Monday, March 12, 2007

LIST: Books I Have Lied About Reading

I don't know what you like to do when the weather turns to absolute kack, but me? I like to get soaking wet while running the short distance from my house to the truck, then spend the next half hour steaming up the interior during some exciting (read: scary) highway driving, and finally end up at IKEA, where I proceed to drop a couple hundred bucks on home organization thingummies that promptly disappear into the general clutter as soon as I return home.

Am I the only one this happens to? I picked up all these cool boxes and magazine containers and various bins and tubs, and I was sure that THIS TIME all the loose bits and pieces around the house would finally have a permanent home. I spent today dismantling and sorting and inhaling Hanta-infested dust kitties and wielding an Allen key like no mortal has ever wielded an Allen key.

And now? Well, I guess you can kind of see where the walls touch the floors in some places. And trust me: that is a huge improvement.

Pretty much the only thing I'm fit for right now is making a list, and it seems fitting that, given what a non-starter this weekend has been, I list all the books I've ever lied about reading. In no apparent order, and without any further ado (unless you want more ado, in which case email me and I'll put you on my newsletter list), here they are:

The Grapes of Wrath
The first Steinbeck novel I ever read was The Pearl, in grade nine. I absolutely hated it, and so, not knowing that I'd some day become a huge Steinbeck devotee, when The Grapes of Wrath crossed my path three years later, I wasn't going to be taken in again. But still I had to fake my way through the book, which meant grilling my friends and, of course, reading the ending. And this is what has done me in. I've tried to read it a few times, but I feel this black cloud descend on me every time, and I never get past the first seventy or so pages. All you Wrath finishers, tell me this: if you had known the ending before starting the book, would you still have picked it up?

Tom Jones
In my last year as an undergrad, I took a history of the English novel course, along with Tara, the Artist Formerly Known as Wing Chun. And man, some of those books were friggin' huge. I chugged through Robinson Crusoe and even Clarissa (the unabridged edition, no less), but I just couldn't stick with Tom Jones. Perhaps Tara did: I can't remember. She's a lot tougher than I am, and much better equipped to deal with Fielding's crap. I GET that it was supposed to be some sort of satirical take on the pastoral novel or somesuch, but I JUST DON'T CARE. And after a thousand-plus pages, I care even less. I have no idea how I managed to bluff my way through this one. I have a feeling that my professor wasn't taken in at all, but was too beaten down by all of us dumdums to put up a fight.

Tristram Shandy
Oh my god. See above.

Many of the works of William Shakespeare
I once heard that you can't consider yourself a real student of English literature until you've read pretty much everything Shakespeare ever wrote. I guess that officially makes me a poseur. I like bits of Shakespeare. I really like certain plays, such as Macbeth and Richard III and The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice. And I named my cat Puck, which is possibly (though not definitely) the most pretentious thing I've ever done. But Hamlet? Romeo and Juliet? Come on. They remind me of bad teen angst movies, possibly starring Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson. And at the time I took my token Shakespeare survey course in university, my own annoying teen years -- where I was as sick of myself as I was of other teenagers -- were too close for comfort.

Foucault's Pendulum
I'm dredging my memory for examples of showier lies, but I think most of my literary fibbing has tended to take place in academic environments, for boring, self-serving reasons. I may have lied outside a university setting, years ago, about finishing Foucault's Pendulum. I can't for the life of me remember the exact occasion, but I think it was to someone who claimed to have read everything Umberto Eco has ever written, and I was still young enough to have felt shame that I'd battered my head against Pendulum several times, but Eco's dizzily learned ("That's learned, Pepe, learned.") vocabulary was too much for me. I think it was the second appearance of the word "chthonic" that did me in.

Your turn. Come. Wallow in the shame bath with me. The water's warm. Shamefully warm.

45 comments:

... said...

Canterbury Tales.

First year university and my lit class was scheduled in the mornings after Dollar draft Disco night...

Not only did I NOT read this book, but I wrote an essay on it based on the 30 minute in-class prep discussion we had just before the essay exam. I scored me a B+.

