Who couldn’t use a little random companionship? Who doesn’t love to read? The problem is finding the best way to combine the two. Ideally, you’d while away a hot Paris afternoon with a stack of first editions and silken pillows, eating grapes while the guy you met at Gare du Nord reads aloud from The Killer Inside Me, or beneath 1000-thread count sheets as the dress shop clerk from Marseilles waxes eloquently about her love of James Salter.
But how does one attract the perfect literary tryst? Bar rails have long ceased to be the spot to find a random Dashiell or Dorothy Parker. Hotel lobbies are full of bores and boors. Swipe-apps tend to be light on poets and dramaturges. Sure, you could flash a little leg on a park bench while reading Trollope, or show some chest hair halfway through a remaindered Updike, but it’s an inefficient use of time. Some authors just don’t exude lust. Proust may have written magnificently of his ardor, but publicly reading Swann’s Way is for the desperate and cat-obsessed. Want to go home alone? Try flashing Dreiser, William Gass, or Helen Hooven Santmyer. Feel like there’s just too many people in your life? Give the bus two handfuls of Upton Sinclair, Poul Anderson, or Andrea Dworkin.
No, you need a list of twenty-five infallible lures, each of which I’ve personally tested on streets, in elevators, below decks, in first class, in fourth class, at summits, in lobbies, on submarines, in diners, at picnics, and on packed subway cars around the world. So choose a book and then sit for half and hour in a prime location and see what happens. The only rule is, you really have to read. No looking up. No coyly eyeballing prospects over the edge of the dust cover. Remember that full concentration is infinitely seductive, and a commitment to the page the most expensive of perfumes. Like a whiff of Foster Wallace, feel free to wear it liberally.
20. Twilight of the Idols by Deborah Eisenberg
Best place to read: Any stoop on the Upper West Side.
The Hook: You’re a tall, floridly intelligent woman with a thing for bald men who lisp, or a manic bald man with a thing for women who look like Miss Othmar probably did.
The Score: A brunch spat over egg white omelets and the relative merits of Karen Finley.
19. The Room by Hubert Selby Jr.
Best place to read: The downtown Tulsa Greyhound station.
The Hook: A bloodshot wink promising every minute together will be 67% better than acting out scenes from Requiem for a Dream.
The Score: Doe-eyed hustlers, bohemian Parisians, flighty shop girls, weary escorts, tattooed brawlers, brawny tattooers, Man-boys, Girl-women, junkies, liars, talented wrists, sour lips, sailors on shore leave.
18. The Collected Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis.
Best place to read: Between stops on the Q train.
The Hook: It’ll all be over by the time you get to the next comma.
The Score: Men who epilogue prematurely, women who fake their denouements.
17. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Best place to read: That dank alley behind the Pho place.
The Hook: Handsomely stupid CIA-types unencumbered by morality or pesky carnal ethics.
The Score: Fans of smoking opium on tatami mats and then not having sex after all.
16. Palimpsest by Gore Vidal
Best place to read: In a tea room surrounded by absinthe bottles, beaded curtains, and illegal games of baccarat.
The Hook: It’s dawn on the balcony of the Constantinople Hilton, by the shore of the gently lapping Bosporus. Your jaw grinds from the bathtub speed Kiki insisted was ecstasy, right before he stole your watch and tore your sharkskin suit. In the distance comes the call of a lone muezzin, which makes you long for a belief you will never embrace, or a least another French cigarette.
The Score: “My manhood is such that I do not fear leaving my orientation open for discussion. Or competing offers.”
15. Airtight Willie and Me by Iceberg Slim
Best place to read: In line for tickets to Coldplay.
The Hook: Chapters of gorgeously anachronistic slang you wish you were cool enough to use out loud in a sentence.
The Score: A woman who would much rather spend two hours in the back seat of a ’77 Buick LeSabre than go see Coldplay.
14. My Long, Nostalgic, Masturbatory Jewish Summer by Phillip Roth
Best place to read: A deli in Queens.
The Hook: It’s August in New York and you’re wearing tennis shoes without socks.
The Score: People who read lists like this.
13. Women by Charles Bukowski
Best place to read: The Old Overholdt aisle at a liquor store that still carries Old Overholdt.
The Hook: No euphemisms, metaphors, tropes, symbols, analogies, or allusions.
