The Help Desk: I want my husband's mistress to recommend books for me

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,

My husband is having an affair. It is what it is, and we'll get through it. In fact, he doesn't even know I know, and I think I'll leave it that way. All the guilt has made him pretty attentive and sweet!

But here's the thing: whoever his mistress is, she has amazing taste in books. How do I know? Because overnight he went from solely military sci-fi to reading Eco and DeLillo and Borges, and having interesting conversations about literature with me. I never could inspire him step outside his comfort zone, but I never thought about what literature would engage him intellectually like this, either. She did.

Here's my problem: I want her to recommend books for me! She has to be a librarian or a bookseller. I just know it. I snooped his browser history and stuff, but he's more tech savvy than me and obviously being smart about this. Any advice? He could go off and philander with her all he wants, just as long as she recommends a big stack of good novels I could enjoy while he was gone.

Selina, Georgetown Heights

Dear Selina,

Congratulations, you have made me deeply uncomfortable, which is a difficult thing to do! I’m tempted to send you a polyp in a jar as a prize, courtesy of my clinically resentful uterus! (I’ve been waiting for an excuse to make polyp de gallo like those crunchy new mothers do. All I need is one human-shaped friend to share it with.)

So your husband may be gently humping Nancy Pearl or one of her equally well-read peers. I am sorry but not surprised; it is a Northwest bourgeois intellectual fear that many of us partnered book lovers share. But perhaps I shouldn’t be sorry – you don’t seem that sorry.

If you want book advice from your husband’s mistress without outing his affair, here’s the obvious answer: Ask him for book recommendations and let this bizarre game of telephone play out. He’ll ask her for advice post-gentle-hump, he’ll pass that advice along and you’ll hopefully get what you want.

But here’s some extra free advice from a woman whose idea of “personal growth” is stored in canning jars in her kitchen: Seeking out book advice from your husband’s mistress isn’t the healthiest pastime. You live in a city pulsing with book lovers, book sellers, bookstores and librarians. Perhaps you should seek out your own literature-loving unicorn and leave your husband to his own.