This victory was very damaging. High on my own success and disillusioned by any institution that could be so easily duped - I managed to flunk out in 6 easy months.

I'm sure I've lied about a bazillion other books. But, hey that's just me. One time I lied about having a Scottish accent. Now, that was messed up.

Man, I loved Dollar draft Disco Night.

Katherine said...

-Ethan Frome. I read the ending and that was about it. Cut to two years later, my junior and senior lit teachers "Well, yeah. Every Edith Wharton is pretty much the same: bleak."

-Huckleberry Finn: No. More. Goddamned. Vernacular.

Several books I swore against reading at the beginning of my junior year of high school because I (incorrectly) thought my teacher was vapid and was Holden Caulfield protesting, but ended up reading back through in order to write a paper. These include: The Scarlett Letter, Heart of Darkness, and Benito Cereno.

Jane said...

Interesting. My list is about the same as yours except I have read just about all the works of Shakespeare thanks to an uncommonly good Shakespeare class in college.

Tom Jones = pain.

roughmagic said...

OK, I'm a Shakespeare PROFESSOR and I've never read Coriolanus or King John. Mmmm, the shame bath is nice and warm so I'll continue -- I've only skimmed Two Gentlemen of Verona and All's Well That Ends Well. And I haven't looked at Julius Caesar since high School.
There, I said it. I also took a grad-level seminar in The Faerie Queene, wrote a paper and made an A- without actually reading Books 4-6 (which is why I only ever teach Books 1-3).

Kailana said...

I am really bad about not reading the books my essays are supposed to be based on. I normally can wing it, but it would likely be so much better if I actually read them...

Books I have lied about reading:
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence comes to mind easily... It might even be a good book, but haven't read it. um, Mrs. Dalloway. Do you know I have had a course that did this book twice and I still have only skimmed it... There are likely others. I tend to claim readership even if the book is a DNF. Mainly because I wasted the time getting that far, I deserve some credit.

Jenn said...

Even if Eco's Pendulum wasn't for you - The Name of the Rose was enjoyable. It does help if you can think about Christian Slater in his prime during the reading...

Josette said...

Haha! Romeo and Juliet isn't that bad. I find the story very touching and extremely depresssing, that's all. Maybe that's why it's so popular?

Heather said...

I interpreted the list title as books that you've read but don't want to admit to having read, thus, having lied about reading them. I would have to admit to lying about having never read Bridges of Madison County.

Anonymous said...

Mine was Ennui for my Anglo-Irish Satire and Fiction class. I read six chapters and to use it for a paper, I pulled out the old "I feel my point is best shown in the beginning of the book." Ended up with the professor writing on my paper that I had a good grasp on the material so I can only imagine what the rest of the book was like.

Tara said...

I did read all of Tom Jones. In fact, I read all of ALL the books in that course, except Bleak House, which I didn't read one word of; I still have never read any Dickens at all. And the next year I had to read almost all of those books again in grad school in an "18th-Century Novel" course they said I had to take...and I wrote a paper on Clarissa without making it through the unabridged version. The perfect crime!

Anonymous said...

The dad killed the child in The Pearl, right? I wrote an essay on that book, because I actually did read it, and got a D because the teacher said he didn't kill anyone! I also never read anything by Jane Austen, or the many short stories I was supposed to read for my short story class in college. oops.

Robs said...

While in my first years as a grad student at a little New Haven-based ivy league, I used to wake up with night sweats over the fact that I had not yet, FOR SHAME!, read Brothers Karamazov [or BK as I fondly refer to it now when I teach]. I used to pretend I had read it, nodding my head vigorously when fellow grads and profs referred to it. The sheer fact that I engaged in this head-bobbing action in order to throw off those who would try to suss out the frauds in research 1 grad schools now pains me more than having put off reading BK. In my third year, just before my 19th century exams I finally read it [and enjoyed it]. Phew! But to this day I lie like flattened road kill about having read Goncharov's Oblomov. Done are the days when I care to labor through works on ennui and angst of Slavic proportions....

