Revenge Of The Nerds: It shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, it was a New Yorker named Woody Allen who set the stage decades ago, when he turned nebbishy intellectualism into an on-screen aphrodisiac. But for a long time no one paid attention; perhaps because Woody was using his brainy wiles to chat up Diane Keaton, not Ursula Andress. One wished him well, but did not yearn to unseat him. Throughout the Eighties, red- blooded, muscle-pumping specimens of American maleness rippled along blithely in Manhattan, confident that checkerboard abs and monosyllables would continue to win them mates for all time. But mid-Nineties, someone noticed that all the gym socks were turning into, well, bluestockings. Lanky, cheerleader-houris began shacking up with gnomelike computer geeks whose pockets overflowed with cyber-zillions; even John Travolta made a movie about becoming a genius.

Now, thanks to the present literary apotheosis of Ethan Hawke, Hollywood's anomie pin-up boy, even obscure New Yorkers with more grey cells than greenbacks have a good chance of getting a date. It was in October that the steamy young Renaissance goatee came out with a novel called The Hottest State. The subject was "50 to 80 per cent" his own recent failed love affair with a real-life local lass. When he made his appearance at a toney bookstore downtown at the end of the month, hundreds of irrepressible lovers of literature shoe-horned themselves into the shop to pay tribute to the young auteur.

All at once, Manhattanites of both sexes now can be seen racing to libraries and bookstores, and affecting squints and nervous tics. At Paul Stuart on Madison Avenue and at Joel Name in SoHo, they queue up to buy $500 pairs of specs, the more unflattering, the better. Shop windows lure young would-be eggheads with Underwood typewriters and handsewn volumes of Shaw and Moliere. Meanwhile, young shoppers snatch up the pricey specs and head off to the nearest Irish pub, where the sage new eyewear gives them new gravitas. If they don't have the money for the specs, they dye their hair Warhol white, or cultivate a 19th-century tubercular cough. All this because the venerable Hawke (who turned 26 this week) proved his mettle by writing a novel, acting in one (Great Expectations) and holding the attention of Uma Thurman.

The spread of Starbucks Coffee chains and Barnes and Nobles bookstores may have laid the groundwork, but New Yorkers blame Hawke most for the current vogue of books in cafes, from Edgar's on the Upper West Side to Cousin John's in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Not that New Yorkers are actually reading books: what with all the movies and opticians' appointments to fit in, where would they find the time?