Thursday, 5 March 2009

The lies we tell...

...and Happy World Book Day*! I spotted this piece in today's Guardian about the poll conducted to tie in with this year's WBD. Rather than being about the most popular books people read it's actually about the books most people pretend to have read. George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four tops the list as the the book most people lie about having read (42%), followed by Tolstoy's War and Peace (31%), James Joyce's Ulysses (25%) and the Bible (24%).

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one guilty of lying about having read books to look well-read (see here for what some celebrities' have lied about). For instance, in spite of reading quite a few of Orwell's books, I've never even tried to read Animal Farm. But I act like I do. I blame watching the animated version as a child. It's given me enough knowledge to not actually feel the need for the original story (which is why, as an adult, I try to read the book before I see the film!).

I also lied about reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina for years, as a friend at university just loved it and assumed no one could make it onto a undergrad literature degree without having read and loved it too. I did enjoy it when I finally read it about 4 years ago and hope to enjoy War and Peace just as much when I finally crack the cover on the copy that's been sitting on my shelf for the past 3 years!

While I've never lied about Ulysses - I read it at the age of 19 to shut up a fellow student who seemed to have based his whole reading identity on having actually finished it - I'd like to read it again, but this time with time to savour it properly. But I have lied about Oscar Wilde. I've never read anything beyond the excerpt from The Ballad of Reading Gaol that appeared on my Irish Writers' poster as an adolescent yet always acted like I had whenever Wilde came up with friends over the years.

I think the Bible's a funny choice to include, as I don't think many people actually read the Old Testament and New Testament cover to cover anymore. I've read all of the New Testament, but have definitely only read the "interesting" books of the Old Testament and have no particular desire to round out my reading with things like Micah or Haggai.

The survey also covered some reading habits like whether you turn down corners to mark your place or use a bookmark. The children's writer Francesca Simon is quoted in the Guardian's article as saying turning down pages is like mutilation, which I think is a tad extreme. I do both, with a preference for bookmarks, but then I don't consider the book itself as an animate object. I'm more concerned with the words themselves so I reserve my concern for mutilation of the censorous sort!

*to the UK and Ireland only, which for some reason celebrates WBD in early March when the rest of the world celebrates World Book and Copyright Day on 23 April, Cervantes' birthday.