Sophisticated: 10 Books Every “Intellectual” Needs
Nothing portrays an individual’s sophistication more than the cover of the book he is reading. That guy in the local coffee shop at 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon? Nevermind that he isn’t working; he’s reading Gustave’s Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. He’s killing it. Don’t be that philistine caught reading Tom Clancy’s latest on the train — especially on a Kindle. Everyone knows subways, trains and other forms of public transportation are no more than arenas for judging another’s character.
Prepare your arsenal of literature, with the intention of reading optional, and start impressing all those strangers worth worrying over. Have the right book lying on the coffee table. Your bookshelf should be kept full and well balanced in the genres of Modernism, tragicomedy, and autobiography. For your convenience, we have provided a list of ten books that will help you become as sophisticated and intellectual as that gentleman in the coffee shop.
To hell with cities, materialism, and establishment. Jack Kerouac’s largely autobiographical work defines the Beat Generation. This was a group of post-World War II writers who were inspired with self-expression, jazz, and poetry almost as much as they were by sex and drugs. On the Road is about Jack’s journey across mid-century America and his discovery of all things human. One of the few actually enjoyable books on this list, carry this if you want to come off as in touch with your humanity.
Ayn Rand described the theme of Atlas Shrugged as “the role of man’s mind in existence.” Right. The epitome of a book that received negative reviews but endured popularity nonetheless, Atlas Shrugged tells a tale of an alternative United States where the government has taken complete control of industry. It is up to the people to rise up and say no to big government. Carry this if you want to come off philosophical and as the politically contentious Libertarian.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the tale of not just one generation of the Buendia Family, but seven. Because we wouldn’t be content with just three. Probably the most loved Latin American book of all time, and one that few actually finish. Probably best to buy it for its real purpose; holding it and pretending to read while people think you’re cultured.
Less than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis was actually my favorite book for a time when I was in high school. I’ve read all Ellis’ books and will be the first to admit how the author is nothing short of a pretentious prick. The author of titles such as American Psycho and Rules of Attraction, he wrote Less than Zero in college and it remains his best work. It’s about a rich California kid, who went to a small liberal arts college on the East Coast, returning home to LA for the summer in the early 80′s. He returns to see his friends consumed by drugs, violence, prostitution and rape. It’s all written very nonchalantly, and this nihilism is responsible for its popularity.
I actually saw someone “reading” this on a train to Philly one morning and had to practically bite my tongue off to not laugh out loud. Ulysses, by James Joyce, is over 1,000 pages and tells the story of one random guy on one random day. Nothing happens. Not to mention the whole thing is around four sentences. It’s written run-on after run-on in a stream of stream of consciousness style. Kudos to whoever has completed it.
For all your locavores out there, add a sprinkle of environmentalism and you’ve got quite the package. I’m not denying this book has a lot to offer and serves its role, but it is definitely used by many as a symbol. Omnivore’s Dilemma tells a nonfictional tale of what we can eat for dinner, and how we should start thinking about it. Feel free to read and learn how to go back a few thousand years and become your own hunter and gatherer.
This is a really good one for this list. Well known enough to be recognized, but also mysterious enough to our generation for you to seem super intellectual. Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is basically a novel about rockets that somehow includes something like 500 characters. It also manages to squeeze in just about every theme known to mankind: everything from free will to conspiracy theory. My advice: skip it. But, it’s considered one of the best novels of all time, so I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about.
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky…did you really think we were going to leave this one off the list? Just the last name alone makes you an instant intellectual. I’ve never read it. Had to put in on here anyway, though. Just say it: Dostoevsky.
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, is an infamous book and also a movie by the acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick. It’s plot is some edgy stuff: a middleaged man who becomes sexually involved with a 12 year old girl. Pretty sick. There’s a lot of creepy sexual situations, but it’s also some sort of love story, regardless of how perverted it is. I actually really like this novel, and not just because of the controvery that has surrounded it since its publication. It’s pretty funny, and that helps you get through the fact that there are some very questionable themes going on.
If anyone has ever read this book on their own (aka not in high school) please comment below. Thoreau’s Walden is one of his many Transcendentalist novelists. In my opinion, Transcendentalist’s closest synonym is boring. Thoreau went to live in the woods as a hermit for two years and wrote about being away from society. So if you want to read about all the action out by Walden pond, please read. If you want to just carry it around with you because of its reputation, I’d recommend it.