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Elissa Schappell is the author of Blueprints for Building Better Girls, a Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair and Editor-at-Large for Tin House.

The author and columnist’s fail-safe book topics for kick-starting dinner party dialogue.

The Return of the Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
For the brooding Sam Spade lookalike in the corner who assumes you two have nothing in common, drop that you’re reading The Return of the Thin Man. “Oh, you didn’t know there were two unpublished Thin Man stories?” I am so mad for Nick and Nora Charles — those Thirties-era, cocktail-swilling sleuths who exchanged zingers like gunfire — that I named a pair of lovebirds after them.

Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie’s memoir of living under fatwa raises the question: Would you risk your life and loved ones for your beliefs? And, if you had to go on the run, what would your fake name be? By choosing to combine the first names of his two favorite authors, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov, Rushdie creates the first “Fatwa Name Generator.” Call me, Virginia Don.

Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall
I don’t sleep anymore. I can’t. And I crave it like a drug — a really hard-to-score drug. Mention you’re reading this book — which explains why we are hooked on sleep, how to get it and even how to stop snoring — and watch your fellow non-snoozers snap their eyes open in recognition. But fight the impulse to yawn, thus setting off a chain reaction that will devastate your hostess’ ego. Plus, no one looks good with their mouth agape.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Moran’s takedown of the tyranny of thongs, waxing and princess culture made me howl with laughter… and then shocked that a scant 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminists. Meaning 71% either believe themselves unequal to men and undeserving of complete control of their bodies — or they were not listening to the question.

When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald
Two words, darling: Molly. Ringwald. Who didn’t see some part of themselves in the tortured suburban teens she played? Now I see myself in the characters of her debut collection of short stories. Is it really fair that Molly gets to be a movie star, TV star and a successful writer? Also: Andrew McCarthy vs. James Spader. Discuss.

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
To discuss before everyone is too in their cups and prone to tears. These stories of how ordinary parents meet the challenges of raising children affected by profound differences (physical or mental disabilities, sexuality, genius) will raise questions about what it means to be human.

True Believers by Kurt Andersen
Andersen’s written the Great American Novel — whether you’re a boomer, slacker, member of Generation X, Y or Z. It bridges the spirit of growing up idealistic in the radical left-wing culture of the Sixties with life as an adult in a culture that mines your past for entertainment and is part of the establishment you once rejected. Read it before it’s nominated for the National Book Award.

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