The Score: She just snapped a heel on a subway grate, he lost $300 betting on Dishrag to place in the 7th.
12. Studies in Husserl and the Phenomenological Antinomies by Theodor Adorno
Best place to read: The lipstick counter at Nordstroms.
The Hook: Screams “I have forty-five minutes of material on the dire implications of social media in a consumer society to whisper into your ear one pretension at a time.”
The Score: A babe who can spell “ontology.” A stud able to use “teleological” in a sentence.
11. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James. M Cain
Best place to read: The back room of a butcher shop.
The Hook: Says you’re okay with cheap wine, but would prefer cheaper whiskey.
The Score: Men who’ve read Seven Plays by Sam Shepard. Women who vaguely resemble Frances Farmer. Anyone soaked in Halston.
10. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Best place to read: A beanbag chair in the Recovery Room.
The Hook: Sanity, like condoms, are optional. And easily punctured.
The Score: Getting to wear Randall P. McMurphy’s blue hat in the morning, getting to strut around panty-less in Nurse Ratchet’s skirt all night.
9. The Portable Henry by Henry Rollins
Best place to read: Poking the book with a stick, as the campfire licks at its pages.
The Hook: Says, “Trust me, a spoken word performance about the years-long correspondence I had with a serial killer in prison is the world’s greatest aphrodisiac.”
The Score: Men with a black markered X on the back of their hand. Women inclined to say, “Actually, you don’t seem all that intense.”
8. Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
Best place to read: A dorm-room lobby.
The Hook: You’re a freshman nerd with tendencies toward random hysteria and Joy Division worship whose main seduction technique is to continually mumble “Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes, to a nunnery I would never send her, the brook of my love in which she would never drown…” and then see who responds.
The Score: Solitude has its merits.
7. Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker
Best place to read: an ROTC office, below decks of a pirate ship, while being dangled from a rope and spray-painted lime green, on a steel wire stretched across two Manhattan high-rises.
The Hook: Says, “Hey, wanna snort No Doze and drink kerosene while riding on top of a bullet train through the slums of Neo-Tokyo?”
The Score: That person you so desperately don’t want to be alone with, that person you so desperately want to be alone with.
6. Welcome Thieves by Sean Beaudoin
Best place to read: The crawlspace you’re hiding in after the homeowners unexpectedly return from the party early, with three quarters of their silverware and that limited edition DVD of Bob le Flambeur stuffed down your pants.
The Hook: Getting caught is half the fun.
The Score: MFAs in semiotics with baguette crumbs in their orange goatees, dropouts with your wallet in their purse.
5. Repairing Differential Transmissions for the 1994-96 Chevy Cobalt by Various
Best place to read it: Behind the Pep Boys vending machine.
The Hook: “I will flush your valves, lube your filters, and substantially increase the delivery of horsepower to your rear axle.”
The Score: Women with a thing for greasy women, men who dig men who dig fourth gear, women who dig men with a vague pine scent, men with a thing for women with a thing for Mopar.
4. Mountolive by Lawrence Durrell
Best place to read it: The slums of Lisbon.
The Hook: Says: “Yes, we insist upon the details, you veil them with a decency which removes all their edge of horror, there remains only what is useful for whoever wishes to become familiar with man, inhabited by fears they discuss only the puerile with which every fool is familiar and dare not, by turning a bold hand to the human heart, offer its gigantic idiosyncrasies to our view.”
The Score: Anyone flashing Durrell has serious game. Not for amateurs.
- The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek
Best place to read it: Whiling away the hours below decks in a chrome hovercraft owned by the Koch brothers while speeding across the Gulf of Aden with port-mounted .50 caliber machine guns at the ready.
The Hook: Offers the prose equivalent of a buffet of fetal pig, whale sushi, rhino cutlets, and a flagon of what appears to be an unusually dark Cabernet.
The Score: Very tall blond women wearing spats and a pince-nez, very short men who look like Bob Crane.
- A Happy Death by Albert Camus
Best place to read it: A first class ticket on the crest of the French New Wave.
The Hook: “There appear to be flames emerging from the port engine.”
The Score: At the moment of the tiny death they whisper in your ear, “In college I read L’Etranger in the mother tongue, and it was tres more powerful.”
- Sexus, Nexus, and Plexus by Henry Miller
Best place to read it: While in an already occupied bed.
The Hook: Guiltless sex with multiple partners.
The Score: Exactly.