I have thousands of crushes — enough that if they all moved to Wyoming they could swing the state blue — and I love nothing more than to loan books to them. I’ve loaned men My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, and The Keys by DJ Khaled (I recommend it solely for the story where his friends beg him to turn down the temperature of his hot tub and, as a brag, he refuses).
Sometimes when I offer to lend my crushes my copy of a book they’ll say no, they’ll just buy it. On one hand, I get it: I like to buy books because I like to annotate in the margins, and because frankly, I hate trees. On the other hand: By buying the book themselves, my crushes are missing the entire point. I want them to have my copy. As we all learned in high school, when we borrowed hoodies from guys we liked, it is sexually exciting to loan something to or be loaned something by a hot person. It’s charged! And a book is especially charged: They’re touching something you’ve spent hours and hours with, staring at and thinking about, and further hours carrying around on the subway with cover out, encouraging people to assume something about you from the fact that you’re currently reading Dreams From My Father (you’re nostalgic / terrified) or The Argonauts (sensitive / horny). And some books, of course, are more charged than others.
An example: A new crush once told me that his favorite band was the Strokes. I asked him if he had read Meet Me in the Bathroom, an oral history of the early-aughts NYC rock scene. He hadn’t. I also hadn’t. But then I did read it as quickly as it is possible to read a 640-page book so that I could lend it to my crush. In loaning him a book about the music he loved, I wanted to seem cool, if it is in fact possible for the Strokes to be considered cool in a post–Antoni-from-Queer Eye world. (Though I admittedly don’t have much of a leg to stand on here, as a woman whose favorite band is One Direction.) Maybe it’s more accurate to say I wanted to seem like I knew about the things he likes. (That same impulse led me to ALMOST buy a Grave Digger crop top less than a week after a new crush explained Grave Digger, and more generally, the entire concept of monster-truck rallies to me.) I learned a giant book’s worth about the early-aughts NYC rock scene, and then loaned that book to him.
He has still not read the book, and now I, against my better judgement, know everything there is to know about the band Interpol.
The opposite impulse is loaning a book to a man because you want them to learn something. One crush would not stop criticizing my grammar (a thing that only my mother and straight white men do to me). Look, I told this man: Do you think it’s possible I know what I’m saying is technically wrong, but I’m saying it anyway because it’s fun and because our forefathers died so that we could end a sentence in a preposition? (He did not think it was possible.) So I loaned this man Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by linguistics professor John McWhorter. I thrilled at the idea that he would learn that I speak bad because our language has always been evolving. My crush cared so much about correcting my speech that it felt charged to teach him something about speech, and exciting to imagine him reading some of the boring portions of the book and thinking, “Wow, if Blythe enjoyed a book this boring, she must be a genius!”
He read the whole book, even the boring bits, and still criticizes my grammar.
The most charged book to loan, the biggest book flirt I’m currently capable of, is Patti Smith’s Just Kids. It’s my favorite book. Perhaps it’s cliché to be a young person in New York whose favorite book is Just Kids, but before Just Kids my favorite book was Infinite Jest, so know that it could be worse. Offering a man my copy of the book that significantly molded my squishy 21-year-old brain, that helped me envision a life in New York where “commitment to great art is its own reward,” is me hoping that he wants to learn about the things I like. Or even more than that, because taste means nothing and who cares if you like the Strokes: What matters is values and Just Kids is mine. (My values are taking writing seriously, finding your people and sticking close to them, and thinking Sam Shepard is hot.) It’s such a big risk that it felt demented, only a week into a new flirtation, to offer a crush my Just Kids. As I texted him, “[extremely Natalie Portman in Garden State voice] it will change your life.”
Have any of these book flirts worked? I don’t know? I don’t think so? At least not with the books I’ve mentioned? Usually I am unable to remember who I’ve loaned any of my books to, and in this sense, loaning a book is almost never a great flirt: The men never read them, they never talk to me about them, and they certainly never say, “Priestdaddy was so funny that I absolutely must put my tongue in your mouth.” In a larger sense, have any flirts, ever, worked? People mostly kiss me because they think I’m hot, and I ask them questions about themselves, and I’m around, I guess. But commitment to great flirts is its own reward.