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.