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article imageOp-Ed: People lying about books they’ve read?

By Paul Wallis     Dec 11, 2008 in Entertainment
If you’ve actually read something, you may be in a minority. It seems there’s some snob value in pretending to have read some books, according to a new survey. Pitiful, yes. Apparently literacy is really a social pecking thing unrelated to reading.
I’d describe myself as semi-literate. I usually read the publisher’s blurb on classics series and count the ones I’ve read. It’s a pretty scary experience, cunningly undermining your faith in your own literacy.
You may not have read Omigodocle’s History of Grecian Urns in the original Greek, or the critically acclaimed Tale of a Scrubbing Brush by someone you’ve never heard of, and are pretty sure you shouldn’t.
Apparently men are more likely to lie about their reading than women, with both achieving impressive levels of non-reading. Nearly half of the men among the 1,500 people surveyed by Populus for the National Year of Reading have lied about their reading. One third of women were also lied.
The BBC explains the current version of “social” literacy:
The men polled said they would be most impressed by women who read news websites, Shakespeare or song lyrics.
Women said men should have read Nelson Mandela's biography or Shakespeare.
Among the 1,500 who took part in the research were 864 teenagers.
… Among teenagers, the figure rose to 74%, with most saying they would pretend to have read social networking pages or song lyrics.
Makes a point, doesn’t it? If nothing else, they're at least not reading that garbage. There may be hope, yet.
This could be of great benefit to writers, who will now feel obliged to be more pretentious, and far less attached to the idea of actually writing anything worth reading. We can now write important stuff about household utensils and living with so few actual challenges.
Part of the problem is dismal education, but checkbook criticism is the real culprit. Much of the status given to books is from the faux literati, who are more like copywriters than critics. How many reviews have you read where the book was anything less than "captivating, brilliant, gritty..." I could sell you a macro.
In theory, Jack and Jill could be critically described as:
A gripping metaphoric romance
Occupational health and safety for hydrologists
A way of raising children to avoid going uphill to get water, which is usually found downhill anyway
A breathtaking extravaganza featuring complex medical issues and the law of gravity.
So if you’ve read Jack and Jill, according to this, if those are the perceptions of the content, you could be:
A romantic,
A romantic hydrologist,
A romantic hydrologist who happens to be staggeringly unaware of drainage,
A medical voyeur with a gravity fetish,
A thoroughly confused child with a fear of hills, wells, people with alliterative names and tumbling…
But you’ve read it, and presumably survived. You’re now a sort of thematic cultural hero, living on the edge, according to the market image and therefore the social image. You can hold your head up among other pioneers of literacy. People will avoid you on trains, and you'll have bookshops following you around.
I have a copy of the Oxford Nursery Rhymes, and I just liked Mother Hubbard’s dog, in the woodcuts.
Ah well.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Literacy, Social reading, Populus survey 2008
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