Why even bother reading if you can’t brag about what you’ve read? This is a list for those of you walking around terrified of being revealed as the true dumb-dumb you actually are. Instead of talking about what you actually did last night (which, I’m guessing, is had a Rizzoli and Isles marathon while eating cheese in bed), why not get some serious lit-major props by discussing one of these books?
Before I begin, I want to assure you that I am qualified to make this list. First of all, I was a literature major, which is, as a former professor told me, THE cocktail party major. Second, I’m a know-it-all librarian. Third, I drink a LOT of cocktails. If that doesn’t convince you, and you refuse to read any further, just ingest this one important tip: /!\ do not talk about the beat generation /!\. Okay, here we go.
1. Anything David Foster Wallace, but mostly “Infinite Jest”
Someone once told me “Infinite Jest is a prop,” which I think is the smartest thing I’ve ever heard. You don’t even need to read this one, because I’m pretty sure no one ever has. Just bring it to a coffee shop and set it on your table. Carry it around with you–this will also impress people, because the book is very heavy. Have it on your bookshelf when you take a date home and tell him you how much you loved all the footnotes. (For bonus points, also read: Consider the Lobster)
2. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Joan Didion
Didion is one of the best essayists of all time. Her prose is flawless. Read everything she’s done, but start here. Afterwards, you’ll be able to expound upon America in the 1960s, a place where “the center cannot hold,” and John Wayne, and Howard Hughes, and good and evil, and the Haight-Ashbury. Mostly, the final essay in the collection, “Goodbye To All That,” will change your life–if nothing else, just throw this comment out there while pushing your glasses up on your nose. (For bonus points: Play It As It Lays)
3. “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Hurry up and read this before everyone else does, and then say, “Oh, you haven’t read Between the World and Me? You really should.” Brilliant and insightful, this is THE book on race in America. Coates says, “here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage,” whether it be slavery, police brutality or mass incarceration. You won’t run out of things to say about this book. (For bonus points: Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin)
4. “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay
One thing that really makes you look dumb is if you solely read books by old white dudes. This is a perfect cocktail party title because she talks a lot about pop culture, so it’d be easy to slide into conversation. She will give you smart things to say about Girls and Chris Brown and Fifty Shades of Grey, but also how fucked up white, upper-middle class, straight woman feminism is. If Roxane Gay listens to the Ying Yang Twins and still calls herself a feminist, so can you! (For bonus points: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit)
5. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky
Because if you’re an adult and you read YA, on occasion, or exclusively, you are probably a smarty-pants. Smart people aren’t afraid of looking stupid by reading what they want to read. Truly, this list is pointless. As long as you’re reading, you should be ashamed of nothing. But also, some of the best literature is young adult…To Kill A Mockingbird, ever heard of it? If your audience protests, quote Karl Ove Knausgaard (smart points abound), who says, “childhood is the true meaning of life, the apex of our existence, while all the rest of life is one slow journey away from it.” (For bonus points: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart)