Monday, March 9, 2009

Have you really read it?

The Guardian Books website published an interesting piece today in recognition of World Book Day.

(An aside - World Book Day is an international event, celebrated in most parts of the world on April 23rd, but marked in the UK and Ireland this year on March 6th. I know, confusing, but I think it has something to do with school terms and tradition...)

So, the UK World Book Day organization held a poll that asked people about their guilty reading secrets - books that we claim to have read, even though we haven’t. Here’s the top ten and the percentage of respondents who have falsely claimed to read them:

1. 1984 by George Orwell (42%)
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (31%)
3. Ulysses by James Joyce (25%)
4. The Bible (24%)
5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (16%)
6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (15%)
7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (14%)
8. In Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (9%)
9. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (6%)
10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (6%)

Now, I know that it may seem strange for a library blog to be highlighting a story about not reading - but I find this fascinating. While I think it's great that there are works of literature that people clearly think are important to read (so much so that they'll lie about it), it seems more important to me that we should just enjoy what we have read. It brings to mind a book I read last year called How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard - a great book for all of us who feel a bit daunted by the sheer volume of things we haven’t read. Bayard - a professor of French Literature who admits to not having fully read all of the works of Proust - penned a thoughtful, funny piece about the books we’ve read, the ones we haven’t and why we shouldn't have to feel guilty about it.

What do you think?


  1. Well, personally, I have never lied about reading a book (except maybe The Wind in the Willows when I was 10). I have only read two books on this list - War and Peace (yes the whole thing) and Madame Bovary. I'm not really tempted to read the rest, with the exception of 1984.

  2. I have only read 1984 and the Selfish Gene. I started a couple others but soon lost interest.

  3. I've read each of those books, several times!
    I've also been known to lie about having read books.