We all know that people tend to stretch the truth about their reading habits in order to come across as being smart, but did you know that the fib varies by country and culture?
A recent survey of 2,000 Brits has revealed that 62% of respondents had pretended to have read one book or another in order to appear smart. The top ten books that people pretend to have read are an impressive list of books, with Orwell’s 1984 and War and Peace taking the top 2 spots.
- 1984 by George Orwell – 26%
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – 19%
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – 18%
- Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger – 15%
- A Passage to India by E M Forster – 12%
- Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein – 11%
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – 10%
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – 8%
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – 8%
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – 5%
I freely admit to never having read 7 of the titles on the list, though I did try and abandon Lord of the Rings (the exposition is too bloody long). I’ve always been honest about what I haven’t read, and in fact it didn’t occur to me to use one of the ruses suggested in the survey.
42% of the survey respondents tried to cover for their fib by watching a film or TV adaptation of the book they claimed to have read or by reading the CliffNotes or Wikipedia entry for said title. The survey also showed that the more industrious also hid their low-brow reading habits by disguising the books and magazines they’re reading with a decoy cover for a more loftier title.
The above list is based on a survey but I unfortunately don’t have the original survey results, just the news reports. And since that has been covered extensively already (see the reading list at the end of the post) I went looking for a different story.
I got to wondering whether anyone else had conducted a similar survey, and after a few minutes of Googling I found a couple different lists, including a list of 10 classic SF titles (see the end of the post) and a different list of 20 classic books which the readers of the book blog BookRiot claim to have read.
For the sake of comparison I am going to pretend that the BookRiot list represents American reading habits, though I cannot confirm that the 826 participants were Americans (I’m guessing). As you can see, there’s a fair amount of overlap between the UK list and the BookRiot list:
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (85 mentions)
- Ulysses by James Joyce
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- The Bible
- 1984 by George Orwell
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
There’s also a fair amount of difference between the lists. For example, the UK list doesn’t include 50 Shades, which ranked as 14 on the BookRiot list.
Why anyone would want to pretend to have read that particular title is beyond me; I would much rather have you know that I read the first Twilight book than think I had read 50 Shades.
But in site of my repugnance, the BookRiot list is probably the more accurate snapshot of people’s fake reading habits. For example, no one is pretending to have read Twilight anymore, though I am sure that would have been on this list a couple years ago.
So what book have you pretended to have read?
- 10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read (io9)
- 20 Books You Pretend to Have Read (BookRiot)
- Britons ‘lying to appear smarter’ (Independent.ie)
- More than half of us lie about reading classic novels (Telegraph)
- People often lie about reading classic novels, survey finds (LATimes.com)
- Why We Lie About Reading Great Books (The Atlantic Wire)