I graduated from college with very little romantic experience and an extensive knowledge of English Literature 1918-1925. Flirting confused me. I was, however, very good at studying. And so I approached postgraduate dating the only way I knew how: by attacking it in the library, one reference at a time. If you mentioned a book, I’d read it immediately. Sometimes, in moments of overzealous agreeability, I’d claim to have already read it, in which case I’d also read it immediately, but secretly. Saying you’ve read something you haven’t read is only a lie if you don’t make it true by the next time you talk to that person, right? That person, for the record, will not remember mentioning it and will not be impressed. Also, that person will still never read The Corrections, even though you recommended it twice and it is the most unobjectionable recommendation of all time.
My method was not a terribly successful seduction technique: in what came as news to me, identical reading lists are not the key to romantic compatibility, even if you aren’t artificially engineering them. On the bright side, I learned many important lessons during this time, like “be yourself” and “you are not Charles Bukowski’s target audience.” Here are all the books I lied about reading in chronological order:
1. Oblivion, David Foster Wallace
“You would really like this,” Mark said, as we read our separate books over separate coffees in separate existential fogs. “It’s really depressing. Are you into DFW?” I was not and am not particularly “into DFW,” although I was and remain certain that under the right circumstances — circumstances that have yet to arise — I could be. I had, however, read him in Harper’s, because I am not a heathen. Based on this positive, if singular, experience, I took a stand. I did indeed enjoy depressing things, as evidenced by both my life in general and this budding relationship specifically, that was true. But he should really know that I was more into David Foster Wallace’s non-fiction. Consider the Lobster (the collection, not just the essay) was a masterpiece of the form, I said, which I knew because I read the Internet. I certainly did not know it because I’d read the book.
Results: Two intense months, ending in his half-hearted promise that “we could still, like, watch The Wire together.” I did like Consider the Lobster, though.
2. Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis
It seemed reasonable to me, given my general disinterest in both brutal hedonism and cocaine, that I had not read Less Than Zero, which Bill informed me was his favorite book. It would also have been equally reasonable not to have pretended that this was an oversight in my otherwise-exhaustive knowledge of Bret Easton Ellis, who I was definitely otherwise very familiar with, especially after reading his Wikipedia entry at home that night. After he’d gone to sleep, I stole it, read it, hated it, and returned it several weeks later, along with everything he’d ever left at my apartment.
Results: A book is a stupid deal breaker, but if a book is going to be a deal breaker, might I suggest Less Than Zero?
3. Lush Life, Richard Price
“Have you read Lush Life?” Josh asked me, and I told him no, no I had not read Lush Life, which seemed even to me to be a totally legitimate book not to have read. But then I added, because this is how sex appeal works, that I fully intended to read it, and not only that, but I had actually seen it on the shelf at my neighborhood indie bookstore which was definitely not Barnes & Noble. This part was true, and to prove it, I described the cover.
If I had stopped there, Lush Life would not be on this list. But I did not stop there, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that a good way to play hard-to-get is to read the whole thing immediately and email a flirty book report back 36 hours later. This shows you are real busy, and also extremely mysterious: how does she spend her time, he’ll wonder, when she is not reading the book I off-handedly half-recommended?
Results: An on-again, off-again summer of tears. Also, I did not particularly like Lush Life. Like the relationship, it was fine.
4. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Haruki Murakami
That I haven’t read this is a sacrilege. I know. I feel terrible about it. But the point is I haven’t read it. So when Sam told me it was the “only” fiction he’d read, possibly ever, I lied. Yes, I said. It’s great. Then he filled in the rest, about why he loved it, and why it was better than all other fiction, the fiction he had not read, and no further input was required from me for the rest of our short relationship. I went home and read a Murakami story in The New Yorker and didn’t like it (I’m sorry!). We broke up before I got the chance to pretend I’d read the novel, so I didn’t, but years later, we met for drinks and I came clean. Unlike me, he had not spent the past several years obsessing about my Murakami status, and unlike me, he did not care.
Results: 1 month non-relationship, several years semi-friendship. Still haven’t read Murakami.
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