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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?

Sincerely,
A

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.

90 COMMENTS

64 Comments

« Older Comments
  1. 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).

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

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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!

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

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

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

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

  11. 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!

  12. 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…

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

    Awesome choice of accompanying graphic.

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

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

« Older Comments

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