If you’ve been dating 3 weeks…
Don’t Give: The Kama Sutra
We know it seems clever and titillating, and the new Penguin translation has that trendy modern cover going on, but it’s too soon, and it might suggest that true love isn’t on your mind. Or failing that (and depending how fast you’re moving), your new beau might think you’re trying to tell them that they need some new moves. Not a good start, no matter how you slice it.
Instead Give: Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan
It says “I’m smart and interesting” without saying “I’m pretentious,” and (if you’ve read it as well) will give the two of you plenty to talk about in those early-relationship awkward silences. Note: if your new friend isn’t a non-fiction lover, Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding will accomplish pretty much the same.
If you’ve been dating 3 months…
Don’t Give: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
At this delicate stage in the relationship, your new girlfriend or boyfriend is probably just starting to be absolutely sure that you’re not a sadistic con man or a serial killer. Don’t give them any reason to think otherwise. Also, they might think you only read books that you heard about from Matt Damon — not a good sign.
Instead Give: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
It’s funny, so you’re not suggesting you’re in too deep, but sweet, so you’re still hinting at the possibility of a future together. Even if that future includes the end of New York City as we know it.
If you’ve been dating a year…
Don’t Give: The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
You’d think it would be romantic, since it’s a semi-autobiographical novel about Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, but the (fictional) relationship is indolent, ill-conceived, and doomed from the start, and and by the end, you’ll both be sick of all this shoddy realism.
Instead Give: Now’s probably the time to breathlessly press your all-time favorite novel into the hands of your loved one. After all, you’ve been together long enough that they should “get it” and if they don’t, it’s best that you know now so you can figure out how to proceed. For us, it’s probably a toss-up between The Master and Margarita and Pale Fire . Double feature anyone?
If you’ve just gotten married…
Don’t Give: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
As devastatingly amazing as this novel is, it describes pretty much the worst fate we can imagine for a hopeful, newly married American couple. Unless you want all your dreams to be crushed before you even get them out of the gate, steer clear, at least for a couple of years. Trust us.
Instead Give: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
It’ll show your partner that you’re in it for the long haul, especially if she’s a total book nerd. And we mean the really long haul, endnotes filled with descriptions of fictional films and all.
If you’ve been married for 5 years…
Don’t Give: That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
Though this novel is lighter than some of Russo’s other fare, our takeaway was this: the person you’re married to can fall out of love with you, for no particular reason, at any time at all. Not the message you want to send (probably).
Instead Give: Hey, now might be a good time for that Kama Sutra . After all, you’re committed, super comfortable with each other, and probably far enough into marriage (not to mention your Tuesday night yoga practice) to try out some new, ahem, activities.
If you’re just friends but wish you were dating…
Don’t Give: Citrus County by John Brandon
In this novel, a teenage boy decides to woo a classmate by kidnapping her little sister and keeping her trapped in a bunker in the woods. Even though it kind of works, if the object of your affections has any inkling about your deeper intentions, she may start watching her back.
Instead Give: The Unbearable Lightness of Being , Milan Kundera
After all, it is sort of universally acknowledged as the “the sexually-transmitted book,” so if you’re looking to nudge things in a certain direction…
If you secretly want to break up…
Don’t Give: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
We know, it seems like everyone in this novel is a terrible person, and they should really all just leave each other alone, but if your current lover isn’t on the same page as you, they’ll just see it as a lavish romantic gesture and swoon all the more theatrically.
Instead Give: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
No one wants to wake up and realize that they’re dating Holden Caulfield. If you put the idea in her head, she might do the hard work for you.