Coffee Table Books
A coffee table book’s not there to read;
it’s there to stupefy your curious guests,
who read the titles surreptitiously
to sneer in secret at your shallowness,
or, au contraire, if you can pull it off,
To turn chartreuse with envy at your brains.
So you can see in choosing table books
It’s mandatory that you take great pains.
By this time Grisham’s books you won’t display,
And Reader’s Digest tomes won’t do at all,
Nor will Best Sellers from the New York Times,
And any Oprah offers will appall.
But still you do not want to seem too starched:
A book of comic strips will show you’re not—
Calvin’s loved by educated types
(But don’t confuse him with the priggish Scot).
You want respect but want to stay a mensch,
So don’t then obviously pursue esteem:
Exhibit Proust, but, come now, not in French—
Avoid such gambits patently extreme.
Have novels, though, by Eliot and Sand
To leave no doubt that you’re a connoisseur;
Here’s how: you chat about these writers’ books
Just casually employing “she” and “her.”
A history book should have a place as well,
But nothing, please, about the Civil War;
The media has made that popular,
And things well known are things that you abhor;
Religion and philosophy work well;
But not evangelists or Thomas Cruise;
Tom Hobbes (not Calvin’s Hobbes) and Nietzsche still
Seem distingue, as well as Sartre’s views.
And once the guests have left, chagrined or awed,
You may remove your tie and beam with pride
As you pull out from underneath the couch
Your well beloved, well thumbed TV Guide.