So, you liked... THE IDIOT by Elif Batuman

Graphics by Alice-Rae Pringle for The Book Slut

*Introducing* The Book Slut’s newest column, where we recommend books to you in what I believe is the most reliable and efficient way possible—because they’re like something else that you already read and liked. 

When I was in college I had what I thought was a genius idea. I called it content packs. It would take an aesthetic you wanted to emulate—a liberal arts film snob, dark academia, the cherry emoji twitter aesthetic— and give you everything you needed to get there. What movies to watch, books to read, Instagram accounts to follow, places to shop. Looking back it’s clear that I was just a poser. A poser with foresight though, 55% of TikTok is basically content packs. 

“So, you liked…” will be basically that, a circle spoke diagram around one book that fills in the gaps, creating a complete picture of all the things you’ll probably like. Books assembled into a loose collage of similarity. 

One of the most stimulating parts of reading is the way books can take you down rabbit holes. You can pick up The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, for example, and come to six months later with a self-given degree in queer literature and a minor in philosophy. These rabbit holes are best when self-directed, but I want to be a part of it, so that’s also what we’re going to do here, kind of. 

We’re starting with The Idiot, a meandering, almost plotless, perfect novel about a girl named Selin who’s a freshman at Harvard right around the time email becomes part of normal life. She takes Russian classes, has heady and confusing correspondence with a senior boy, and looks askance at her peers. It hits every one of the boxes for me: first person, academia, coming of age, observational humor, relatable outsider. But you could also reverse engineer this list, if you’ve read one of the books below and you liked it, you’ll probably like The Idiot too. 

The books fall into two tiers: the Top Tier is books that have something concrete in common with The Idiot, even if intangible, and the Second Tier is books that I feel are connected to The Idiot, but it’s more distant. It’s possible I just also love them as much, or I read them around the same time. But more than that, they seem to sympathize with each other. 

Top Tier

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Also a too-smart-for-her-own-good narrator who you wish was the voice inside your head. This has the same cleverness as The Idiot, but it’s more melancholy.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep is also about school and growing up, but mostly it has the same through line of feeling alien. Selin and Lee describe their peers with the same mixture of awe and disdain, wishing they were more at ease while failing to understand the motivations and behaviors of their classmates. I like them just the way they are. 

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank

The Idiot is not a handbook, it’s the smallest snippet, but it feels illuminating in the same way that The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing does. I think about this book constantly.

Second Tier 

The Seas by Samantha Hunt 

Also an addictive first-person narration with the same sense of complete relatability and striking difference, but The Seas is far more absurd than The Idiot. It’s also my most rec’d quarantine book because it’s SO fun to read. 

Early Work by Andrew Martin

One of my favorite things about The Idiot is the intellectual thread, the linguistics and the things Selin learns that are woven into the DNA of the book. Early Work is a much less hopeful intellectualism, but I adore it. 

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Out of all of these, The Unpassing is the most different in actual content. It’s about a family of Taiwanese immigrants in Alaska, about family and tragedy. The Idiot is not about family or tragedy, but I think they both unfold slowly and beautifully in the same way. 

Little Labors by Rivka Galchen

Is this really just a list of books that are narrated by women I want to be best friends with? Possibly. This is also absurd and kind of intellectual-y. It’s more fragmented than the others, and it’s mostly about a baby. 

Anagrams by Lorrie Moore

Anagrams feels broken into pieces the same way that The Idiot does. The observations have the same tinge. Everything else is different. 

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

The funniest book I have ever read. Priestdaddy is the only nonfiction on this list, but it seems that Selin and Patricia Lockwood would be friends. 

*Adds all to basket*

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