Lying About the Books We’ve Read

This week I read an interesting article in The Telegraph that discussed books Britons most often lied about. Surprisingly, the book lied about the most is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (You can read the original article here.) Others included on the list were 1984 by George Orwell; Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings; and War and Peace and Anna Karenina, both by Leo Tolstoy.

A study of the reading habits of 2,000 Britons commissioned by the BBC Store found that one in four bluffed about reading a classic when a TV adaptation of it was shown, with the most popular reasons being not wanting to miss out on the conversation and wanting to appear more intelligent. […] 60 per cent of those surveyed said being well-read made a person appear more attractive.  Telegraph Reporters, February 3, 2016

The idea of lying about books that we’ve read absolutely fascinates me. I would agree that a well-read person is more attractive to me. But rather than presenting me with a list of books you’ve supposedly read, I would like to sit and discuss the books that you have read. Book discussion is the aspect I find most attractive. Reading books shouldn’t be about achieving the most impressive read list – it should be about the conversations that books foster.

However I can see that certain classics would be hard to ignore, especially ones that everyone supposedly reads as a child – like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. For example, in school I assume everyone studied at least one Shakespeare play – it’s part of the high school curriculum here. Yet I know that which play they studied varies by school, so while I may assume everyone has read a Shakespeare play, I can’t assume they’ve all read the same ones as me.

One in three admitted they would not correct someone if they wrongly assumed they were better read than in reality. Telegraph Reporters, February 3, 2016

Interestingly enough, people assume that I am a lot better read than I am. I took English Literature in university, and when I talk about classes such as my Jane Austen class, people naturally assume I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s work. Well…no. (I was supposed to…) I also took classes on Virginia Woolf and Edgar Allan Poe, to name a few others. But that doesn’t mean I’ve read everything by them.

In fact, even just mentioning my English degree, people assume I’ve read most of the classics. But there are so many authors I’ve never touched, such as Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, or Louisa May Alcott. And you know what? I’m not ashamed to admit I haven’t read them. I don’t think it makes someone less of a reader when they haven’t read certain classics. I also don’t think it makes me more impressive that I have read certain ones. I’ve read Frankenstein three times. Does that really make a difference?

It is a simple fact that there are a lot of books in the world. It’s okay to admit that you haven’t read something. And if you would rather watch a tv or movie adaptation than read the original work, that’s okay too. You watch the movie, and I’ll read the book, and we can still sit around and discuss the story.

Just don’t forget to bring the popcorn.

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7 comments on “Lying About the Books We’ve Read

  1. Collheesi says:

    I totally agree! I’ve never really understood why people claim to have read books they haven’t. I love the comments about having an English degree as well. I think a lot of people believe everyone else has read [insert whatever book is being discussed] so they claim to as well, but that’s not the case. I just saw the article you mentioned on pinterest and was thinking about doing a similar post. Another concept I don’t understand is that your bookcase is some sort of surrogate trophy case. Great post!

    • Thanks so much! I wonder how often we assume people have read books that they haven’t? Interesting thought.
      Also, your comment about the surrogate trophy case made me laugh out loud. Too perfect. In reality my bookcase is a little graveyard where I send books I’ve bought but never read.
      Looking forward to reading your post! :)

  2. John Guillen says:

    Hmm. It seems so silly to claim to have read something you haven’t. I can’t imagine doing that.

  3. Ayunda says:

    This is so funny! I dont think I’ve ever lied about a book I’ve read but I do understand how people want to appear as though they are well read.

  4. I can totally relate as an English major (and librarian). I’ve tried to read Dickens but can’t stand the man, and yet everyone assumes I’m an expert on him! I’ve never outright lied about having read a book, but I didn’t correct a teacher once who assumed I had read the Game of Thrones books and proceeded to reveal several spoilers to me (I didn’t want her to feel bad for spoiling so I just nodded my head and said “Oh yes!”)….but I agree about preferring to talk to people about books they have read! Interesting article!

    • Haha! You’re a librarian, of course you’ve read every book in the library! ;)
      But what an interesting experience – you would hope she would check before revealing important plot points. Although I might be guilty of doing that to people with Harry Potter… oops!

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