Lying about Reading Books

by Krishna on March 6, 2009

Apparently, 65% of Britons interviewed in a survey admitted to lying about reading the following books: (What I have read is in bold)

  1. 1984, by George Orwell (42%): Partly read and dropped
  2. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy (31%)
  3. Ulysses, by James Joyce (25%)
  4. The Bible (24%): Partly read (The Old Testament, and the 4 Gospels in the New Testament)
  5. Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert (16%)
  6. A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking (15%): Read
  7. Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie (14%)
  8. In Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust (9%)
  9. Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama (6%): Read
  10. The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins (6%)

(About 5 of the books are available in the public domain at Gutenberg. You probably already own a copy of the Bible.)

Nineteen Eight-Four” would seem the strangest one to be lying about, because it is a short book. Almost everyone knows the story outline. A few movies (including the overrated “Brazil”) and the 1984 Macintosh advertisement were based on the book. It is widely used in discussions about totalitarian governments. But there is a reason why people don’t read it: it is a terrible way to spend time. If you are looking for escapism, the dystopian “1984” is definitely not what you should be picking up. I found it too depressing to read shortly after the part where Winston Smith is captured. Maybe someday.

Some of the others are pretty huge books. I am reminded of an episode in “Cheers” where Sam tries to read the 1200-page “War and Peace” in five days, at the end of which someone tells him he should have just watched the movie. I haven’t seen that movie, but I tried seeing “Ulysses”. Awful, I couldn’t get past the first few minutes although I am a glutton for punishment for most art movies.

I suspect people who haven’t read “A Brief History of Time” incorrectly think that it is too technical. Stephen Hawking was told that the number of readers would decrease for every equation he put in the book, and I believe the only one he used was E = mc2, which probably everyone is familiar with already. I heard “Dreams from My Father” on audio CDs narrated by Barack Obama — a much better experience that way.

What are the books that I would probably lie about reading? “Code Complete” and “The Mythical Man-Month” would have been prime candidates, if I hadn’t knocked them off a couple of years ago. I suppose today, the prize would go to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. I tried reading it, but gave up. Forgive me if I am dense, but I felt that it was outdated, unnecessarily contrarian and pseudo-psychological. I probably wouldn’t admit that in public, but oops, I just did.

Or, maybe the “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” which I really should read after having already bought the first five books, which are disintegrating on my bookshelf now.

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