In today's society it's very important to appear well-educated and vaguely sociable (i.e. pretentious and smug). You've always tried to embody those traits, but you've hit a few snags along the way. Perhaps all of your friends have finally caught on to the fact that you've never read a single book by Ernest Hemingway, and didn't actually know who he was/thought he invented a sewing machine (the Hemingway).
Actually reading a book is a great way to become well-read and sociable. Everyone likes to talk about books. Everyone likes to feel superior to their fellow human. However before you can join a book club, or gloat to your friends, you actually have to read a book (or read the Wikipedia page on it... whatever). The other important issue surrounding your newfound taste for pedantry is that there are many books in print. In order to feel good about the book you just read you need to make sure that the novel is both obscure, and difficult to understand. If you can't understand the plot of The Racketeer, you may be an idiot. However, if you can't understand what The Metamorphosis was about, it doesn't matter because no one does.
Here to guide you along your journey of newfound pretentiousness are .gifs from the very funny Jeselnik Offensive, a show that knows a thing or two about the subject. For each book I will provide the theme of the book (in case you are someone that just doesn't get it), a very basic summary of the novel, and how to work the fact that you read it into conversation.
1. 'Huckleberry Finn': Everything is Homoerotic If You Want It to Be
This is a coming-of-age story about a young man named Huckleberry "Huck" Finn, who sails down the Mississippi River with his friend, Racial Slur Jim. This novel is a scathing satire about racism and how minorities are treated. After reading or "reading" this novel, one can humblebrag to their peers about how this novel made them reflect on American history, and recognize the plight of minorities in the United States.
However, talking about race issues can be tricky. So instead of actually trying to understand the meaning of the book and address issues in our society, one can instead talk about a perceived homosexual relationship between Jim and Huck Finn. Because talking about the sexuality of a fictional child is much more useful than trying to solve racial inequalities. Speaking of inequality, we come to the next book selection.
2. 'The Scarlet Letter': It's Basically Just 17th Century Slut Shaming
You know the story of The Scarlet Letter, not because you've actually read the book, but because (like most people) you've seen Easy A.
The gist of the book is that Hester Prynne, a woman in Puritan Boston, has an illegitimate child with a minister and everybody loses their minds. Hester is forced to wear a red A (hey, it's like the title of the book means something!) to tell everyone that she is an Adulterer.
Reading this novel tells your peers that you have a love of 19th century literature and care deeply about women's issues (which you should anyways). The Scarlet Letter is a very riveting read, almost as exciting as waiting for a dental appointment. If you can power through the book, you will have earned your bragging rights. If you just Google the plot and start to talk about Nathaniel Hawthorne all of the time, I will personally find you and put a red D on you (this D will be for Douche).
3. 'Finnegan's Wake': An Experiment in Incomprehensibility
“bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!” - Finnegan's Wake
If you try to sit down and read James Joyce's middle finger to the world of publishing, you will find many insightful gems such as the one above. James Joyce spent 17 years crafting his "masterpiece" and it is unreadable.
I would try to provide a summary of the plot, but, to be honest, I don't know myself. The trick to discussing Finnegan's Wake is knowing that anyone that's claimed to have read the book, in its entirety, is a dirty liar. However, you can claim to have read the book, because how on earth could anyone try to test you on it?
As James Joyce himself explained, “Oftwhile balbulous, mithre ahead, with goodly trowel in grasp and ivoroiled overalls which he habitacularly fondseed...”
4. 'The Catcher in the Rye': If Nirvana Was a Book Instead Of a Band
It's about teen angst... that's it. I don't know if you want anything else, but that's all you're getting out of The Catcher in the Rye.
This novel centers around a young, unlikeable prep school student named Holden Caulfield. In the novel Caulfield does things which make him more and more unlikeable, and more and more like a surly male Amanda Bynes.
If you want to gloat about having read The Catcher in the Rye, always remember to bemoan the fact that James Dean never had the chance to play Holden Caulfield. Doing that will make people think that you read and watch old movies, which is perfect for the person that does neither.
5. 'Slaughterhouse-Five': Because Kurt Vonnegut is EVERYONE'S Favorite Author
Who's your favorite author?
You may have said JK Rowling, or Shakespeare or Chuck Palahniuk or some other option. I'm here to inform you that you're wrong. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is everyone's favorite author (trust me, I've polled college students) and now he's your favorite author too.
The best part of having Kurt Vonnegut Jr. as your favorite author, is that you only ever have to read Slaughterhouse-5, because that's the only Vonnegut novel that people ever seem to know about.
To work in a hefty dose of Vonnegut into a conversation, just start talking about the Iraq War and at some point mention Tralfamadore. You will be revered by all in your company, even though a mention of the Tralfamadorians means nothing out of context. If the conversation starts to drift back towards topics that matter, just keep shouting the word Tralfamadore, because that'll convince people of both your impressive literary comprehension, and your marvelous charisma and sociability.
6. 'Atlas Shrugged': Where the Characters Are Boring and the Plot's Even Worse
Ayn Rand, the mother of libertarianism, had created a rich wonderful dystopia full of intrigue and mystery, and ruined it by creating the most boring characters alive. Dagny Taggart and John Galt are the least inspiring protagonists ever created, and reading this book is difficult to say the least.
However, as a pretentious individual, ignore the characters (and their many, many, flaws) and just talk about how the concept of Atlas Shrugged applies to the modern world, as though you are the first one to do so. That'll make people love you, I guarantee it.
If anyone tries to debate you on the merits of this book, just speak the magic words, "There's no such thing as government regulation" three times and click your heels and you'll be back home before you know it.
7. 'War and Peace': You're Just Happy You Finished It
This is a hard 1000-plus pages for anyone. You've earned the right to brag about this one. In fact, they should build statues in your honor and dedicate days to allow people to celebrate how great you are.
Reading War and Peace earns the reader two very prestigious awards: the Max Power Awesomeness Trophy (it's the kind of trophy you'd love to touch, but you musn't touch), and the Carlos Danger Award For Not Knowing When to Give Up.
Using the information presented in this list, you can now become the worst person that everyone knows. Good luck on your new life as a pretentious person.