Anyone can borrow their friend’s puppy for the day and walk around a crowded park waiting for throngs of oglers to descend, but it takes a certain subtlety and finesse to attract someone with a book. What you’re reading says, in so many words (har), who you are: what you’re interested in, what you like to think about, what you want from life and more.
Which books have the strongest magnetic pull? We at Bookish like to think that reading of any sort is sexy, but there are some volumes that are arguably more fetching than others. We’ve put together a list of books that are likely to pique romantic curiosity. From literary touchstones to no-holds-barred sex manifestoes, here are 10 conversation-starting books that can give you a leg up in the dating game.
The book that says: I’m deep and brooding (in a sexy way)
Why exactly people are drawn to tortured-soul types is a mystery, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t capitalize on the phenomenon. If you’re reading James Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners, it signifies that you’re willing to follow your appetite for great literature and keen psychological insight to terrifically dreary places—down the wind-battered streets of Dublin, through its dim and fetid pubs and into the minds of its many desperate, disgruntled characters.
Bonus points if you: have book open to the collection’s most famous story—naturally entitled “The Dead.”
The book that says: I’ve got thick skin and big ambitions
Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir of her long and often grueling education as a cook is motivating in a gritty, get-off-your-gluteus-and-do-something kind of way. Reading it suggests that you’re not the type of person who feels sorry for themselves and who knows that realizing dreams takes work (OK, it shows that you at least want to be that type of person). In any case, it’s a great way to catch the eye of someone with high ambitions and a low tolerance for B.S.
Bonus points if you: read it with furrowed eyebrows and tight-lipped determination.
3. Ethical Slut
The book that says: Leave your inhibitions at the door
The Ethical Slut is a kind of thinking person’s guide to responsible hedonism, but you don’t have to be a modern-day Caligula to benefit from the sexy vibes it’s certain to give off. In the book, authors Dossie Eastonand Janet W. Hardy unravel myths about “good” and “bad” sexual behavior and argue that we should let go of social pressures and adopt a more celebratory attitude toward erotic pleasure. No matter your individual bedroom preferences, toting a copy of The Ethical Slut shows that, when it comes to discussing sex, you’re an open book.
Bonus points if you: read it in crowded public places with no shame.
The book that says: “Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs.”
If you’re spotted with a copy of a Shakespeare play or a book of his sonnets, it shows that you have an appreciation for love’s sometimes-theatrical extremes; you know tragedy, you know comedy, you know Romeo’s serenade to Juliet by heart.
Bonus points if you: periodically look away from the book and mouth lines back to yourself intently.
The book that says: I’m off to save the world—come with me
Reading Dave Eggers’ novel about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath suggests that you can think outside yourself in a socially conscious way—no small thing in the time of Generation “Me.” Read it to connect with someone who finds concern for the world as sexy as you do.
Bonus points if you: dig your copy from a giant hiking backpack—out of which you happen to live.
The book that says: I’m your path to enlightenment
Plenty of people have read Robert Pirsig’s New Age classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (and some have gone as far as having quotes from it tattooed in their bodies). But carrying a copy of its predecessor, Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery, shows that you’ve taken your spiritual education one step further. Chronicling the author’s five-year Zen apprenticeship in Japan, the book is filled with intriguing (and equally tattooable) insights on meditation, the body and ego-transcendence. It’s the ideal conversation starter if you’re looking attract someone who admires deep thought as much as deep relaxation.
Bonus points if you: sit in the Lotus position while reading it.
The book that says: I’ll wow you with my limitless imagination
Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s comic book series about Yorick Brown (hello Hamlet reference!), a jobless ne’er-do-well who one day wakes to find he’s the last male human being on Earth, is a vivid and imaginative tale that also happens to be very romantic. In the first book in the series, Yorick goes searching for his girlfriend, presumably to figure out what happened to the rest of the world’s men and, while he’s at it, propagate the human race. All conversational roads leading from this book look promising.
Bonus points if you: have the drawing skills necessary to create your own romantic post-apocalyptic comic.
The book that says: I’ll stretch your mind over a glass of wine
Philosophy is sexy, and sexier still is philosophy on the topic of love. Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse applies structural theory to the concept of love and draws upon the writings of thinkers such as Plato, Proust, and others. Even if your potential catch isn’t interested in deconstructing intimacy, the book is a badge of deep thought that shows you’re anything but flip when it comes to flirtation.
Bonus points if you: take copious notes in the margins.
9. Swann’s Way
The book that says: I’ll write you love poems until my hand falls off
Making your way through a Proust novel not only boosts your literary cred—it also reveals your sensitivity in matters of the heart. Swann’s Way, the first in his seven-novel series, Remembrance of Things Past, is an armory of observations on time, love, loss and memory.
Bonus points if you: read it in the original French.
The book that says: I’m your perfect plus-1 for a cocktail party
Reading this quirky book about the history of cartography by Ken Jenningsshows that you, like the Jeopardy! champion, are a voracious info-vore who absorbs facts and trivia with a giddy pleasure. Your crush will see that you’re a curious person who’s game to fill any conversation lull with your latest cache of knowledge.
Bonus points if you: repeatedly refer to an encyclopedia for confirmation.