Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What book do you claim to have read that you haven't?

Who's asking: Me, but inspired by Tod Goldberg

Over at Jewcy yesterday, Tod Goldberg discussed his habit of pretending to have read important works of literature.

I'll go out on a limb and say that everyone who lives and works in the world of books has done this about at least one book, so today I'm asking you: what's the book you most often claim to have read, but never actually made it through?

For me, it's Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. In 1996 or 1997, my then-housemate Ashton decided that all of us living at 1800 15th Street NW should read it, and discuss it; he bought four copies, and we all started in.

I carried it around with me for about three months, and made it about halfway through. I was traveling a lot at the time, and what alarmed me was how many people stopped me when I was carrying it -- "Are you reading that? That's my favorite book EVER! That book changed my life!"

The oddest instance of this happened at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I was in Cleveland for a meeting, had a couple of hours off and wandered over to check out the Hall and maybe read in the plaza afterward. The ticket-taker, who was somewhere in my age range (30ish), noticed my book and told me that it was the greatest book he'd ever read.

Sometimes I think that if I'd actually been able to finish Atlas Shrugged, I too could be working at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame -- but in the immortal words of Too Much Joy, all I've got is a few big dreams divided into many small regrets.

Anyway, I want to know what your Big Literary Lie is. Leave it in the comments section.

Five Random Songs

"Suite - Judy Blue Eyes," Crosby, Stills & Nash. So beautiful, still.

"President Gas," Psychedelic Furs. Great workout music.

"Jubilee," Mary Chapin Carpenter. This album (Stones in the Road) is my favorite of all her records, a meditation on mid-life and lost love.

"Troubled Times," Fountains of Wayne. Why aren't these guys huge, huge stars?

"Lullaby of London," The Pogues. "May angels bright watch you tonight/And keep you as you sleep."


Madley said...

"A Wrinkle in Time"
"Animal Farm"
"The Sun Also Rises"

...and many other books in college that I know enough to nod my head to yes at when someone mentions it, but never discuss it. College was much too big a blur!

AnswerGirl said...

I'm not a fan of CATCH-22, but the others are all worth reading, and short! You could try them again sometime... especially A WRINKLE IN TIME, which was one of my childhood favorites.

Karen said...

I only made it halfway through TOM JONES and cheated in college by reading Cliffs Notes of PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN. My English prof is turning over in his grave as we speak (write?)...

Chandra said...

of mice and men

and lord of the rings trilogy.. i read almost all of book 1, but stopped then.

AnswerGirl said...

I've never even tried to read TOM JONES, though I like the movie.

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST is beautiful, though, and I actually go back to portions of it sometimes just for the language. See if you can find it on audiobook; Joyce is often easier to understand by ear than by eye.

Chandra, if you've seen the LOTR movies, you can pretend to have read the books. Especially if you've seen the extended versions -- the time commitment is about the same!

Claire said...

Anyone who claims to have read all of Galt's 100 page speech in Atlas Shrugged is either a dirty liar or someone to be avoided at all costs. You can read the first five pages and get the gist of the thing; anyone who insists on reading the whole speech has got to have ulterior motives.

I can't think of any books I've systematically lied about. I've definitely allowed people to believe I've read things I haven't, because I do have a reputation to protect, but I'm not sure if any particular books have suffered from my lies more than others.

Anonymous said...

The Scarlet Letter

we had to read it for High school Sophmore english

I read the "Classics Illustrated" version.


Anonymous said...

Tobias Wolfe has some very funny stuff about Rand worship in his novel "Old School." Well worth reading, or pretending to.


mierla said...

Ulysses - this is a good one because not having read it is nearly the same thing as having done so when it comes to talking about it.

Madame Bovary - I try, I really do. I've a lovely little old pocket copy that's tactilely very nice to hold and everything, but still I never seem to get beyond the first 50 pages.

Linda Brown said...

I used to try to pretend I've read a bunch of authors and/or books, working at The Mystery Bookstore. Alas, I'm a lousy liar, and I pretty quickly decided it takes too much tap-dancing. Now I just cop to the fact and listen to people who exclaim, "You work HERE and you haven't read THAT?! Oh, you really should! You MUST!" -- as if I don't have 50 other books I MUST read, already... Sigh. Life is soooo difficult when one must read for a living.

p.s. I never made it through ATLAS SHRUGGED, either. But I did think THE FOUNTAINHEAD was intriguing.
pp.s. Has anyone ever really read Proust?

AnswerGirl said...

I tried to read Proust one summer, many years ago. Didn't make it very far.

Scott, thanks for the Tobias Wolff tip. His short fiction is amazing, and I loved THIS BOY'S LIFE, but have never read any of his novels.

Anonymous said...

Working at a bookstore where the release of a new Harry Potter book is easily the biggest event of any given year I confess I only made it as far as halfway through the fourth book in the series. Doesn't somebody big die at the end of that one? I still don't know who so don't tell me - I may finish it some day.

Will Robesky said...

I read the cliff notes for Machiavelli's "The Prince". I even have the book by my bedside, but alas I can not finish it. I do pretend I have read it, and use it to my advantage in military discussions.
We love the blog. Will and Sarah.

Archimedes Principle said...

Anything by Sartre, basically. I fall down into a king sized stupor after 10 pages.

I'll 'fess up....I'm a weekend existentialist; can do the lifestyle, but the key texts just stay on the bedisde table, next to the forever unlit Gauloise