Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, March 5, 2009


This story is surprising to me. I am not at all surprised that people claim to have read books that they haven't read, but I certainly didn't expect that Nineteen Eighty-Four would be at the top of the list. I mean, it’s not an especially challenging or especially long read, and there are plenty of folks out there — I among them — who have found it pretty darn riveting. Curious.

I wonder what would top an American version of that list: A recent feature on Oprah’s Book Club? Something universally assigned in high school? Would we more want to present ourselves as ambitiously literate — saying that we read Gravity’s Rainbow when, like everyone else, we really didn’t — or would we want to present ourselves as socially normal — saying not only that we read Catcher in the Rye in high school but that it was our favorite book, when in fact we never got past page three?

There’s another side to all this, too: people who deny having read books that they actually love. How many people falsely assert that they have never read a Stephen King or John Grisham novel? I bet more people untruthfully deny having read the Harry Potter books than untruthfully claim that they have.

What about The Lord of the Rings? Are there more people who haven't read it but say that they have or have read it but say that they haven't? Inquiring minds want to know.


  • I think I read once that A Brief History of Time was way way up there on books people lied about reading (or was that books people just bought and didn't read?), which boggled my mind since I loved it.

    I think the answer to your LOTR question is going to vastly depend upon the particular subculture in question. I'd guess that more affluent groups will be more likely to falsely claim to have read 1984/War and Peace and to falsely claim to have not read the Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter. Flip flop that on the other end of the wealth scale.

  • I can hardly remember what I've read any more, and would be afraid to lie about what I can remember, for fear I'd lose the truth.

    Having said that, I read the Harry Potter series in the two to three weeks before the last one came out, but would have been embarrassed to post it on my blog!

  • I don't think I've ever lied about reading a book. I was completely positive, however, that I'd read "The Giver" and when I sat down recently to read it again, I realized that no, this was not the case. I never had. I'd told people I had, but I was mistaken. Maybe I was thinking of The Giving Tree...

    Oh, and speaking of Catcher in the Rye, I'm a "not past page 3" guy. Something about that book won't allow me to move beyond the first chapter....

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