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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ten Books That Will Make You Look Smart in Public

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 1:30 PM


Let's say you're trying to impress the pretty girl in brogues in you see on the subway, or the cute dude with a sweater vest on the bus. You don't want to be caught cracking the spine of something lowbrow. You want to proudly hold up something that shows off how deep and fascinating you are, and hints at the true ineffable vastness of your intellect.

Lucky for you, we're here to help you fake it.

One word of advice: don't try to Cliffs Note your way through these. Your professors knew then, romantic partners will know now. Read. You'll learn something, and look good doing it.

10. Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole


Confederacy was published in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981. Sadly, the book was published 11 years after the author's suicide. The novel delves into the heart of New Orleans in the early 60's and examines the sad and fascinating life of Ignatius J. Reilly. It's a funny and friendly read, with a variation of form and style throughout--letters and journal entries--that will keep you turning the page. One way or another, what with the cult-following of the novel itself, or the dark twist of the author's demise? It's sure to illicit some interest from a passing party.

9. The Stranger - Albert Camus


"Translated from French" is always a good place to start if you're trying to impress onlookers. This 1942 novel delves into the life of an unperceptive, seemingly-brutal killer. The Stranger (or L'Etranger, in the original French) explores all kinds of abstract and awesome -isms: existentialism, absurdism, naturalism and stoicism. Don't worry if you don't know what those are: just use the terms and people will think you're a genius. Camus plays with the form and meaning of the book so vigorously that any perspective on it could be rightfully argued as being on the money. One can grapple with the underlying emotion and depth of Meursault for a lifetime and never truly understand Camus' intent. So, you know, pillow talk.

8. Swann's Way - Marcel Proust


Many people know that Proust wrote Remembrance of Things Past (more aptly translated as In Search of Lost Time), but fewer have actually read it. Which is a shame--it's a crazy seven-part exploration of memory and its nature. Bonus: it's one of the longest novels ever written at over a million and a half words. So start easy, with part one: Swann's Way. Not only is this the beginning of the epic, but it's also where Proust starts his discussion about a respect and love of the arts and literature. The characters in Swann's Way mirror such beliefs: Marcel and Swann (the stories main protagonists) are both disappointed in the realities of day to day life and continually lose themselves in worlds that are largely fantasy. Any of the above information, by the way, will work in your favor conversationally, as will Proust in general. Score!

7. East of Eden - John Steinbeck


Okay, it's a little predictable, but this Nobel prize-winning novel is recognized and respected all over the world and thought by some to be Steinbeck's greatest novel. (Including Steinbeck himself--gotta love the writer's ego!) Published in 1952, it's the story of a family torn apart by their struggles for greatness. The parallels to the biblical story of Cain and Abel are significant and provide readers a splendid opportunity to address the similar storylines and appear to be vastly knowledgeable about not only Steinbeck's work, but the Bible. Which means you can look smart about two books: East of Eden and the Bible. Two birds, one stone.

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Stephanie March


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