March 15, 2007

Books I Have Lied About Reading

It’s Doppelganger’s world today, and we’re all just living in it.

Let me say that there aren’t many books that I have said I read when I didn’t, because as I am The World’s Worst Liar (caps necessary; I have documentation), it would go something like this: “Yeah. No, wait, the one? Yeah, I read that. For school, sure. I don’t know what it was about; I was too busy being cool to be paying attention to Faulkner’s bullsh—yeah, Heller, that’s what I meant. No, I knew it was Heller, I was just… testing y—Okay, NO, I didn’t read it looked boring WHATEVER just GIVE it to me and I WILL, GOD.”

Also, in the unlikely event I actually got away with that lie, I would be so paranoid about being found out that anytime a reference to the book was made I would have to scan the room to make sure the person I lied about it to wasn’t there, or friends with anyone who was there, or would in any way hear that I hadn’t read it and eventually become so Tell-Tale Heart-crazed with guilt that I’d start weighing the pros and cons of putting a hit on said friend, changing my name and moving to another country so I’d never have to live with the shame.* But…


Jane Eyre
This one, I lied about. It was included in the syllabus of a Brit Lit class that I actually took in Britain, the professor of which was such a reedy, pretentious asshole that I really did not feel bad about skipping the text—not because I didn’t want to, as I have since read it and enjoyed it—but because I was behind in my reading and I’d seen so many film versions I felt I could fake my way through it. I was right. Mostly because Professor RakishScarf loved nothing more than the sound of his own voice, and if your take on a particular aspect of the book ran longer than a simple sentence, he grew bored with you, cut you off, and gave a smug detraction of your statement that, despite his being an obvious prat, sounded official because of his accent. Needless to say, our pencils were as flaming swords of righteousness come Instructor Review Day.

Great Expectations
OK, I half-lied about reading this, because I half-read the book. Basically, I fanned the pages until I saw dialogue, read that, and moved on—because that Dickens is one verbose mother. I loved A Tale of Two Cities (the plot warranted the word count), but I generally have no patience for the travails of whiny, well-bred princesses (cough*Emma*cough) or the narratives of men they choose to subjugate (shut up, Pip).


But there are several books people assume I have read that, although I have not, I can still speak knowledgably about because I either 1) saw the movie, 2) read excerpts in class or 3) garnered plot points from fellow Lit majors’ long rants on how much they hated them:

Pride and Prejudice
Again, I have seen so many film versions I can fake my way around; again, not for lack of interest in the text. My dream is to have a vacation that involves tea, a warm location and a stack of books; if it ever comes to fruition, P&P will be on the pile, but since I already “know” the book, I have a hard time reading it without feeling guilty that I could be reading other things to which I have not yet been exposed… and, if I’m being entirely truthful, I’m not over Jane Austen for Emma, which I did read, and hated.

The Compleat Unabridged Lord-of-the-Ringsian-Extended Works of Willy
“I once heard that you can't consider yourself a real student of English literature until you've read pretty much everything Shakespeare ever wrote.” Snort! And I have a bridge to sell you. I’ll leave the various comments about what a “real student of Eng Lit” is aside, and just say this: you can totally skip bits. I haven’t read everything the man put out, because fortunately he’s been around so long you know his greatest hits from the womb (Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear). If you want to go deeper, you can get burned if you grab at random, because some—and I say this with a BA in Bard—are boring.

Now, not everyone majored in misanthropic poverty, and I can appreciate not liking Shakespeare, but if that opinion is based on your unfortunate viewing of
The Face’s Hamlet, please give the actual text a chance. Start with the goodies and the comedies (Much Ado, Twelfth Night, As You Like It), and if you’re inspired to read Titus, go for it—I don’t feel the burning need.

