Books you lie about reading

George Gardener tells us all about the great works of fiction which we love to lie about reading.

George Gardner
18th November 2019
Whenever anyone starts talking about a book you haven’t read, there’s always a moment of blind panic, normally followed by the boldfaced lie, ‘Of course I’ve read it’, or else one of its cousins, ‘I’ve-skimmed-it’, ‘I’ve-seen-the-film’, or ‘It’s-on-my-list’. Only the bravest of men admit the truth, that you haven’t read the thing and have no intention of reading it. It is therefore no surprise that, according to a study recently discussed in The Independent, there are at least twenty books that people frequently lie about reading.

There’s a bit of everything on the list. There’s the literary classic, like Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations or Romeo and Juliet. There’s the children’s classic that you’re too old to read now, like Tom Sawyer or Treasure Island. There’s the entry from the New York Times’ Bestseller List, like Hurari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind or Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. There’s the modern classic that’s vastly uncomfortable to read, like Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Plath’s The Bell Jar or Nabokov’s Lolita. There’s the massive door-stopper, like Crime and Punishment or Moby-Dick. There’s The Bible for creationists and A Brief History of Time for scientists. There’s The Old Man and the Sea for a short read and War and Peace for a long one. Both The Odyssey and Ulysses are on the list, which I find ironic. All in all,  it’s a very diverse list, and I myself have only read half of them. And no, I’m not telling you which half. 

Ultimately, you shouldn’t dictate your reading based on ‘the canon’, or what everyone else reads

There’s an expectation that there are certain books you have to read. But is that really necessary? If a book is well-known enough to carry that level of prestige, hasn’t it already entered the cultural consciousness? You don’t really have to have read a book to discuss it at any level. I haven’t read The Bible from cover to cover, but you’d better believe I have some capital-O Opinions on the contents. I’m pretty sure nobody, least of all the author, has read James Joyce’s Ulysses. Ultimately, you shouldn’t dictate your reading based on ‘the canon’, or what everyone else reads. Go out and do strange, unique things, and read strange, unique books. Consume fantasy and sci-fi and whodunnits and weird, out of print books with odd covers. Read poems and plays and watch arthouse films alongside popcorn action flicks. It is better to read widely than to read well, after all. 

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