Books You Haven’t Read

We’ve all done it: claimed to have read a book/story/poem/etc. we haven’t. At Book Riot, Cassandra Neace talks about literary lying and the corresponding guilt. She describes one particular lie:

“I imagine that I was caught in one of those moments when I was trying to socialize with my fellow students (not something that I excelled at), and when one of them made reference to something Borges had written, I, like everyone else, smiled and nodded. I may have even responded with some complimentary quote from a comparable author.  I met the group’s approval, we became friends, and I have lived a lie ever since.”

I’ve totally been there. Someone mentions a book you feel like you should have read. You nod and hope they don’t ask you for your opinions on it or make you comment on a particular character. And if they do, you pretend you read it a while ago. (“Man, how long ago was tenth grade, am I right?!”) Usually, you’re not caught in the lie.

Still, this idea of literary lying got me thinking about when I was in grad school, and people would mention books by very literary authors. Some of them I’d read, but mostly I couldn’t drum up the same kind of enthusiasm for literary fiction as I could for YA or children’s literature. I could enjoy it and admire it, but I didn’t necessarily want to apply to writing conferences and workshops where the focus was on literary fiction. When I realized that I wanted to spend my time on YA, it was a huge relief. No more pretending my authors didn’t win prizes like the Printz! Fortunately, my program approved of a YA thesis, and I had several other YA/children’s lit-leaning friends in the department as well.

Again, we all have our literary lies, but maybe these lies are telling us something. Maybe you would love Borges if you read him–or maybe not. Maybe there’s a reason you haven’t delved into a certain writer’s work. I’m all for trying different writers and genres, but there’s no reason to feel guilty about books you haven’t read.

0 thoughts on “Books You Haven’t Read

  1. bumbas says:

    Is Victor Borge that Danish piano player who isn’t very funny anywaze?
    Seriously folks, I’ve never put too much effort into trying to impress people. I figure no sense throwing good money after bad. Annie, your blog has gotten richer, a real resource. Thanks.

  2. Chad says:

    Funny post. Yes, yesterday as I was going through my Goodreads selections and marking the ones I’ve read, and the ones I’d like to read, I had similar thoughts. And what about those ones that we’re forever telling ourselves to read? Like Moby Dick. I’ve never read it. Okay, that one I definitely need to get around to…but I have at least two dozen in my very own library that I never seem to get around to. Lazy? Loser? Or just should go read more of what I feel compelled to read? ;-D

  3. thehobbitofpemberlyplace says:

    Thank you for the interesting post. I don’t think I’ve ever done this, but I have actually gotten into quite a few interesting conversations because someone brings up a book or author who I’ve never read before. It usually seems to lead to conversations about a genre in general or something similar. I think I’m more likely to pretend I know the definition of some slang term that I’ve never heard of before (I lived a very sheltered life up until college).

  4. miq says:

    As I began reading this, I thought “no, I’ve never lied about reading a book when I actually haven’t” Then you described how you let others assume you’ve read a book when in fact you haven’t, all of a sudden I now that I’ve done that. I think I’m starting to be mature enough to admit when I haven’t read a book (like Harry Potter…oops, is that not literary enough?) but I’m also hanging out with people who know I don’t wander out of the fantasy genre too often. (Sorry for the rambling comment.)

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