Thursday, April 2, 2009


Reuters reports that 2 out of 3 Britons lie about what books they've read in order to appear more literate and cultured than they really are. The same study indicates that rather than George Orwell, the Brits like nothing better than curling up with a little something by JK Rowling on a cold winter's night.
"According to the survey, 65 percent of people have pretended to have read books, and of those, 42 percent singled out "1984." Next on the list came "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy and in third place was James Joyce's "Ulysses."
I can't find statistics on the USA but I'd wager that the numbers are similar.

There's a certain cachet to being seen as well-read but how many people really put the time in necessary to really be well-read? Maybe I'm a pessimist, but I'd wager that it's probably fewer than we'd all like it to be. Then again, a buddy of mine who went to college in Buffalo told me about a bar near the college that was called "The Library" so maybe people weren't lying... maybe they were confused.

None of this is a howling revelation about human nature, but it occurs to me to wonder why people feel the need to do this. Anyone who is on Facebook has probably been hit with the "The BBC thinks we're howling idiots because we've only read six of the following 100 books" meme in one of it's many forms. Setting aside the fact that the meme is of specious origins and ignoring the fact that it would be difficult to have graduated high school without breaking the putative "six of these books" mark, it's not hard to see how these things might lead to a bit of truth-stretching. After a quick troll through Facebook I'm inclined to give anecdotal witness that this is indeed happening on a wide scale.

People are lying about being well read.

Lying about their reading habits... to impress people! Which means it must be "cool" to be well read, right?

The first thing that strikes me about of this is the idea that there's some sort of waiting list to get into the Book Nerd clique. It certainly wasn't like that when I was in high school. Did we take over the world when I wasn't looking? That's nice. I must've missed that issue of the newsletter. We shall endeavor to be benevolent masters. Get thee to the library... no, the one with books in it!

All of that sounds a bit snobbish, and I apologize. When you rule the world, it can go to your head. Don't worry, we won't insist upon swirlies except in those cases where there's a "ticking clock" and the jock in question has refused to relinquish his lunch money to the people hurling Shakespearean insults at him.

Regardless of who rules the world I would like to encourage you to join the nerd coalition. Just remember that true nerddom isn't about knowing stuff. And it's not about glasses and pocket protectors. It's a bit about being unathletic and unpopular, though, now that we're in power, I've tabled a resolution to repeal that line of the nerdstitution. (How else are we going to explain Danica McKellar?) It is about learning and enjoying learning.

And maybe a little bit about being in a marching band.  

Joking aside, the only way to become truly, actually, honestly well-read is to read. Read anything. I don't care what it is. Read mystery novels. Read thrillers. Read adventure yarns. Read history books. Read novels with ripped bodices on the cover. Read kids books. If you don't have time to read books, read short stories. Just read.

I'm wagering that a decent percentage of you will get over the taste of your literary Happy Meals and wonder what else is out there and begin sampling the Kobe burgers and filet of the bookworld. Before you know it, you'll be a book nerd too, part of the new ruling class. It could be that you were already among us and just don't know it.

Don't lie though. Because there might be a quiz later, an entrance exam that you won't find on Facebook so I would invite you to actually improve your literacy instead of lying about it.

Just be thankful we're not making you take the math version of the test. Welcome to the Nerd World Order.

What are YOUR must-read books? What's on your "Desert Island List"? Loan us a book or ten in the comments, wouldja?! I don't enjoy reading if someone else if forcing me to do it, but in case you need a list, the ones below are worth your time...
100 Best (English) Novels (according to Modern Library

100 Best (Western) Novels (according to Time Magazine)

100 Best Mystery Novels (according to HRF Keating)
100 Best Adventure Novels (according to National Geographic)
100 Best Romance Novels (according to
100 Best Books for Teenagers by the ALA (American Library Association)
1000 Sci Fi Novels "Everyone must read" (according to The Guardian)

1 comment:

  1. As several kinds of nerd, here are some books I'd like to loan out (mostly because it would be so nifty to have someone with whom to discuss them):

    Elephantoms: Tracking the Elephant - Lyall Watson (2002)
    Through A Window - Jane Goodall (1990)
    Claudius the God - Robert Graves (1935)
    The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood - Howard Pyle (1946)
    The Chinese Western: Short Stories from Today's China - trans. Zhu Hong (1988)


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).