Let’s Talk About The Books You’ve Pretended To Read

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It is possible, I suppose, that you are the sort of self-actualized person who has never once pretended to have read or seen something . Perhaps, you are never anxious about your social status, and the idea of dissembling is simply alien to you, and you laugh a silver-throated laugh at the very idea of pretending to have read a book when you could simply say “I haven’t read it” because life is a constant process of learning for you. Maybe you are that kind of person. I wish you joy and have no interest in speaking any further with you.
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We have all done it, perhaps for reasons attributable to being Young and Insecure, or to impress someone with sparkling eyes and a soft neck, or because we had no desire to prolong a conversation even one second longer than absolutely necessary. Perhaps you did it because you were at a party where you didn’t really know anyone, and recreational lying to strangers is as good a way as any to pass the time. You are among friends. You can unburden yourself here.
It’s a bad habit — you know that, everyone knows that — and hopefully it’s something you do less and less as you reach Man’s Estate. I myself had to make “not lying about books and prestige cable television in casual conversation” a New Year’s Resolution a few years back in order to break myself of the habit. We are not saints; we claim progress rather than perfection.
I will get the ball rolling: I have never seen The Wire. I have seen the pilot for Friday Night Lights three times and the pilot for The West Wing four; I have never seen any other episode for either show. I have never gotten more than three chapters into Lucky Jim because it wasn’t funny and also I hated it. At least two separate friends have lent me their cherished copies of Mary McCarthy’s The Group and I have returned their copies to both of them unopened. I have never read Octavia Butler and I’ve gone for so long without admitting it, I don’t know how I’ll get on after confessing.
I cannot remember when I gave up reading A Song Of Ice and Fire and started reading the Wikipedia summaries instead. I usually say it was after book four; it was almost certainly after book three. I have also given up reading the Wikipedia summaries. I’ve read some Margaret Atwood, but I talk sometimes as if I’ve read a lot of her. I haven’t.
I have read two Chelsea Handler autobiographies. This is not germane to the topic, but I felt the need to confess. I read the first half and the last chapter of The Brothers Karamazov but skipped most of the important stuff.
I do not know if I have ever read Camille Paglia. I have a vague idea of who she is — in my mind she is a little bit connected with Fran Leibowitz? — and I know a lot of my friends get mad about her. That’s pretty much it.
I have never read Infinite Jest. I have done my best to give the impression that I have in conversation without ever actually making outright claims, but I have not read even a single word of David Foster Wallace’s fiction. I have never read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, and I do not believe that I ever shall.
Your turn.
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Authored by Mallory Ortberg.
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