If you’re looking for complacent cogs in the machine, stay away from the Heller fan.
Omnivore, a book review hub based out of London, recently announced that it’s launching a new dating website to connect potential partners through their taste in literature. I can’t number the times I’ve tried catching a commuter’s eye on the MTA solely on the basis of the book they’re reading. Here are Nerve’s suggestions for the sexiest, most personal books you can and should be reading in public. Women and men of the world: please, buy them, read them, celebrate them, and then talk to us about them over a bottle of wine.
1. Patti Smith, Just Kids
Just Kids is one of the most attractive books you could catch someone reading over a cup of coffee. It’s unpretentious, approachable, and soul searching. It’s also great conversation fodder, mixing punk music, fashion, visual art, sex, drugs, poetry, and history. A guy or gal who reads this on the train is probably ambitious yet sensitive without entering the danger-zone levels of feeling represented by notorious coming of age tales like On The Road.
2. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Despite its reputation, Moby-Dick is chill as hell. This book is basically the text equivalent of a well-worn Padres baseball cap. It’s a long read that mixes action, sublimity, and a zen-like affinity for cataloguing. It’s also profoundly strange; for example, there’s a whole section of the book that takes the form of a zany pirate play. If you catch someone reading Moby-Dick, snatch them up: they’re probably the perfect mix of respectfully traditional and avant-garde.
3. Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red
Anne Carson is one of the most famous living poets and she’s also batty as all get out. With statements like “i admire the parsimony of ladybugs” and “I made up ice bats, there is no such thing,” there’s a really good chance she trolled the New York Times reporter who profiled her. Luckily, quirkiness is okay when you’re a poet, and her books have benefited from her broad imagination. Autobiography of Red, the book that made her famous even among non-poetry readers, is a re-working of ancient Greek myth through the eyes of Geryon, one of the monsters who fought Herakles. People who read Red are likely thoughtful and nonconformist. There’s also a good chance they’re either in serious relationships or totally on the market, since Autobiography of Red is a love story. Good hunting.
4. Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle In Time
If you don’t love A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels you are dead inside. It’s not only exciting, it’s also profound without being preachy. I got through 99% of my college readings by relating ideas like negation (Hegel) to naming and X’ing (L’Engle). Reading this book in public conveys that you maintain a childish sense of wonder. It also suggests that your attitude toward life is a breed of dark optimism that can be distilled as “Everything sucks but I have faith it can get better.” Few literary tinctures get my loins afire like AWIT‘s blend of wonder, work-ethic, and cynicism. Kythe me baby, yeah.
5. Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station
Leaving the Atocha Station is Ben Lerner’s first novel. Previously, he’d published only essays and poetry (of which I am a big fan). It’s a smart, literary book that spends equal time contemplating the wonders of spliffs as it does the diction of Ashbery. If you read Leaving the Atocha Station you likely keep abreast of trends in contemporary fiction or listen to NPR. Other pros: Lerner loves hip hop and talking shit about politics. Strike up a conversation with Atocha‘s reader: if they’ve read any of Lerner’s earlier poetry or its hip hop allusions, they’re a keeper.
6. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations
Reading Walter Benjamin is equivalent to a marathon session of “It is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.” Illuminations (forward by Hannah Arendt, score) is the book that includes Benjamin’s most famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” This is easily the most difficult text on this list, and reading it requires serious effort. People who read this book must be intelligent, determined, and passionate about art. That’s convenient because those are also three qualities I look for in the people I sleep with.
7. Brian K. Vaughan, Y: The Last Man
Y: The Last Man is a contemporary classic in the comic book world. Like The Watchmen, it’s not quite a graphic novel and not quite a superhero book. Also, it’s highly parodic. In one of my favorite scenes, the protagonist pretends to quote scripture when he proclaims, “You will know I am the lord when I lay my vengeance upon you,” only to be called out by a “Daughter of the Amazon” for quoting from Pulp Fiction. Expect readers of this book to be down-to-earth, apocalypse ready, and willing to do whatever it takes to get you off. Readers of Y are also likely to be into comics, which is an unqualified good sign.
8. Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad
Basically a non-linear, non-biographical version of Just Kids, Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories was a breakout hit and a bridge between genres. The stories mostly portray, in various stages of life, a music producer named Bennie Salazar and his assistant, Sasha. I’m not really sure what else to say about this book except that its characters were all as ambitious and self-doubting as I am. Reading this book demands empathy and self-awareness; it also helps to savor tragedy. I can’t imagine carrying on a conversation about this book without getting into the subtleties of one’s own emotions and aspirations, then following it up with an off-the-cuff allusion to eighties music or coke culture: which is precisely the type of conversation you want to have on a first date.
9. Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces
A person who believes in the power of the hero’s journey and accepts the calls to strange, supernatural tasks isn’t someone who you are going to have to persuade to leave their daily requisite Weeds marathon behind to go spelunking in Costa Rica or WWOOFing in Zambia. And Joseph Campbell readers aren’t as bombastic or hermetic as one would expect; they’re just someone who wants to bestow boons on his/her fellow man.
10. Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison is a master of prose–she’s rightfully won the Pulitzer and revolutionized contemporary African-American fiction. Morrison is for the lover of historical re-imaginings and folkloric whimsy—without the heavy anthropology of Zora Neale Hurston or the agedness of Homer. This is the type of partner who enraptures people with their storytelling at a dinner party and (sorry) might have a competitive romantic following. Time with this person is going to be culturally enriching, warm, and highly verbal. But their depth, force, and reassured nature mean they’re probably not looking for just a one night stand.
11. Joseph Heller, Catch-22
I’d recommend Catch-22 readers to anyone interested in capturing someone alternative and mysterious without actually dating a conspiracy theorist. Heller’s nuanced, complex satire is not one for the light-or-heavy-hearted–its genius smacks somewhere in between. If you’re looking for complacent cogs in the machine or people who won’t test you, then stay away from the Heller fan. But think of all the boisterous, spontaneous sex you can have after you watch The Daily Show every night.
12. Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
If the words “dystopian,” “feminist,” and “subversive” leave your seat feeling a little wet, then come along and let me introduce you to the Margaret Atwood reader. A speculative fiction set in a could-be-soon future, the novel is filled with longing, hybrid animals, and the collapse of civilization. It’s deep, engaging, and makes you question whether we’re opting into short-term scientific advancements that will prove apocalyptic in the long term. This person will likely eschew the bar on the first date, have some environmentalist leanings, and while quiet, they’ll be intelligent and wry. You’ll probably meet their eyes while sitting under a tree. In a few short weeks, you’ll be taken back to their loft where you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their experience and sexual prowess.
13. Malcom X with Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcom X
Whenever I listen to Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, I experience an overwhelming wave of pride not dissimilar to the experience of reading The Autobiography of Malcom X. Although discussions of race are essential to the book’s content, the affects Malcom X produces are more to do with conscientiousness, ambition, and danger. Readers of this book are likely industrious, searching, and sometimes angry. Hot. Also, if you’re in a city full of spoiled rich kids, your reader probably isn’t that.
14. Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Smart, hilarious, worldly, and sophisticated, the Diaz reader can contextualize problems and probably knows his or her way around a body just as well as the back streets of his or her home city. In the novel that put Junot Diaz on the map, Oscar Wao is an underdog whose weight and multicultural identity hamper and enrich his coming of age. The Diaz reader will ultimately be an endearing hopeless romantic and someone who has always been a big, confused fish in a small pond. Get ready for tender kisses and a hell of a lot behind those eyes.
15. John Steinbeck, East of Eden
“I sort of am interested in someone who has read the Bible,” you say to yourself. “Not a religious nut, but someone who understands the scope and worth of a seminal and far-reaching text.” Might I suggest the person whose favorite novel is the highly engrossing East of Eden? This is Steinbeck for Steinbeck skeptics: he’s colorful, imaginative, and not overly pedantic. And for an allegory for the Book of Genesis, it gets pretty trippy. A lovingly used copy of Eden belongs to someone who will welcome you into their large family and cook you meat that they quite possibly slaughtered themselves. Their credo is much like Steinbeck’s insignia: Ad astra per alia porci; to the stars on the wings of a pig.
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