Dirty Books, Greek Travels, Oily Birds


Ask The Paris Review

Boy Reading, by Thomas Pollack Anshutz.

I am eternally that girl who guys want to be friends with, and I am fed up with it. Where can I turn to help me with my predicament? And don’t say Jane Austen.

—Jessica, New York City

I wasn’t going to say Jane Austen! I find her deeply, deeply depressing. Maybe you feel the same. If you want to read a genteel English novel where the perpetual “friend” gets the upper hand, try The Tortoise and the Hare, by Elizabeth Jenkins. (Jenkins also wrote a biography of Austen, but you can skip that.) You might get a vicarious kick out of Dawn Powell’s 1942 satire of New York media people, A Time to Be Born. Another tale of a friend triumphant. It sounds, though, as if you may be in the market for a seduction manual. I’ve never read one that rang true, sorry to say. Instead it seems to me one should probably read dirty books—starting with something outrageous and perverse, like Bataille’s Story of the Eye—if only because these books, the really dirty ones, give a person courage when she (or he) feels unsexed. They may help you acknowledge your awkward or forbidden feelings toward those guys, even at the risk of rejection. If you’re fed up, as you say, it’s time to act!

I’m traveling alone in Greece for several months this summer, and will likely be eating many meals by myself—what are some books I could take with me to be my dinner companions?

—K. Ridge

Everyone will tell you to read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s memoirs of his travels in Greece, Mani and Roumeli. Everyone is right. You should also pack two books you want to remember all your life—because that is what happens when you travel alone, you remember what you read (and where you read it). One of them should be hard: The Brothers Karamazov, say, or War and Peace, or Moby-Dick. The other should be relaxing but long and good to remember. Foreign bookstores generally stock Trollope, so you could start either the Palliser or the Barchester series and know you won’t run out. Dickens works, too, for the same reason. A word of caution about e-readers, in case you are thinking of buying one for the trip. I find they are deadly for difficult books. That momentary blip when you turn the page is a spell-breaker. And the fact that you can’t tell, effortessly, with your hands, how far you have to go and how far you’ve come makes it impossible (for me) to really sink into what I’m reading.

I’m so sad for those oily BP birds, but given the choice I probably would’ve eaten any one of them. Am I a hypocrite?

—Vicky Bard

A pelican? I doubt it! (Those blue fin, on the other hand . . . ) In more general terms, I think it is perfectly natural to feel sorry for things you want to eat. Especially if they’re cute and/or feathery.

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