Gone with the Wind
I was obsessed with the movie when I was about twelve; Vivien Leigh’s haughtiness, Clark Gable’s moustache, the clothes, the fire, the uniforms—it went to an arguably unhealthy degree. I think I actually attempted to read the book, but it was, um, long. And didn’t have Technicolor whores (the bonus—that it also did not have Leslie Howard’s barely-concealed accent popping up like a gopher whilst delivering lines about this teddible whar, theose Yaunkees; I love the South, where I’m from, born and raised, British who?—did not interest me at the time). I made my peace with the oversight by reading the “sequel,” which… GWTW: Good book, fantastic film. Scarlett: Book. Film.

Anna Karenina
So long, so Russian, so like watching linoleum curl. I tried, I swear I tried—but when the alternative is watching Sean Bean and Sophie Marceau make out, is there even a comparison? I imagine it’s a lateral move between this and Bovary; equal amounts of self-indulgence, adultery and suicide, minus ennui, plus epaulets And since I read Madame Bovary in its entirety, I do not owe Tolstoy a minute of my time (Flaubert owes me cash money and ten months of my life back).

Lemony Snicket: Books 7 - 13
Here is an example of trudging through a series because you desperately want to like it, but eventually giving up the ghost and admitting you hate it. They’ll only really run you an hour apiece and some jokes are worth the book, but if you have read one, you have read them all. The plots are so annoyingly formulaic I wished the series ended with those orphans wrapped snugly in a blanket of hot lava—for all I know, it did, because I cried mercy halfway through. I like a good dark narrative of small children dying horribly as much as the next gal, but Edward Gorey did it first and did it better.


Now, the reverse, Books I Have Read That I Will Never Admit to Reading, is much more comprehensive list—because I tell you now, if you ever ask me if I read the episode guide to the original Star Trek series, not once but many times, and if I had not in fact memorized it to the point that it could be opened at random and I would be able to tell you from a handful of words the name of the episode, the season it debuted AND the screenshot which accompanied it… I will look you in the eye and lie like the geekiest rug in the convention gift shop. [And I certainly didn’t own any action figures or stay up late to watch the show or have a crush on Data because I’m one of the cool kids now you know too much.]

* I’m complicated.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to ye olde red hat that kept us company on Next Generation nights?

-Me

Beedoo said...

Um, who are you, and why do you know my life?

Ian said...

Thank you for mentioning Much Ado in the positive list. I was afraid you'd gloss over it after naming Hamlet and Lear up front.

Oh yes, I went there.

Beedoo said...

If I'm glossing over anything, it's A Midsummer Night's Goes On For Too Many Acts. And I separated the tragedies from the comedies because the comedies aren't treated as the same kind of[pinkie in the air] Art. The tragedies get more respect (the body count makes it so serious).

Ian said...

You know, I thought I was the only one that thought Midsummer dragged on way too long. It's always been like a dirty secret for me around English types. "Oh no, she's talking about the comedies. She's gonna say Midsummer and I'm going to have to try to suppress my look of digust. Quick, bring up Much Ado. Aaaaa, too late! Abort! Abort!" "Say, is that a three-headed Titania?" *runs*

You'd think it's everybody's favorite or something.

Anonymous said...

Like you have any stalkers but *Me*. Sheesh.

-Jen

a. said...

I've also only made it 1/2way through Great Expectations.

Gone with the wind is like crack though; I recommend actually reading that one if you like crack.

I like your blog!

Rustybelle said...

I stuck with Lemony Snicket and let me tell you the last one was a real let down. Well done for having the strength to stop before you lost the will to live. (I was desperate to find out how it ended I bought the last one in the States and now my set doesn't match which annoys me a great deal.)

Thanks for mentioning Twelfth Night as it's my favourite and it gets glossed over most of the time. As for the Histories and Tragedies I say "meh" quite heartily.

Beedoo said...

Twelfth Night was the first Shakespeare I ever read on my own. Who hasn't cast herself as Viola, saying all the romantic things things she'd really rather listen to, and wishing Olivia would have an accident with a hot plate as an example to pretty people everywhere?

Not me, obviously, but people do that. I heard.

[a.: I'm not sure if I like crack... could the book be likened to lemon poppyseed scones?]