Loretta Barnard

Book Bluffer’s Guide: Bluffing a Booker … Into Bed

O, the lovers we covet, those with large bookcases and hard covers. Book people. If you have your eye on one but are short in the knowledge department, worry not, for we can bluff you through it.


There’s nothing sexier than a fine mind. Well, okay, perhaps there are some sexier things, but let’s stick with the idea that a fine mind – or the semblance thereof – will get you some action. One way to show off your fine mind is to be able to talk books which begs the question: What books should you read (or pretend to read) to impress your date?

In the spirit of our Book Bluff adventure with Moby Dick in a recent TBS article, we’re presenting a few points to make you appear more well read than you might actually be. A favorable intellectual impression on the boy or girl of your dreams can go a long way, so let’s get started.

To display your extensive familiarity with literature, start by throwing around a few book titles that will be sure to have a positive impact on the object of your desire: anything by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Simone de Beauvoir, Joseph Conrad (all you need to know about him is “the horror, the horror” – those famous lines from Heart of Darkness, upon which the 1979 film Apocalypse Now was based). Some book titles to impress include Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet (an Australian classic), Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn (easy, there’s a movie), Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers (about the Siege of Masada in 74 CE), and Dostoevsky’s brilliant multi-layered work, Crime and Punishment.

Also on The Big Smoke

For maximum intellectual bang for your buck and to show your breadth of literature, mention Nobel-Prize-winning, Turkish author Orhan Pamuk’s 2009 novel The Museum of Innocence. It’s an examination of obsession, of romantic love gone weird (like seriously weird), and a man’s all-consuming mania for collecting the minutiae associated with the girl he adores. Seriously, the guy even collects her cigarette butts because her lips have touched them. (… I know, right?)

A master storyteller, Pamuk also conveys the zeitgeist of 1970s-1980s Istanbul – an ancient city steeped in culture and history and simultaneously a modern city trying to find its way in western society.

It’s a wonderful book and I’d urge you to read it even though it’s pretty long, but if you don’t have time, then focus on central character Kemal’s love for Füsun and the museum that is eventually built to celebrate that love. He might have had a bizarre penchant for pocketing stuff that Füsun touched – water glasses, ferry tickets – but there was no doubting the depth of his love.

When discussing this book, you need to make clear that you’re nothing like Kemal because obsessive love is creepy. So be analytical, sympathetic, and don’t nick off with your date’s serviette or anything like that.

Moving on.

Rather than pretend you’ve read Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust or James Joyce’s Ulysses – because in reality few people actually read these books – why not cite Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the 1891 Thomas Hardy classic. You can always check out online crib notes, but the main thing about the book is that Tess has a pretty shitty life and is very unlucky in love. And when I say unlucky, I’m talking about rape which results in a child who dies when he’s a baby, about falling for another guy who leaves her (he sure doesn’t live up to his name: Angel!), then marrying the rapist who she stabs one day when it all gets too much.

Whoa, who said the English countryside was peaceful?! Poor Tess ends up being executed for killing her husband and the guy she actually loved marries her sister.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles is true literature of its time and as long as you’re not a rapist or a selfish bastard or a girl who is easily trodden all over, then all systems go. You’ll demonstrate that not only are you well-read, but also sensitive and emotionally aware.

Also on The Big Smoke

If your date is a reader, try to make an impression by citing Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Oh yeah, that’ll make ’em sit up and take notice.

In Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2014), the 36-year-old protagonist wonders why, several years earlier, he had been suddenly dropped from his close group of friends. He’s colorless only in the sense that his friends have names that contain a color: black, white, red, blue (oooh, shades of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy!) and he sets off on a “pilgrimage” to get to the bottom of it all. He’s a successful engineer looking for life’s meaning, looking for self-value. There’s a Kafka-esque quality to the book and indeed Murakami often considers alienation and the solitary state.

Composer Franz Liszt’s Le mal du pays from his famous Years of Pilgrimage, three suites of solo piano music, plays a significant symbolic role in the novel, going beyond the regular feeling of homesickness to embody a tenacious melancholy in the central character.

This is a good bluffing point – Murakami loves music and it features in most if not all his works. He particularly loves jazz (there are references to Miles Davis, Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington, etc.) and classical music (Beethoven, Haydn, Janáček, etc.), but he’s also a fan of pop music. One of his novels is called Norwegian Wood, another South of the Border, West of the Sun – both well-known songs from pop culture. References to music abound, from Elvis to Mozart.

Murakami is a living legend and having your date think you’re familiar with his work will give you quite a few brownie points for you to hopefully cash in later.

Of course, if you’re grilled beyond what you’re able to bluff, divert the conversation by saying how intensely personal reading is. It’s just you and the author, a one-on-one relationship like no other. Showing such insight is a winner.

Hopefully, you’re off to a good start now. There are loads of books and writers that can be added to this preliminary list. Fortunately, The Big Smoke is your ally – check out the book reviews and synopses of various authors contained in The Big Smoke‘s vaults. Instant bluffing – just for a click or two.

Enjoy your evening, but spare me the gaudy details.




Loretta Barnard

Loretta Barnard is an Australian freelance writer and editor who, in a long career, has done almost everything possible in the book publishing industry. These days she actively pursues her love of music, literature and theatre, and is something of wannabe roving ambassador for the creative and performing arts.

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