26 January 2007

No Lying

Susan Hill has a post up on her blog today about the books people most often lie about, at least according to a survey done in the UK by the Museums and Libraries Authority. Sometimes I think these surveys are pretty silly. (Hill does too, apparently.) Yet, I always find such lists curious. Why these books? What differences in the list would exist if another group did the survey, a different group was sampled?

Here is the list of the most 'lied' about books.

1. The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien
I've read all of the Hobbit, all of the 1st book, and skimmed or read aloud the 2nd or 3rd books while helping my son with a school project in 5 grade (yes it was too ambitious for a 5th grader). Like root canal without anesthesia. The kid has read them all at least twice since. I'm thankful that I'll never have to read them again!
2. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
I've tried. Haven't made significant progress but it still sits in the current read stack where it's been since July.
3. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
4. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – John Gray
Tried. Thought it was ridiculous. Restrained myself from throwing it across the room and told sibling that her future spouse was an idiot for making her read it She dumped him, but not on my advice.
5. 1984 – George Orwell
Yep. In Jr. High. Then in High School. Then in College. (A rather long period of fascination with dystopian literature). Then, of course, in 1984.
6. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – J.K Rowling
Aloud on a long family road trip to the seashore. (I wasn't driving....)
7. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Never read any Dickens. I've thought about correcting that situation this year. Maybe I will.
8. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
I think I read it as an adolescent, but I don't remember if I finished it. I'm so familiar with the plot that I really don't know if I read it or not, I may just know it from discussions and watching various movie adaptations.
9. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
Ugh! (That's a No.) Likely not to read it, based on negative reviews from people whose opinions matter to me. The Kid's assessment: "It's silly, but I was bored sitting in the airport. It's junk food reading."
10. Diary of Anne Frank – Anne Frank
Yes. Several times. Assisted with directing the play too when I taught h.s. eons ago.
I also haven't read Joyce's Ullysses. Or Proust. Or a lot of other works.

I'm not sure why anyone would lie about reading any of these books. I think sometimes non-readers think that seeing the movie is the same thing, confusing plot with the whole of the book. What is the motivation for lying about these? Who would be impressed that you had read Gray's book or Brown's? Might someone feel guilty that they hadn't read these? Perhaps one might claim to have read them if pontificating about the relative merits of the book, but wouldn't anyone who cared and had minimally functioning crap detector discover the truth quickly?

I'm sure that there are plenty of other books that people lie about reading. I was surprised that the Bible wasn't on this list. I know very few people who have read the entire Bible -- Hebrew and Christian Testaments -- completely. I'm frequently skeptical when someone claims that they have, especially if they claim to have read the Apocrypha. Maybe I'm just cynical. I've read parts of it, am doubtful that I'll ever read all of it.

I'd also add to this list Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. I heard or read this referred to as perhaps the most unread bestseller of all time. (Sorry can't find the source right now.) I've tried to read it. The science was far beyond my comprehension and I just wasn't that interested in it at the time. I've learned more about the theories in Hawking's book since attempting to read it years ago, but I don't know that I have the motivation to try to read it again. With some books, I think it is okay to have read a good synopsis or book review. There is one level of knowledge regarding theory that is sufficient for the lay person's needs, without reading the original source materials. This book falls into that category for me, but I would never claim to have read it.

Have you read any of the above books? Which books do you think might be likely to appear on such a list?


danielle said...

Hmm. I might lie about a couple of them if I had read them...wouldn't want to admit to it--LOL. Like Men Are from Mars (which I really haven't read) or The Da Vinci Code (which I have, but maybe should lie about?). Other books are probably the ones we 'should have read' and if we haven't maybe people lie and say they did? I am also working on W&P. I really do want to finish it and every day look at it thinking I am GOING to pick you up--truly! I have not read Dickens, but I plan to. I am rereading Jane Eyre right now. I have read six of the ten and trying to reading one other (W&P).

Chris said...

I've read quite a few of them (no lie). I made it through War & Peace this summer past with my bookclub. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are two of my favs whether they are topical, or popular or whatever! And Great Expectations and Da Vinci too. I haven't read Anne Frank though I'd like to and maybe 1984. The Potter books and Tolkien maybe someday even though I've outgrown my fantasy faze. I'm not sure why people would lie about them. Well, maybe War & Peace- to impress people that you have the stamina to get through that tome!

Carl V. said...

I saw this on another site as well and found it very funny. Not sure why people would lie about them either except the usual reason of wanting to belong, not be ridiculed, etc. Up until last year I hadn't read LOTR and, though embarrassing for a sci fi/fantasy geek to admit, I sure didn't have any problem admitting it.

