Monday, March 09, 2009

Ineluctable modality of lying

Some kind of survey: most people lie about reading books they haven't read.

Why?

To impress people.

No, why?

Is there any evidence this approach has worked? Are there women out there who dream of being wooed by someone who has read Ulysses? Are there men who could never love someone who has not read 1984? Has anyone ever decided that someone was, in fact, less than the total tosser they appeared to be because they had read the Bible cover to cover?

Lying about things you have read, but do not want to admit to having done so, that I could understand. Readers with impressive memories might recall that there are those who would take against a Flashman fan. More generally, being over-read may make one appear a dweeb; the sort who would bang on about modernist classics or lengthy Russian potboilers. A friend of mine was once approached by a bar maid in a pub in Dagenham while he was flicking through a book - Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes. (NB: it was mine. I was in the gents at the time). "What's that you're reading?" she asked him. "A cultural history of Russia," he replied. "What's wrong with you?" she asked. "Why can't you read things that normal people read, like Martina Coles?" He could not answer.

Don't forget the fun of celebrating the gaps in one's own knowledge.

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16 Comments:

Anonymous The Brother said...

Hmm, just re-read your Flashman post and am now concerned that having a Patrick O'Brian ('HMS Surprise') in my jacket pocket may send a false signal whilst abroad in town. Perhaps I should butcher a Cecilia Ahern novel (always sensible, no?) and plaster that over the cover.

5:40 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Depends. If you wish to drive away young ladies, reading chick lit might do the trick. (It'll probably drive away everyone else too. A man is less likely to be shunned reading Jihad for Beginners on public transport).

O'Brien basically appeals to the better nature of Flashman fans (even if it has been suggested to me, very wrongly in my view, that there is something a bit gay about the Aubrey/Maturin series).

Though, as you'll realise from your reading of O'Brien, throwing out false signals is an acceptable ruse de guerre.

7:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there any evidence this approach has worked? Are there women out there who dream of being wooed by someone who has read Ulysses? Are there men who could never love someone who has not read 1984? Has anyone ever decided that someone was, in fact, less than the total tosser they appeared to be because they had read the Bible cover to cover?

With the exception of the q about 1984 (which is too thin and unimpressive and a direct rip-off of a marginally more interesting Russian novel) the answer to the other questions here is, most certainly, "yes".

The idea of pursuing a relationship with anyone who has not read, and enjoyed, and appreciated "The Master and Margarita" is anathema

4:58 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

I think I can guess who the gentleman in question is ...

OTOH he wouldn't be allowed to read any Orlando Figes books anywhere if he were in Russia

11:13 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Nick, I guess that you have guessed it right. There are heavy hints in the post.
I wonder if I should open a book about the next British historian to get banned in Russia. There are a couple of likely contenders.

Anon, you're forgetting the pleasure of introducing a new book to your latest squeeze. It's as good a guide as any to what they're letting themselves into. (But if you do know of any spare women who are easily impressed by a knowledge of Irish modernist literature, do pass them this way).

12:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, yes, I was not being intentionally anonymous - for some reason it wasn't let me log in.

In any case my reading for the weeks ahead comprises: several things by Pope Benedict XVI, a quick reread of some of my favourite Chesterton, Thomas More's "Utopia", and then (deep breath), I think, lots of Solzhenitsyn (probably in translation) - some of the fiction, I think, being already familiar with the GULag archi.

10:40 am  
Anonymous KB Player said...

A bloke came up to me in a pub once and said, “I know how it ends up. She leaves her boyfriend and goes back to her ex-husband. I know how it ends up.” I twigged that he had seen me reading a paperback with a pink cover – Daniel C Dennett’s Breaking the Spell - and had thought it was chick lit. I think a female reading a weighty looking book or mag like the London Review of Books would put off yer average bloke - too intimidating - whereas one reading chick lit or Cosmopolitan would appear acceptably feminine.

(Isn't it "O'Brian" BTW?)

1:59 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Damn, yes, you're quite right it is O'Brian. I'm always getting that one wrong.

As for the rest, I'm not sure the average bloke would necessarily be intimidated by a girl reading weightier matters. Some prefer a bit of brains (either as a foil for their own wits or as compensation for their own lack there of), some wouldn't. Men being such contrary and unpredictable creatures it's hard to generalise.

Personally speaking (and I am very far from average, mind) I'd be a little chary about LRB readers - the danger of them being a stereotypical north London middle class bien pensant must at least be born in mind. I prefer readers of proper books to chick litears, though.

10:06 pm  
Blogger dominic said...

Maybe I'm not the average bloke, but I don't find the idea of a woman reading the LRB intimidating so much as implying that she will, more likely than not, have really an ill-informed decadent, secular, Islingtonian, Weltaanschaung, which I want utterly nothing to do with (and have left London on two separate occasions to escape: She would probably also be into casual sex too, which is also a turn-off. But perhaps I generalise too much.

I am still unsure wheether St Andrews or Westcliff-on-Sea offers wider and more fertile fields for shoots of truth and beauty to grow, but they both beat pretty much any part of North London hands down - I write as an ex-Hampstead-Kilburn-GoldersGreen-ite),

But a girl reading Heat Magazine (or similar); that is an even bigger turn-off. A bit of political or religous extremism (of almost any kind, more or less) is sexy, though.

10:22 pm  
Blogger bill said...

A bit of political or religous extremism (of almost any kind, more or less) is sexy, though.

Says the man whose rant would make the average Islamist go "er, calm down old chap". If you wish to generalise about someone's moral views from their reading habits you do rather lose the right to condemn other elements of modern society as superficial and shallow, you know.

But what I really want to know is this: is it an effective strategy to pull girls?

I must say that a genuine disagreement of the issues of the day can generate a certain spark in relationship. Though I am hardly an extremist.

10:30 pm  
Anonymous KB Player said...

Well, Clive James says he always finds the sight of a woman erotic. Especially if it's one of his books. But then he's an intellectual.

11:29 pm  
Blogger bill said...

I thought girls were warned to steer clear of intellectuals. No knowing what sort of things they get up to.

As some liberal college professor from the US once said:

All books can be indecent books
Though recent books are bolder
For filth, I'm glad to say, is in
The mind of the beholder
When correctly viewed
Everything is lewd

11:46 pm  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

Don't people lie about the books they have read, too? Who wants to be known as Jeffrey Archer reader?

Puss

12:26 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Is that a confession, Puss?

I mean, I know of people who've admitted to reading (and enjoying) the likes of Harry Potter and the Da Vinci code. But it's the enjoying part of it that attracts mockery: people read stuff for all sorts of reasons - though obviously reading that type of thing for fun is very, very wrong.

8:50 pm  
Blogger dominic said...

On this, at least, I thought WH Auden was quite to the point

To the man-in-the-street,
who, I’m sorry to say, is a keen observer of life. The word Intellectual suggests straight away. A man who’s untrue to his wife.

10:21 am  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

Yes; I grew up in a cultural wasteland and all my books came from jumble sales. When I got too old to re-read all the Enid Blyton, I moved onto Jackie Collins, Virginia Andrews, that Archer twunt and anything else I could lay my hands on. But even back then I knew it was shite, I was just bored and disaffected.

Oh, and who is the football manager you refer to because the one I met didn't wear glasses and was lovely :-)

Puss

5:06 pm  

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