Friday, September 2, 2016

Books to impress

He had spent a lot of time choosing the book to read in that bar. Something French? Sartre's Nausea? Gilles Deleuze's Cinema I? And no, this wasn't sickeningly pretentious. Vadik wasn't doing it to make an impression on other people. He did want to be seen as a charismatic tweeded intellectual, but it was more important to him to be seen as such in his own eyes.
Lara Vapnyar, Still Here

On the whole a serious novel, Lara Vapnyar's Still Here nevertheless has its flashes of wit, as in the case of the woman who "had forgotten how unbearably boring chewing your food was unless you did it while watching TV." My favorite light moment, however, occurs in the passage quoted above where Vadik goes to great trouble to select just the right book to be seen with in public. No, it's not that he is pretentious, he tells himself; he simply wants to appear intellectual "in his own eyes."

Of course, he could accomplish the latter by simply reading Sartre in the privacy of his own room, rather than pretending to read it in public. But no, he wants to be seen by others, even complete strangers, reading or at least holding a high-brow book. The boost in self-confidence comes from the impression made on others. That's what will make him feel better about himself. It might also be a way to pick up women.

Many of us have been guilty of selecting books on the basis of the impression they will leave with others, assuming anyone even notices what book we have with us. Notice that Vadik takes his book to a bar. Most bars I have entered have been too dark to read in, let alone to make out the title of someone else's book.

The books we choose to impress will vary depending upon whom we wish to impress and why. A person may want to seen with the latest  best seller. Another novel I am reading is set in the 1930s. Women aboard a liner heading toward Europe make a point to be seen reading Gone With the Wind on deck. Some books become best sellers, or remain best sellers, because they are books stylish people want to be seen with.

For people more like Vadik, who wish to be seen as intellectual whether they are really intellectual or not, some high-brow book will do nicely.

One problem with reading a book on an iPad, Kindle or whatever is that the title cannot be displayed prominently for all to see. Nor can they notice how thick it is. How can you impress anyone that way?

No comments:

Post a Comment