Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lying about books

I was raised to value books and associate book-loving with intellect and intellect with success and desirability. My mom took me to the library for the first time when I was 6, I was encouraged to read and write. At various points in my life I have made a living being a writer. I married someone whose mind and soul are dedicated to the written word. In my life books matter.

With such great dedication, of course, have come BIG expectations and less than great moments of literary dishonesty. When you are expected to read and be well-read, well, sometimes you end up... lying about books. You claim you read books you didn't read. You say you are re-reading titles just to hide the fact you never read them in the first place. Certain authors aren't your favorite because you read their Wikipedia page and didn't like their author photos... So, you can imagine how tickled I was when I saw this little confessional by Paris Review editor in chief Lorin Stein:

Just this morning—at five o’clock, to be exact—I was staring at the ceiling, thinking about Krapp’s Last Tape and how shocked my favorite college professor would be if he knew I still haven’t seen or read it. At least I hope he’d be shocked. I have never got through any of Beckett’s novels (and have seen almost none of his plays, or anybody else’s). I have never got through Henry Green’s Living or Concluding, though neither one is a long book, and I have sometimes heard myself call Green my “favorite” postwar English novelist, as if I had read enough to have one.

My biggest book-crime is to declare novels My Absolute Favorite by AUTHOR X when I should really be saying This is the only book by AUTHOR X that I read. What's yours?


  1. I can say that I haven't actually "lied" about reading certain books, but just might not have told the whole truth. Today, I was in a seminar on how to help kids read difficult texts, and the same story kept coming up: kids would read "the first 30 pages" of a work and expect that to cover the whole text. They felt they could flub their way through a discussion based solely on that small portion they might have read before class. I laughed because assigned reading was the one place I could never finish a book. As much as I might have loved it, if there was a deadline, I wasn't going to finish. But would I let that fact out during a discussion? Hell no! Sorry Susan Sontag, bell hooks, and countless Russians. I tried!

  2. hhahahaha you are the best! i can't imagine you ever holding back in a discussion about books regardless of whether you read it or not.

  3. I'm too rubbish a liar to lie about books I haven't read... otherwise I'd have read the whole works of Shakespeare by now.

  4. Fiona!!! Shakespeare is the bane of my existence. As a non-native speaker I find him so difficult to read. :(