/being around nonpretentious people in general. Where I’m from, in the midwest, it’s considered showy to talk about books at any meaningful level in public, so I’ll stick to my provincialism thank you.

  16. Mike | June 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Cliched perhaps, but a woman struck up a conversation with me when I was carrying Plath’s “Colossus and Other Poems” (not why I was carrying it around, I hasten to add). A cashier once talked to me about Omoo (or maybe Typee, I forget). I’ve read a lot of Acker and don’t recall ever impressing any women by it.

  17. Roger | June 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Try a Porsche owner’s manual.

    I spend my life reading complex books in front of beautiful women and they always choose the guy with the abs.

  18. Anthony | June 22, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    “As a radical departure from the rest of Reed’s catalog, Metal Machine Music is generally considered to be either a joke, a grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation, or an early example of noise music.”
    –Wikipedia, the wise

  19. Bob | June 26, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Is no one using their dog-eared and highlighted copy of the latest Paris Review? The one with marginal notes and little asterisks on the Table of Contents page beside their favorite reads?

    Perhaps the cover is coffee-stained from sitting under the cappuccino mug from your yearly suscription…how worldly, how Of-The-Now you are!

  20. Pulseguy | July 9, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    One Hundred Years of Solitude, in Spanish. If you like intellectual Latinas.

  21. Pulseguy | July 9, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    A prospectus for your own IPO. That should do it.

  22. Robt | February 15, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Superb post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Thank you!

  23. Island of Conclusions | March 24, 2014 at 12:38 am

    I love that my favorite book, phantom tollbooth, was on the list. Now I just need to remember to read it in public more…

  24. mumble | March 24, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Awesome choice of accompanying graphic.

  25. mumble | March 24, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Or you could just wear a T-shirt that says “Ask me about Rachel McAdams movies.”

  26. Carlos Mondaine | February 9, 2015 at 4:56 am

    En realidad, los pilotos de aviones no tripulados son todavía pilotos. Ellos sólo se sientan en un búnker en Texas en lugar de en el propio avión. Pero la “cabina” es todavía una cabina, y todavía volar el avión.

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    whoah this weblog is great i love studying your articles.
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« Older Comments

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