The Daily

Ask The Paris Review

What Books Should I Read to Impress a Guy?

June 24, 2012 | by

Margaux Williamson.

After a week of guest-editing, I leave you with this piece of advice from Canadian extraordinaire Margaux Williamson. À la prochaine mes Parisiens! —Thessaly


Dear Paris Review,

Sadie Stein recently answered this question in your advice column. And now I’m wondering: what books impress a guy? What should I read to seem cool, sexy, and effortlessly smart? Seriously.


Needing to Impress

The answer to this question all depends on how long you need to seem cool, sexy, and effortlessly smart for. If it’s for a one night stand, or for a decent favor, don’t waste your time on reading (that’s not cool!), just go ahead and lie about what you’re reading. If you see some dumb, over-praised book on said guy’s top shelf, you can ask what they think about it and then say, Oh yeah, totally. You can put that book on your imaginary top shelf too or imagine that you regret putting it on your imaginary top shelf. Lying can be real if you imagine successfully.

This lie can be a kind of empathetic gesture, an openness, a pose you can hold to see if you like something new. But this kind of lie is only advised for the short-term—don’t forget that it is only a trick! Can you imagine having to carry on with someone else’s interests for a whole week? Or longer?! Imagine having to pretend forever that you care—or even worse, forgetting that your interests didn’t start off as your own?—growing all sorts of wrong trees in your soul.

So for the long term solution, you will need a different approach. For the long term, you have to keep in mind that the tricky thing about seeming cool, sexy and effortlessly smart is that, even for these “guys” we are imagining, that always means different things. I know it seems sometimes like they’re following some stupid guide book for these sorts of preferences, but who the hell knows what they’re actually impressed by in a real-life lady. And really, could even the most standard of hearts be so easily read?

For the long term, who really wants to be restricted to their own tiny world, inhabited only with other people who read books they already know and love, only to be impressed by those whose taste they could so easily admire but never grow from? It would be like always having to entertain in your own house and never being invited to another. Never a round house, never a house on the hill, never a house made of building waste material twelve feet under.

The only way to be cool, sexy and effortlessly smart without just being seemingly so is to build your own stupid house of books. Feel free to use all the wrong books in all the wrong ways, but the house really has to be real and you need to know why the house is there, in that specific location, in that specific configuration. I always find people’s secret answers to those questions (even when they are absurd) to be the most attracting.

If you’re having trouble at the bookstore, or with your own desires, I would recommend Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World. It is a good foundation for house-building.



  1. Hesspeir | June 24, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    It’s like I’m really reading Cosmo.

  2. Jeffrey | June 24, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    It’s fascinating how much Margaux Williamson sounds like Sheila Heti. Maybe they’ve grown on each other?

  3. Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl | June 25, 2012 at 12:28 am

    Actually I disagree with the author. Here are the books that will make you look sexy: anything by Camus, Hemingway, Vonnegut, Herman Hesse, Henry Miller, Cormac McCarthy, Djuna Barnes, Ayn Rand will all work on a well read guy. 🙂

  4. Roy | June 25, 2012 at 2:13 am

    Along with the above, Jasper Fforde, Graham Greene, Haruki Murakami, Calvin and Hobbes, Freakonomics and Daniel Quinn.. and you’ll be cool and sexy ‘cuz somehow, miraculously, you’d have learned to think for yourself.

  5. Michal | June 25, 2012 at 2:35 am

    Ayn Rynd? … Really? I’d be pretty scared having to deal with that kind of woman.

  6. Joe Carlson | June 25, 2012 at 7:18 am

    Any biography of Steve McQueen will do.

  7. Kevin M. Gallagher | June 25, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Henry Miller.

  8. Tom May | June 25, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Now, Joe, you’re talking about real men and real women.

  9. GZ | June 25, 2012 at 11:04 am


    The intersection of literary habit and sexual behavior is worth discussing in TPR or Cosmo.


    This list is predictable enough that there was no need to post (except for Rand – Yikes!!). This reinforces Margaux’ second point. When looking for a relationship, do we really want these sordid little lists as our litmus tests?

    Of course the books are worth reading but Margaux is absolutely right – why bother reading to accomplish an seemingly unrelated short term goal?

  10. JB | June 25, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Wait, ’50 shades of gray’ is not on the list? Oh.

  11. Rodger Jacobs | June 25, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Any Ian Fleming James Bond title always works:

    “Say, don’t you find that the books are far superior to the novels? The producers essentially used the film’s titles only and threw out the plots entirely, until you get to the Daniel Craig films, however.” And you’re off to the races.

  12. carlos | June 25, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    DFW, lypstye, shteyngart, dawkins, hitchens, steingarten,dennet, kundera, bolaño, the guy who wrote stillness at appotamox,anything from nonrequired reading ,dedillio, skip all the beats and miller the only thing you would get is a heavy sigh and a lazy roll of the eyes-

  13. Kathleen | June 26, 2012 at 3:05 am

    Uhm, of course you should have your own taste. But having read a book, doesn’t mean you like it. Anyhow it could be something to talk about, eg. with a guy you want to impress. Often I think it’s easier to talk about books I don’t love. Also it could be more interesting.

    And ps, I got laid for the first time after talking about Dostojevksij. Haha. Well, what can I say, I was a teen ager. Dostojevskij isn’t anything I’d talk about now, it kinds of bores me. I want to talk about new literature!

  14. Marc | June 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Margaux, what about that Bruce Willis biography I gave you several years ago?
    That should impress most guys.

  15. Jeremy | June 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    American Psycho, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Assisted Living, Volt, Knockemstiff, Broom of the System.

  16. Helen DeWitt | June 28, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    At some point X discovered a translation of the Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun in a bookcase and was transfixed. I am not sure whether he was impressed (by me, that is), but it was bad that I had not brought it to his attention because he had done his doctoral research on historiography. I recently gave a fellow writer Michael Lewis’s Blind Side and Moneyball and got an e-mail saying Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! My best tip, though, would be anything by Edward Tufte. Whenever I give one of his books to ANYONE they are dazzled and can’t believe they have never come across the books before. Whether the relationship lasts a day, a week, or half a century, the guy will always remember that YOU introduced him to ET and changed his life.

  17. Mouse | June 29, 2012 at 10:58 am

    This post is beautiful and perfect and I love it. Furthermore, Trickster Makes This World is the best best best. Thanks, Margaux!

  18. Hottie Monique | January 10, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Yes you’re reading a book that you think you will look sexy and cool but you look dumb with your act. You’re trying to act as someone else. You just make yourself look stupid. Be yourself! Now you’re sexy and cool.

2 Pingbacks

  1. […] to link to my B2TW comrades here, because it can seem a little too incestuous, but Margaux’s Paris Review advice column response to the misguided query “What books impress a guy? What should I read to seem cool, sexy, and […]

  2. […] —What Books Should I Read to Impress a Guy? Related content: What are the roles of everyone in the publishing industry? […]

Leave a Comment