Quillhill said...

Thank you for the Simpsons pop culture reference.

jessmonster said...

Heart of Darkness. Just couldn't make myself - think I got through the first couple chapters.

Portrait of the Artist - I read enough to participate in class dicussions and then didn't see any point in finishing.

HeatherS said...

Moby Dick. It was assigned reading for a class; I slogged through the beginning, then read the end. Blech.

Hey, It's Ansley said...

My biggest lie would be Tess of the D'urbervilles; never read it and then wrote my AP English essay on it. We had discussed it so much in class that I was able to adequately fool the graders and got the highest score possible.

emc said...

I read The Pearl when I was in third or fourth grade, on the recommendation of my mother, and did a book report on it. My poor teacher. I can imagine her sitting in the dark with a huge glass of whiskey after that one. They must have all been so happy when I moved away.

There are a lot of classic novels I haven't read, for whatever reason. I've made lists of the ones I think I should read, but I never actually do it. I think by now it's time to admit that I never will. If it comes down to it, though, I will absolutely fake my way through a conversation about The Grapes of Wrath.

Ashleigh said...

I also didn't make it through Tess of the D'Urbervilles and managed to get the highest grade in my class.

Lisa Jean said...

Shakespeare--okay I suck as an old English major, but I'm okay with this.

Here's the shame: James Joyce--all of his work. I had a Joyce class in college with my favorite lit prof and I just couldn't get through the books. I wanted to, I really did, but no dice. Sorry Proffessor Oden! *hangs head and scuttles away*

Miranda said...

I actually did read "The Grapes of Wrath," and although it's certainly not something I'd go back and read again, I was glad I had read it. (It was an assigned book in 10th-grade English class).

Books I lied about: Dickens, Dickens, Dickens. I don't think I have ever read one of his books in its entirety. I hated "Great Expectations," and read the first 100 pages or so before switching to the Cliffs Notes. Ditto "A Tale of Two Cities," which I think is a great story done in by bloated writing.

The Divine Comedy, about which I took an entire seminar in college (and got an A). I read enough of it, I guess.

Ethan Frome. My *God*, what the hell was that thing about? Could it have been any more boring?

Oh, and I hated "The Pearl" too. I had to read it in 7th-grade English class. I read it all, but ugh, how depressing.

Tabloidman said...

My biggest lie was James Joyce's Ulysses. Several years ago when I was an undergrad I applied to work at a Chapters, and they actually brought me in for a group interview. One of the questions was "What is a book that you have read that you hated?" Having heard somewhere that Ulysses was interminable, I totally lied and chose it, proceeding to go on and on about how much I didn't like it at all and so forth while never having actually even seen a physical copy of the book. The next question was "What if a customer came in and asked you your opinion of that book--what would you tell them?" To which I BSed my way through another answer. Honestly, I don't think the interviewer was fooled at all, as about a week later I got a letter in the mail saying that they were very sorry, but I didn't fit what they were looking for at the time. Probably because I was a bit fat liar. Though on the upside, when I applied again several years later, I got the job like that, since I knew every question beforehand. And I was smart enough to know not to touch James Joyce with a 10 ft. pole.

meredithkb said...

Mine is Joyce as well.

We read Portrait of the Artist for class (11th grade?) and I really liked it. So I went out and bought Finnegan's Wake thinking I would enjoy that as well. Those of you who have ever even picked up FW are getting the joke. I seriously couldn't get past page 1. However, when I was filling out my college applications I had to submit a list of books read over the past year, and I totally included FW. Why? I couldn't really say as I had a good list already -- including both school and non-school books. I guess I just really wanted to impress them. I did end up getting in.

Hilda said...

I honestly don't think I've ever claimed to read a book I didn't read - I just flat out say I didn't read it. It's not because I'm above lying if theres a dire need to be pedantic, it's just that I'd be embarrassed if I were caught in the lie.

I do want to thank you for the new (to me) word "chthonic" - I love that its prononced "thonic". Now I have to figure out a way to work it into conversation!

