The Help Desk: The high cost of oonce oonce oonce oonce

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

Help! My boyfriend and I are both serious readers. We spend most of our nights in working through our piles of books. We even got rid of our TV.

But we didn't get rid of our stereo, and he insists on having it on while he reads. He listens to the most awful club music, all "oonce oonce oonce oonce”. It drives me crazy. I literally cannot concentrate while all that racket is on. He says if it’s too quiet, something feels wrong to him, and he can’t focus. It's like he has a second person in his brain, who he needs to distract so that he can read.

We've been alternating nights, one with music, one without, but the person who can't read that night just ends up on the goddamnned computer, cranky because they’d rather be reading their book. What can we do to address this?

Mark, on Harvard

Dear Mark,

You know who else hates "oonce oonce oonce" music? Spiders. Nothing saps the serenity of a bookish night at home more than seeing hundreds of spiders skittering about, angrily drumming thousands of tiny legs on your walls as if to spell in morse code T-U-R-N-T-H-A-T-F-O-U-L-S-H-I-T-O-F-F.

Fortunately, Valentines Day is upon us. Call me old fashioned but I can't think of a more romantic gift to get your bf than a pregnant wolf spider. If you were not aware, wolf spiders are agile hunters (with positively buxom abdomens, if you're into that sort of thing) who dislike music of any sort – even Buena Vista Social Club, a universal spider favorite! – and are known to release venom when provoked.

Alternately, you could buy your bf a quality pair of headphones. Or buy yourself a quality pair of noise-canceling headphones. What you cannot do is buy your spiders headphones. The technology simply is not there.