Welcome to “What’s Wrong With Your Date Based On His Fave Russian Novel” — a fun listicle in which I actually use my degree for something! That something being: judging the tastes of all those trashboys you date/have dated.
I mean, I’m sure we’ve all been there: you’re on a first date and you get to talking about books; he mentions David Foster Wallace and you think he’s cute enough that you can let that slide, but then! then! he starts talking about how ~deep~ and ~profound~ Russian Literature is, and goes on to tell you all about his favorite novel.
This listicle is here to help you decide — is there going to be a second date? Or should you start looking into how one files suit for emotional damages? Some favorites are pretty benign, but some are real red flags (read flags! get it?).
War & Peace – Leo Tolstoy
This boy is here to waste your time. He is funny and he’s charming, and that may blind you at first, but he does not understand real human relationships. He thinks only in ideals and he projects those ideals onto the world around him. He will spend years (YEARS!) in a relationship only to realize one day that you’re not the person he made up in his head, and then he will have the AUDACITY to blame you for it. Get out now, friend.
Crime & Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Crime & Punishment is a book that ages with you — it’s a book that will mean different things at different points in someone’s life, so there’s a bit of an age threshold here: the younger your date, the worse this fave reflects on them. If you’re out with some 22-year-old hotrod who LOVES Crime & Punishment, let me tell you: this is not boyfriend material. This is one night of bad decisions you can only hope won’t come back to haunt you. BUT! If you’re out with an older guy who cares very deeply about this book, you can pretty safely assume that he comes with a whole heap of emotional baggage (mostly from at one time being a 22-year-old hotrod), but, for the most part, he’s alright now.
Fathers & Sons – Ivan Turgenev
This boy is so boring. But, if you’re sitting here on this date, listening to him talk, I’m sure you already know how boring he is. It’s worth mentioning that Boring is not necessarily bad. This guy isn’t bad; he’s fine; but he’s just fine. And, that’s really not to say that the book itself is boring — it’s not; things happen. It’s just that picking Fathers & Sons over everything else in Russian Literature is like actively deciding to not season your food.
A Hero Of Our Time – Mikhail Lermontov
This boy is a damn mess. He cannot take care of himself; he has never worked for anything in his life; he self-destructs out of boredom, and you had best be far away from him when he does. That said, he knows how to show people a good time — he’s very charming, very funny, great in bed. As long as you set hard boundaries, you could get up to four months of casual fun out of this.
See Also: Oblomov (Goncharov) and Eugene Onegin (Pushkin)
See Also: Neo Yokio, for that matter
Notes from the Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky
(also translated as: Notes from Underground, and Letters from the Underworld)
Pray there’s a window in the bathroom that you can climb out of.
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
This one could go one of two ways, so you might have to listen to him talk for a while to really figure it out. If he talks mostly about Vronsky, do not even be friends with this boy. He thinks of women only really as prizes and only really in terms of potential conquest. Plus, he’s a very selfish lover, so what is even the point? BUT! If he talks mostly about Lyovin, then he’s ok. He’s not great — he works maybe too hard, he might be a little condescending about how much he cares about the environment, and he’s funny, in kind of a mean and/or judgmental way — but he is, ultimately, someone capable of a good deal of devotion, and someone who does try to be better. So: worth, maybe.
Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol
This boy has never finished a single thing in his whole life. He will talk to you about his Big Plans, and he will never follow through. He makes promises he has no intention of keeping; he probably doesn’t even have a driver’s license, so he will ask you to drive him places and he won’t! pay! for! gas! He is swindling you out of your time and your money and your emotional labor, and he’s not worth it.
Petersburg – Andrei Bely
This boy means well. He is maybe a little slow to do things or laugh at your jokes, but he is weirdly thoughtful — both in the sense of being considerate and in the sense of being contemplative. He is generous, emotionally, and also with his drugs. He will always need at least a moderate amount of taking care of, and his credit score is probably trash, but he’s a sweet boy and he’s trying his best.
Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
This boy could be a lot of fun. However: there’s a non-zero chance that he’s one of those really aggressive atheists who thinks that basic manners are below him and who WILL, on a first date, insult your parents for believing in god/making you go to church growing up. There’s also a chance that he’s one of those guys who thinks he’s like, a cool, fun prank-master, but really he takes it way too far. But! Mostly! There is a good and real possibility that he’s just a chill, fun dude who likes jokes and thinks magic is real.
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
This boy is a real bummer, let me tell you. He’s the saddest possible human embodiment of the song “The Impression That I Get” by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. He’s never had to knock on wood, but he IS NOT glad he hasn’t yet. He thinks that suffering makes a person ~deep~ and ~interesting~ and he is constantly resentful of his life of middle-class comforts and his memories of an idyllic suburban upbringing. He’s a bummer and a pain and maybe if you leave in the middle of the date he’ll be grateful that you gave him something to feel wronged about.
See Also: In the First Circle (Solzhenitsyn) and Notes from the House of the Dead (Dostoevsky)
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
Full disclosure here: I love Russian Literature; I wouldn’t’ve gotten this useless degree if I didn’t. But, it is not nearly as profound or serious as people seem to want it to be. A lot of it is Jokes. When you actually sit down and read these books, you can see that they’re not taking themselves very seriously, so neither should you! These are old-timey soap operas! They were made for entertainment, and a lot of the longer ones are only that long because they were getting paid by the word!
A lot of men who will talk at you about Russian Literature do not really understand just how much of it is jokes, nor do they really understand the fundamental truth that no one likes being talked at! When you’re trying to decide whether to keep seeing someone, the way he talks about the things he likes will always be more informative than the things themselves (except when the thing he likes/identifies with is Notes from the Underground; there is really no saving that).
P.S. It is very important to me that I express something before you leave: Nabokov’s work is so much more than Lolita. He is my favorite author, and he has a lot to offer.
When it comes to Nabokov — be wary of a boy who likes Pale Fire (could go either way), be scared of Ada or Ardor, but hold forever onto Pnin. Similarly, if your date brings up Chekhov — liking the short stories is probably safe, but if he loves the plays, he might be a bit of a creep (swap for Gogol — plays: good, funny; short stories: too weird, too weird). Still, with Nabokov and Chekhov and Gogol, he could go either way. They are complex authors, and as long as this boy actually GETS it, and doesn’t vastly misinterpret the authorial intent (*cough* LOLITA *cough*), then you should be in the clear.
Tbh, people who understand and still like these guys are generally pure, sweet nerds who, at some point or other, were TOO INTO Lord of the Rings.