Let's see..."Dick Cheney occasionally leaves his chthonic home to make a public appearance."

BWAHAHAHAHA!

landismom said...

Sons and Lovers. Totally. Annoyed. By D.H. Lawrence.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading (hearing?) somewhere the Romeo and Juliet is a Shakespearean comedy gone horribly wrong. Lots of misunderstandings and hidden identities and young love and they almost pulled the fake death off.

If you'd read a lot of Shakespeare, but somehow had no idea how R&J ended, you'd be very surprised. I'm trying to imagine how the original audience took it.

Anonymous said...

I lied about having read Pablo Neruda poetry in Spanish. I think it was for some kind of scholarship application, where I had to prove my love of the Spanish language. The truth was that I had read one Neruda poem in Spanish, Ode to an Artichoke, but only because it was in our Spanish textbook and all the hard words were translated in the footnotes. I didn't get the scholarship, incidentally.

In high school the only assigned book I didn't read was "Death Comes to the Archbishop" by Cather. Soooo boring and then it shockingly became even more boring than that. I'm sure I lied about it somehow on the exam.

Anonymous said...

I've lied about everything written by William Faulkner and John Steinbeck - Steinbeck because he could drive anyone to suicide, and Faulkner because of his complete inability to use a period. I've never read any Dickens all the way through, but I don't lie about him...

Uli said...

My Brilliant Career. Australian classic assigned in high school, never even picked it up. No particular reason, just never got there. Pretty sure I still own the unread copy though.

I participated in class discussion with no difficulty, though I don't think I ever wrote an essay on it.

Then again, a friend and I once scored a high distinction for a university honours paper in politics that we wrote for another friend in 24 hours before it was due. Not only did we do this without ever attending a class, we didn't even go to the same university.

Reader Scott said...

The Grapes Of Wrath moves very slowly. I read it, but I can't blame you for faking it.

You might like the Book & Reading Forums.

nessie said...

hahaha I did it with Racine's Phaedra play in cegep. But after the class discussion I regretted so much not having read it that I still did and well regretted not having read it before class.

I know what you mean about it being difficult for you to get through Eco's FP. I ALMOST finished it (20 pages short) but realized that I was so lost that I would have to reread most of it if I were to even understand it.

Cate Ross said...

Man, I read Robinson Crusoe and Clarissa, and thought Tom Jones was like Monty Python skits after those. Tristram Shandy wasn't easy, but at least it wasn't depressing.

I've not had to lie about reading books, but I would admit that I just can't read Infinite Jest. I like David Foster Wallace's shorter stuff, but IJ is just too much for me.

Lane T said...

Lying about reading or finishing a book seemed rampant among my grad school colleagues. When we'd get really drunk at bars, we'd play the lit-geek version of "I Never" which was "I Never Read." Boy, I saw a lot of giddy relief when people admitted to faking it (so to speak).

Kim said...

I've actually never claimed I've read a book when I haven't. I'm going to have to read this as a list of "books I should have read by now, but didn't" and "books that I read but didn't see what the big horkin' deal was."

I Haven't Read:

...Well, according to talking to friends, I may be the one girl who came of age in the 70's or 80's who did NOT read Judy Blume's "Forever." It just never came up.

I couldn't get through "Billy Budd", I could barely get through "Far from the the Madding Crowd." Same for "Madame Bovary" and Proust, both of which I checked out of the college library once, read a page or two of, and then gave up.

Books I Don't See The Point About:

"Lady Chatterly's Lover." Yes, I get that the fact that he's a rustic type with an earthy attitude to sex is all revolutionary and shit, but sometimes...all the sex was actually boring.

"The Turn Of The Screw." I wanted to go back in time and smack Henry James and tell him to write something with characters that speak in direct sentences.

