Here at Keeping Up With The Penguins, we have a strict no-judgment policy. (Well, we can judge the books of course, but not each other. K?) That’s why you and I can be completely honest with each other: we all pretend to have read books that we really haven’t, right?
A new survey on this topic pops up every couple of years or so (usually when it’s a slow news day for the book blogs or morning television). The results always vary slightly, depending on which country is polled, where they find their participants and how many people they ask. I’ve read a stack of these listicles over the years, and I figured I’d boil them down into my own top ten. I’ve even included a couple that I’m very guilty of lying about myself. Let’s take a look…
1984 – George Orwell
This one appears on every list I’ve read, and I can’t understand why! Compared to some of the others, it’s a really easy read, so if you’re putting it off and fibbing about it, consider THIS the motivation that you need!
1984 is the prototypical dystopian novel, published back in 1949 (before we knew how bad things would actually get), and yet its relevance in the era of alternative facts increases day-by-day. It gave us “Newspeak”, and “Doublethink”, and – of course – “Big Brother”. It’s probably our familiarity with these concepts that makes us feel comfortable enough to pretend to have read Orwell’s masterpiece. I strongly recommend giving it a go anyway. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, I swear!
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
I am guilty as charged. I have lied about reading Pride and Prejudice on more than one occasion. In truth, I’ve started – and abandoned – it, no fewer than six times. I abandoned it so hard that I actually lost my copy of it altogether, and had to pick up a new one when I made my reading list for this project. When I finally sat down and forced myself through it, I discovered… well, you’ll have to read my review to find out. Read my full review of Pride and Prejudice here.
Ulysses – James Joyce
If you only pretend to have read Ulysses, I don’t blame you. In fact, I take no issue with you carrying on pretending to have read it until you die (or someone catches you out, whichever comes first). It’s a notoriously difficult read. Plus, everyone I know who has read it is incredibly smug about having done so. Read my full review of Ulysses here (it’s not too smug, I promise!).
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
I believed for a long time that everyone lied about having read War And Peace – surely no one actually made it all the way through that behemoth! That was until I watched my husband do it. It took him months, cramming in a few pages every spare moment (on trains, during meal breaks, before bed…). He insists that it’s fantastic and well worth a read, but I’d want to be absolutely sure before making a commitment. Maybe we should try another (shorter!) Tolstoy classic first (like when I read Anna Karenina…).
Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James
I was shocked to see Fifty Shades of Grey appear on any of these lists, and yet it keeps cropping up. Surely more people lie and say they haven’t read it? It has been widely decried as one of the worst things to happen to popular fiction in the 21st century, but I’ll admit I picked up a copy in a desperate moment (stuck in an airport waiting on a delayed flight, when options in English were limited). If you’re tempted to pretend to have read it (when you really haven’t), I wouldn’t bother. Be up front and tell them you get your literary smut elsewhere 😉
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Ah, another book that spawned a cultural catchphrase that has lasted generations. I’d wager there’s plenty of folks out there that are well familiar with the concept of a Catch-22, but aren’t even aware that the phrase was born from a book of the same name. I’m also guilty of having chuckled along meekly when my better-read friends made jokes about this book… but not any more! Read my full review of Catch-22 here.
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
I’m just going to say it up front: listening to the Kate Bush song doesn’t count!
Brontë’s super-creepy semi-incestuous gothic romance isn’t for everyone, but I’m not sure it pays to only pretend to have read it. Wuthering Heights is so multi-layered and chock-full of metaphor that you might not know what you’re agreeing (or disagreeing) with. Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Here we are: another concept that a lot of us are already familiar with, and yet we all lie and pretend to have read the book (when we really haven’t). Are you sensing a pattern?
I can guarantee you that The Scarlet Letter is not what you’d expect. I thought it would be a full-on treatise about the oppression of female sexuality, with some dirty bits thrown in for good measure, but it was something else entirely. Read my full review of The Scarlet Letter here.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
I can completely understand the temptation not to bother reading the original Arthur Conan Doyle books, because the BBC’s Sherlock series is just so damn good! Still, given that the television program shifts the story to the present day (as well as taking a few other liberties), surely we’re missing out on something if we don’t give the original Adventures a once-over ourselves. Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes here.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
I thought I’d end on a surprise! Not only is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland one of the most unexpected entries, but it actually came up as the top result in one survey of the British reading public! Doesn’t that seem odd? A children’s book (a very easy read, it goes without saying) beats out War And Peace! My best guess is that everyone is emotionally attached to the Disney film they grew up with, and they figure it’s just as good. Far be it for me to dissuade them, but I’ve got to say I think they’re missing out! Carroll’s true brilliance and cleverness and wordplay can only be seen on the page… Read my full review of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland here.
So, these are the books you’ve most likely pretended to have read – was I right? Or do you have some other secret shame? Let me know in the comments below! (Or join the conversation with KUWTP on Facebook!)