Oh, you like Melville?

Five books to land your first college mate
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  August 27, 2008


The first weeks of any year of college are pregnant with romantic possibility. Summer lovers have just been jilted, tans have yet to fade, and the eyes, they are a-wanderin’. But how to stand out amongst a crowd of strangers in those lounges, coffee shops, and cafeterias? It’s easier than you think.

First, continue to dress like everyone else. Take it from someone older: all you college kids look alike. There’s no point in dressing like a hip TA. You will be labeled a hippie, hipster, jock, or prep, and there is no subverting or blurring of these stereotypes until you have a degree.

Second, leave your laptop at home. If you want to remember anything you learn in class, you’ll need to transcribe the notes later. Moreover, no one cares whether you have a MacBook Pro or not, and everyone in your class who doesn’t use one will think you’re a spoiled moron and will not respect any of your lofty pontifications.

Third, carry a book with you that is not assigned reading. We cannot stress this enough. As much as no one cares about your laptop or iPhone, everyone sneaks a peek at what their peers and classmates are reading. Beyond that, everyone makes judgments about your personality based on your choice of book. Having the right one on your desk or obscuring your pimples is one of the most important first impressions you can make. Here are five foolproof options.

Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT YOU Moby-Dick is the mother of all American novels, long and meandering, but it is also funny and action-packed. Everyone needs to read it at some point, and if you’re doing it now, you get bonus points for ambition.
WHY THEY’LL NOTICE IT Because they haven’t read it yet, but want to one day, and wonder if it’s worthwhile.
WHAT TO SAY ABOUT IT Most people who haven’t read Moby-Dick don’t know that three-quarters of it is about the anatomy and brain function of whales. Use this to your advantage. Take note of interesting facts.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT YOU If you’re a boy, not much, except that you have good taste. If you’re a girl, however, you are a force to be reckoned with. Lolita is obsessive, pervy, and a linguistic playground. If you don’t express disgust at the old-man-pursuing-teenage-girl plotline, and instead focus on Nabokov’s inimitable, hilarious style, you are, bar none, the sexiest girl in the room.
WHY THEY’LL NOTICE IT Because you will immediately become every reading man’s dream come true.
WHAT TO SAY ABOUT IT “Nabokov empowers Lolita just as much as he sexualizes her.” Something like that. It doesn’t matter. You’re golden.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT YOU You care about the environment, but you’re not (yet) an alarmist and you appreciate a rational mind. You want to be a better person, and one day, you want to start a garden with someone.
WHY THEY’LL NOTICE IT Because it’s clear you aim for self-improvement but you’re not necessarily an earnest vegan. You like to learn, you probably listen to NPR, and you don’t like to be preached at.
WHAT TO SAY ABOUT IT “You’d be surprised how many ethical dilemmas shopping at Whole Foods poses...”

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT YOU As long as you have an amiable look about you and don’t seem too self-serious (don’t go for the modern beatnik thing), you’ll seem smart enough to read old, translated literature and become absorbed in it. You strive to process complicated things, and people who think they’re complicated appreciate this.
WHY THEY’LL NOTICE IT Most importantly, reading The Brothers Karamazov means you’ve already read Crime and Punishment. Much like tackling Moby-Dick, this is fundamentally impressive.
WHAT TO SAY ABOUT IT How enlightening it is about the Russian temperament, you know, in the wake of the Georgia conflict and all...

Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT YOU That you read new fiction and are hip to the literary zeitgeist. If your prospective mate is too, they’ll know this book.
WHY THEY’LL NOTICE IT If they’re hip to Netherland, they will certainly be hip to you. And even if they aren’t, it’s got a handsome cover and what you say about it (see below) is simple and crucial.
WHAT TO SAY ABOUT IT It’s sort of Gatsby-esque, a post-9/11, American dream fable with an international flavor and a number of chapters about cricket. Again, it doesn’t really matter: just say "Gatsby-esque" and you’re all set.

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