I've tried a couple things by Kafka, and the only work of his I've liked was "Amerika" -- everything else made me feel like there was some unspoken thing that Kafka knew his readers would automatically know that would let them better appreciate the surreality, but I wasn't in on the joke, and didn't get it. Not that he wasn't intending to be surreal -- it's more like, Kafka was assuming his readers would have an understanding of a certain type of reality, and all his books would show an alteration of that exact reality. But I don't have an understanding of that reality, so it's like the difference between being pushed into a dark room, and being pushed into a dark room and also being blindfolded and with your hands behind your back.

...I have a note for "Katherine", though, whose teachers told her Edith Wharton was bleak -- okay, Edith Wharton is my homegirl, so I have to say this: look up a short story of hers called "Xingu". I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised.

tracifree said...

James Joyce must be rolling over in his crypt. Did anyone really read Ulysses? Not me....but for some reason you're not a true bibliophile unless you have.

notanillusion said...

Mine's up!

anna said...

Hm. I've rarely lied about the books I've read (which isn't to say I've never lied about anything else, because I spent my early teenage years lying about the tv I'd seen, the films I liked, the music I loved, the boyfriends I had... Heh.) I'm actually rather defensive in the other direction. I had an interview for Cambridge back in 2002, and in the preliminary interview they talked about the books I liked, and I said I preferred C20th stuff, and we went back and forth (he obviously didn't know anything to ask me about that stuff!) and we got to Dickens and I said I'd tried some but I didn't get on with it, so no, I hadn't really read Dickens. And he looked at me as though I had two heads and didn't really bother after that. Since then I've been very defensive about what I haven't read!

When I went to uni, I ended up sounding really confident sometimes because I'd say why I hadn't finished such and such a book or why I hadn't got too far, when really, it was still left over defensiveness.

Anonymous said...

Junior year in high school. At lunch, I found out that our English teacher was giving all her classes an essay test on The Mill and the Floss, which we were supposed to have finished that day. I hadn't read a word of it (unusual for me; I was a docile, obedient kid and loved reading; I was probably engrossed in reading something else -- like Dickens!) and nearly threw up. Read the blurb on the back and the first and last chapters. Did the essay with beating heart and sweaty palms. Got the grades a week later: A++ -- the extra plus meaning I had not only read it, I had understood it on the deepest level.

Shame bath.

I did read it several years later, and loved it.

Anonymous said...

Oh God. The Mill ON the Floss. I knew that.

Tasha said...

Ulysses. I had to read it for a Joyce and Woolf course I took as an undergrad, and try though I did, I could not make it all the way through this one. However, I did read the beginning, most of the middle, and the end (and by the end, I mean that I read the last page and can still quote the final line, which really isn't that impressive since it's one of those "famous last words" kind of things that you don't need to read the book to know about), so I still say that I read it. And I have absolutely no desire to go back and read it again. That mountain has been climbed, however shoddily and with shortcuts.

Beedoo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beedoo said...

Here's mine--the shame...

BabelBabe said...

Sorry it took so long - here's mine:
My list

And what better way to celebrate St Pat's than quoting Joyce? Eek.

Sheila said...

Oh, Heart of Darkness, for sure. I've lied three times about that: once in grade school, once in high school, and once at uni. I hate (what I've read of) that book. The lectures always make it sound so good, though!

I feel everyone on Ulysses, too. I read and enjoyed most of Finnegans Wake--over a year, in a reading group with people who were waaaay smarter than I am, the only way to do it--but I couldn't do more than a chapter of Ulysses. But I lie constantly about it, since I go to school in Dublin now and that's everyone's first question. The shameful part is, my boyfriend can't even spell "Hey," but HE finished Ulysses. Twice.

Also, Books 4-6 of the Faerie Queene for a class on same, though I managed a "B" in the class. Pretty good considering that prof once called me AT HOME to ask if I was sure about a bibliography entry. ("I don't think the library has a 1976 edition," he said. Thank God that was the one bibliography in my entire academic career that I DIDN'T fudge.)

Rachel said...

During my undergrad I signed up for a course called "Humour in Music". Sounds fun, right? On the first day, we were told to read Tristram Shandy, the "funniest book ever written". I didn't even get around to bothering to pretend that I'd read it; I just dropped the course.

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