[Editor’s note: It’s Labor Day, so your devoted Flavorwire team is taking a break. To keep you entertained, we’re leaving you with our most popular features of the summer months. This post originally ran June 15th.] We’ve always wondered how many people read specific books to seem cool — and how many people deftly sidestep talking about the books that perhaps cast them in a less-than-flattering light. Recently, we were tickled by an edition of Ask the Paris Review, wherein the always-delightful Sadie Stein answered the question “What’s a book I should read to make girls think I’m smart in a hot way?” by polling her friends and colleagues. The answers, of course, varied widely, proving that it sort of depends on the girl.
Though it’s good to know what to do to seem appealing to the opposite sex, it’s also good to know what not to do — that is, to know which books might send a potential mate running for the hills should they be spotted on your nightstand or peeking out from your back pocket. In the interest of seeing the full picture, we asked both men and women of various sexual orientations to share the books that they think render their devotees totally undateable. So click through to see which titles you should avoid like the plague — or at least hide in a desk drawer somewhere when you’re entertaining — and don’t forget to pitch in with the books that would make you cut and run in the comments.
“The Catcher in the Rye — not because it’s a bad book or anything, but because, in my personal experience, any man over a certain age who still idolizes this book also still acts like a child.”
“I want to say ‘anything Ayn Rand’ (Ed. note — we heard this a lot, and at least one person referred us to this), but then I would be undateable myself — because in high school I read my mom’s copy of The Fountainhead and legitimately enjoyed it. For some reason it’s still on my shelf, although now I agree with Nora Ephron’s opinion of the book: “it is better read when one is young enough to miss the point. Otherwise, one cannot help thinking it is a very silly book.”
A few of our colleagues responded with blanket condemnations of specific authors: anything by Tucker Max, anything by T.C. Boyle, anything by Chuck Palahniuk, anything by Ann Coulter, anything by Marian Keyes, anything by L. Ron Hubbard, and anything by Charles Bukowski (“if you’re a guy. But if you’re a girl — and really reading it — that can be pretty sexy… maybe?”).
“We all appreciate Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but I have never met a dude who was super-into Hunter S. Thompson who didn’t also wish he were Hunter S. Thompson, who — regardless of your feelings on him — would not exactly be an easy person to date. The worst is when they’re actually writers.”
“Eat Pray Love. Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t a bad person, but if this book is your choice, you are.”
“This may not be a popular opinion, but I am immediately suspect if a man’s shelf is full of Hemingway novels. I just can’t help but think of my teenage heroine Kat Stratford groaning, ‘Hemingway? He was an abusive, alcoholic misogynist who squandered half of his life hanging around Picasso trying to nail his leftovers.’ Oh snap.”
Several women we spoke to noted The Game, “which is really just a guide for how to be a douchebag.” For us, the fact that you can buy a copy in “imitation leather” is proof enough of that. One of their gentlemen compatriots shot back that the book’s “female counterpart” The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right was equally condemning.
“Any of those ‘fantasy/romance’ series: Twilight, The Southern Vampire Mysteries (aka True Blood), The Hunger Games… Or anything by Dan Brown. Doesn’t mean that they’ll be an asshole. Just maybe creepy/unoriginal/boring…” We must add that at this, there were several cries of “you take that back about The Hunger Games!” but no quarrel with Twilight.
“Richard Yates by Tao Lin.”
“A shelf full of the classics and only the classics. It’s like they realized they wanted to look fashionable and then went out and bought an entire wardrobe from one store without making any decisions for themselves. After all, ‘if you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.'”
“Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Self-help is fine and all, but in public, ew, and from such a cliché title, gross. Rule of thumb: men, don’t let the book you’re reading communicate your personal issues to the world. Major turn off.” In that vein, we also heard more than one vote for How To Win Friends & Influence People.
“Crime and Punishment. I mean, seriously, lighten up already.”
“Whether you’re a girl or a guy, 50 Shades of Grey. ‘Nuff said.”
But to our mind, this is the most damning thing of all: no books. You know what John Waters said: “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them!” So why not fill your bookshelf with some of these?