How New York Review of Books became hookup spot for intellectual elite

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A recent issue of the New York Review of Books served up critiques of early Joan Didion, Brazilian literary master Machado de Assis and Italy’s celebrated 17th-century baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi.

Ravenous readers could also feast on less erudite content — intriguing personal ads appearing on the magazine’s back pages and website.

The classifieds have unpredictably become a wildly popular spot for brainiacs to meet and mate during the pandemic. Traditionally the preserve of older subscribers, it’s now become a hookup hub for Gen X elites.

Asked why she placed a recent ad in the Review, one card-carrying member of the intelligentsia told The Post: “My intent was basically to get laid.”

The 44-year-old, who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity, turned to the old-fashioned method after being frustrated by dating apps.

“My intent was basically to get laid.”

“The ad was of a cynical nature after spending a day on Tinder that left me disillusioned and despondent,” said the “SAF,” or single Asian female. Her biggest gripe about the app was the suitors’ inarticulate attempts at communication.

“Some initiated the conversation with ‘Hey, whassup?’” she recalled. “And it’s just dumb when they write vague, generic details on their profile like their favorite sports team.”

In his ad, single dad Peter Freilinger, 46, wrote about the importance he placed on his kid, his dog, cocktails, moral philosophy and love of the outdoors. He signed off with a jocular “Everything else is negotiable.”

The New York Times once claimed the Review is “arguably the country’s most successful intellectual journal.” Anyone who writes a particularly entertaining, cultivated advert (priced between $4.40 and $5.85 per word) is likely to win admiration from a sophisticated, like-minded audience.

Advertising associate Sharmaine Ong, who is employed by the Review to oversee the personals, told The Post that clients put in a lot of effort “to shine in the pages and on the site.”

Profile pictures are not allowed, so the charm offensive is done with only a pen. Clients “are choosing words in a way that reflects their personality,” said Ong.

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the Review’s advertising director, Lara Frohlich Andersen, described the ads as “comforting and heartwarming.”

The first one appeared back in July 1968 under the header “Wife Wanted.” The “accomplished artist” who crafted the appeal specified a candidate who was “intelligent, beautiful, 18 to 25, broad-minded, sensitive [and] affectionate.”

While today’s ads tend to be less prescriptive, Andersen said, “It is rather reassuring to me that the simple things — a few words in print in a trusted publication — can still bring people together.”

In her foxy ad, the SAF wrote she was “looking for a Flirty Parry” with a “willingness to solve life’s paradoxes.” She added, “Wry wit and a love of Negronis are important.”

The Washington, DC-based restaurant owner, an avid reader of the Review, tried its “old-school” personals in a “momentary act of daredevilry.” She received a handful of replies, but has yet to engage with the men. At least two earned black marks by failing to Google “SAF” and asking her what the letters meant.

By contrast, Freilinger, of Scarborough, Maine, was relatively pleased with the 11 responses to his recent series of 36-word ads. They added up to a reasonable return on his $240 investment.

The straight single dad hoped the ads might connect him with like-minded individuals of either gender. “There isn’t really the opportunity to meet people living nearby that share my interests, read the New York Review of Books or want to go to the opera,” he told The Post.

One of the replies has led to the ethics blogger and self-proclaimed “pragmatist in the old-fashioned tradition of William James” to develop an e-mail friendship with a fellow subscriber to the Review.

A minor obstacle to them strolling off together into the sunset is his correspondent’s home city. She lives on the opposite side of the world.

Ever the realist, Freilinger shrugged.

“It’s not like I’m on the prowl,” he said. “For me, it’s more about conversation.”

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