List love 2: Books people lie about having read

It is beyond my understanding why anyone would lie about having read a particular book when they haven’t, but clearly some people think that claiming to have read, say, Ulysses, is going to make others think they are intelligent, cool, sexy, or whatever.

While I can, up to a point, understand that people may be reluctant to admit that they haven’t read some of the classics, what I absolutely don’t get is people pretending to have read recent books that have not and may not become an accepted part of the literary canon.So what if you haven't read The Da Vinci Code? Believe me: The literary police are not going to swoop in and arrest you.

The danger in pretending to have read a book is of course that the person you are talking to just might have read the book and want to discuss it in depth. Even if you have read and taken to heart How to Talk about Books that You Haven't Read or memorised the Cliffs Notes, you may be found out sooner or later. Isn’t it just better to admit you haven’t read the book, even if it makes the other person think less of you? You could always just ask them to tell you why they think you should read it, and gain their respect by showing interest.

Anyway - thanks to a blogger on Open Salon I came across this list of books people pretend to have read, and found my hackles rising at the silly title of the piece, so I decided to prove the author wrong. Not only have I read three of them and parts of two and plan to read four more, but by publishing this I am proving that I do not pretend to have read the rest.

13 Books Nobody's Read But Says They Have:
  • The Canterbury tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. This I have read parts of and I am, by fits and starts, making my way through the rest.
  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. Haven’t read and am not interested in reading.
  • Ulysses by James Joyce. I own a copy and it’s on my TBR list. Some time or other I plan to make a challenge of reading it. The scary thing is that I have a book of annotations for it as well, and it’s bigger than the novel itself...
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I first read this (in translation) as a teenager, and now read it every other Christmas.
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. I have ambivalent feelings about this one. I may read it, but then again I may not.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I read (and enjoyed) this as part of a course on American literature, but I wouldn’t read it again.
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. Have not read and don’t plan to read.
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Never heard of it until I read the list.
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. This I have read, and plan to read again some time or other.
  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. I have read about half of the first volume, but gave up because I found the Icelandic translation unappealing. I plan to try the English translation next.
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I own a copy and definitely plan to read it.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. I don’t really know if I want to read this.
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. One for the “when I am old and gray” list, or I might conceivably turn reading it into a challenge.

Just for fun:
A 2009 British poll of the top 10 books people lie about having read has War and Peace, Ulysses, A Brief History of Time and In Search of Lost Time in common with the above list. The others were:

  • 1984 by George Orwell, which I read of my own free will.
  • The Bible, which I have read in its entirety in two languages.
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. I suppose I should read it, but I have no plans to do so in the immediate future.
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. This is one I would like to read, but not before I have found and read a good history of the background events in the story.
  • Dreams from my Father Barack Obama. No plans to read this one.
  • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawking. Never heard of it until now.

Another British survey (from 2007) has War and Peace and 1984 in common with the above lists, but adds the following to the ranks:

  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkies. This I have read twice and listened to several times.
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I though just about everyone had to read this in English literature class. I did, and while I recognise its importance, I did not enjoy the experience.
  • Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray. Have read, found it a total waste of time.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by J.K Rowling. This I have read.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Have not read, may read, but then again I may not.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I thought those who did not have to read Wuthering Heights had to read this instead? I have read it (ages ago), and plan on re-reading it soon.
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Hello! Why would anyone be ashamed of admitting they have not read this? I’m not. (I gave up, as a matter of fact).
  • The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank. Read this ages ago.


George said…
I completely agree with you on MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS. What a waste of time! There was a pastiche published here called WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS, MEN ARE FROM HELL that was amusing.
iubookgirl said…
Interesting lists. I'm willing to admit I've read barely any of these books. Sadly, I haven't tackled any of the classics listed.

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