We’ve Entered The Hot Boy Reader Era
Hollywood’s book-toting It Girls have met their match.
Ah, February 2020. What a simpler time! The coronavirus pandemic had yet to shut down the United States, the name George Santos meant nothing to our collective consciousness, and the most famous Meghan was still Markle. In this relative Eden, it seemed vitally important Jacob Elordi had just been spotted drinking matcha lattes with Zendaya outside of the famed New York City book store the Strand. Fans were whipped into a frenzy: Were the Euphoria co-stars hooking up? Was this just guerrilla-style promo for the series? What did Tom Holland think? But even as the speculation over their relationship status reached a fever pitch, an even more pressing question rose to the fore: What book had Elordi purchased in the shop?
There’s never been a better time to be caught Reading While Hot (or RWH, for short). These days, celebrities are celebrated for publicly proclaiming their love of books — particularly when they choose titles approved by in-the-know tastemakers. In the past, though, the RWH designation has been largely applied to Hollywood’s It Girls, with articles like “How Kendall Jenner Became the Patron Saint of Alternative Literature,” and “Kaia, Kendall and EmRata Are Taking a Page From Oprah” lavishing praise on women for having both beauty and brains (how strange!). For those in professions like modeling or influencing — female-dominated fields that are sometimes deemed “vapid” — books offer a clever way to subvert the narrative: an external manifestation of one’s rich inner life. Scatter them throughout your Instagram, or be photographed while carrying one in the crook of your arm, and you’ve used the tools of your surface-obsessed trade to prove there’s more than meets the eye. Now, Hollywood’s men seem to want in, too. Maybe they’re envious of the cache that literary cred lent the fairer sex, or they also want to prove that they’re more than just chiseled jaws and piercing blue eyes. Maybe they just saw the love Keanu Reeves earned for launching a small literary press with his partner and wanted a piece of it. Maybe they saw some guy lecturing anyone who would listen about the brilliance of David Foster Wallace and thought, “I want to be that guy.”
Whatever end goal he has in mind, Elordi is clearly campaigning for RWH recognition: In the wake of the Strand outing, Elordi started touting his love of Donna Tartt, Sartre, and The Odyssey in interviews. And in the past few months, more and more male celebrities have embraced their inner “book nerd” — like Noah Centineo, who recently posted a decidedly disheveled selfie on Instagram Stories with the caption, “I just finished Infinite Jest.” (To be fair, the novel sits at 1,088 pages and from my experience, reads like watching paint dry.) Similarly, “White Boy Summer” rapper Chet Hanks has used his Stories to flex his literary prowess, sharing a snap that read, “Just read The Bell Jar that shit was crazy lmao.” And while Chace Crawford reserves his Instagram for genuine, All-American thirst traps — like God intended — Deux Moi recently caught The Boys star paging through hot girl book du jour, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.
Some of these men have even been subject to their own ravenous, reading-centric headlines. Take last January, when everyone’s favorite “hippie dad” Chris Pine was spotted exiting Los Angeles’ Skylight Books, and Esquire published an essay urging people to “Be more like The People's Chris: buy your books locally, wear shorts, and mask up.” (The same article also reported that Pine’s fans have started a book club dedicated his recs, to which I say, sign me up.) After Channing Tatum revealed that he was co-writing a romance novel with Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay, a Glamour article wondered if we were teetering on the edge of a cultural revolution: “Is [Channing] the next Nicholas Sparks?” And the tabloids seem to take every opportunity they can to remind us that Riz Ahmed is married to a novelist, Fatima Farheen Mirza — and that, in an act that feels ripped from Wattpad, he proposed to her while playing Scrabble. They love words!
While the good publicity being a reader — or appearing to be a reader — affords celebrities in 2023 is undeniable, the question of why it does so still lingers. To me, it all goes back to the much-memed John Waters quote, “If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't f*ck 'em!” To feel justified in our thirst for someone, it’s not always enough for them to be hot. For some of us, we have to know that they have books on their shelves; that they’ve heard of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. That they’re not empty.
But which of these hot boys will rise to the top and become the male “Patron Saint of Alternative Literature?” My money is on a dark horse: a late-to-the-game entry from none other than Nicholas Braun. While the Succession actor has yet to reveal his taste in books, he’s currently starring in the film adaptation of the New Yorker’s viral short story, Cat Person. After dipping his toe in the literary waters, a staged paparazzi shot while reading Ottessa Moshfegh shouldn’t be too far off. From there, a book club is just a short jump...