Emily Barton said...

Oooh, this is fun. I'm going to post on it as well. Meanwhile, I will say that I have read the Bible all the way through (once got one of those "Read the Bible through in a Year" journals), and it was really enlightening in many, many ways. I'm always planning to do so again, but haven't yet. But I make sure to let people know, not the Apocrypha.

chiefbiscuit said...

I've read Jane Eyre Wuthering Heights and Anne Frank ... the rest I don't really intend to read - Ulysses by James Joyce is another I never intend to read - or War and Peace. Not enough time left in my life to bother! (I'm not dying, just realising I can choose!)

jenclair said...

I haven't read War and Peace and have no desire to do so. I've read all of the others and several of them more than once. I'm an obsessive reader, but I think the only Russian novel I've read is Crime and Punishment. Don't think I'll ever read Ullysses, but have always intended to read Proust. Sad to say, but many of the books I have read are so thoroughly forgotten, I might as well NOT have read them!

(un)relaxeddad said...

I'm going to have to do this one! What's more embarrassing is how long ago I read most of them!

Like you say, why lie? (Unless you've made it all the way through the Da Vinci book)

adrienne said...

I've read all of them but the Harry Potter. Couldn't get past number 1. If I were going to lie about a book to look more intelligent than I am, it'd be Faulkner or Proust or some French author.

Dorothy W. said...

I have no interesting in lying about my reading, and I agree with you that it's hard to understand why some people would lie about these. If anything, I'm likely to say, well, I read War and Peace (which is true), but I did it when I was very young and so didn't really get as much out of it as I should have. And about the Bible -- I think I've read it all the way though, but I can't swear to it, since I skipped all around. Did I read every word of every minor prophet in the Old Testament? Not entirely sure.

Cam said...

Danielle -- I'm not sure that I'd actually be embarrassed by something that I had read in the past, and certainly not enough to lie about. However, I know that there have been several books that I wouldn't have carried around in public and wouldn't necessarily volunteer that I had read.

Chris -- my son claimed that I bought a different translation of W&P in the UK & then carried it around on a 3 week vacation not because I wanted to read it but because I wanted to increase arm muscles. I told him it was so heavy, he'd have to carry my suitcase for me!

Carl - I think you're correct about people lying because they want to belong. That is probably the origin of much deceit. Sad, isn't it?

(Un)relaxed - I wouldn't be embarrassed at how long ago I read something (although I think I was hesitant to admit that when I first started blogging & I thought I was so much older than most everybody else). Like ChiefBiscuit commented, one of the great things about being older is that you can choose having a better perspective on what is valuable use of one's time.

Dorothy & Emily: I could have guessed that both of you would have read the bible cover to cover, or nearly so. Anyone who does has my admiration for sticking through it. I had a discussion with my hairstylist the other day about reading the bible. One of the other stylists said that he had just finished reading the bible for the 3rd time cover to cover and that it took him 1 year to do so. He mentioned the translation he was using. I saw it at the bookstore & couldn't help but flip through it. It was the most clunkly, horrible, unpoetic, unliterary translation I had ever read. I really admired him then -- to make it through such poorly translated prose not once but 3 times? I realize that the stylistic and literary merits were not the reason he was reading it, but wow, it took perseverance just to read a few paragraphs of this particular translation.

JenClair -- I hope that you don't really feel that your time was wasted. Even if no longer remember them, I hope that it was an enjoyable experience when you did! I have forgotten many of the books I have read too. I wish that I had time to re-read them and that the never read pile wasn't so large!

Adrienne, you might be right that many would consider Faulkner impressive. I know that I've run into several Faulkner fans who were very unimpressed by my claim to have never finished most of the Faulkner novels I started, especially those that were assigned reading in college. I just couldn't endure him then and have never mustered enough courage to try to tackle him again. :)

litlove said...

I guess people who don't read much, or only read reluctantly might mistakenly think reading is a sophisticated art that confers status on someone. And then again people lie all the time, for the oddest of reasons. I do remember an incident in a David Lodge novel (if only I could recall the title) in which a group of academics play the game of 'admit to which book you've not read that you ought to have read', and at its climax a professor of Shakespear and a Hamlet specialist admits to never having read Hamlet, and this costs him his job eventually. So I guess the moral of the story all around is don't lie about this kind of thing!

SFP said...

The David Lodge game was called Humiliation.

I've read all these books except the Tolkien and the Gray.

Another reason people might lie: to be left alone. Although I've never lied about what I have and haven't read, I have been around a few people who have been so enthused over and insistent that I read a particular title that they've loved that I can see why someone might say they've already read it just to cut the conversation short.