Photographed by Molly Cranna.
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.
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.
Authored by Mallory Ortberg.