Lying About Books

In a survey carried out for World Book Day, 65% of people have claimed to read a book they never read. The real figure should be closer to 100% but some people insist on lying about lying, obviously.

Here are the books most lied about:

1. 1984 by George Orwell (42%)
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (31%)
3. Ulysses by James Joyce (25%)
4. The Bible (24%)
5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (16%)
6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (15%)
7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (14%)
8. Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (9%)
9. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (6%)
10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (6%)

Fascinating, isn’t it? I haven’t read 1984 either, and I’m pretty sure I’ve lied about it. I did see the movie and I have read several other books by George Orwell, but I’m still part of the guilty 42%.

I’m wondering why so many people lie about reading Stephen Hawking? I guess it depends on who you’re trying to impress. For example, I’d never lie about reading the Bible, because I have no claims to being religious. But to admit you’ve never read 1984 is to cast doubt upon your very worth as a thinker.

War and Peace is really long, so I get why people would rather pretend to have read it than to actually plunge in. But those of us who have read it can testify that it’s easy reading and very entertaining. Not at all like Moby Dick (which is my own Moby Dick, as I’ve stated elsewhere here.)

Same thing with Madame Bovary, which is a joy to read, even though its events are so devastating. I once read an interview with Linda Ronstadt, who claimed that her idols were Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. Now there’s a liar, unless she was feeling suicidal during the interview.

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t lied about reading a book? Personally, I’d have doubts about someone who claimed to have read every volume of Remembrance of Things Past. Swann’s Way put me to sleep, so “Proustian” for me is a synonym for relentlessly boring.

In an essay about this survey in the Telegraph, the writer acknowledges the difficulty of reading the Bible, from start to finish, noting that ‘Randolph Churchill famously did it for a bet, only to give up with the remark, “God, wasn’t God a ****?”

This was almost EXACTLY my own reaction when I once picked up a Bible, but I believe I called Him a ‘bastard.’ Not that I mind a disagreeable main character. I love Humbert Humbert, for example. I think lots of people pretend to have read Lolita, given how many people think there’s something prurient about it.

The 14% who pretended to have read Midnight’s Children really mystify me. Aren’t you supposed to say you’ve read The Satanic Verses?? I know I did.

Okay, so which books have you lied about reading, anyone?

This entry was posted in Art, Words and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Lying About Books

  1. The Phone Book. Looking up numbers takes all the phun out of making crank calls.

    Seriously I can’t remember if I ever read 1984. I do remember fearing for years its arrival! Ah, the good old days.

    But I read Brave New World several times. Fantastic book.

    But when I did a book report on it in high school my teacher humiliated me in front of the entire class for titling it Brave, New World.

    She though the coma was ludicrous.

    Funny how we remember being humiliated forever and not when we’ve dumped on others 5 minutes later.. ah.. let’s be grateful.

  2. WendyB says:

    I wouldn’t bother lying about reading a book. People are surprised to learn I have read the Bible cover to cover, for a college class. By people I mean believers and by surprised I mean “can’t believe I’m not a believer after reading that fabulous book.”

  3. Deni says:

    Do cliff notes or notes count? I have never finished Catcher in the Rye, nor finished Moby Dick (I stopped at the chapter with all the technical stuff about whales and whaling . . . ). I think I once owned a bible but never cracked it open (these where the days when bibles were handed out in school and girls weren’t allowed to wear pants). I usually lie about not reading books I’ve read until I find them, open them, and start reading them and then memory comes flooding back (mostly with Charles Dickens). However, now I’m very interested in reading Gormenghast, thanks to SW. Unfortunately, of the above list I can only say I’ve read 1984 all the way through . . . I think . . .

  4. Lori says:

    @Deni, it took me forever to finish Catcher in the Rye, I completely lost interest halfway through.

    I almost lied about reading 1984 today, but then I realised it was silly. I do remember lying about having read Lord of the Flies, but I think generally people lie because they have the thought in their heads that they’re going to read it soon.

  5. hammiesays says:

    Hey I don’t get it either. I would probably lie about reading “The Davinci Code” in that I am ashamed to say I did. but I was on holiday in Spain and there were not many books in English in the house, and I at times it was so bad/funny I laughed myself off the Tumbano.

    All I can tick off that list is 1984 and The Bible. The Bible is a pretty good read and if I went to prison or got locked into a time capsule going to Mars I think you could do worse than read the bible cover to cover. It is afterall just stories used to teach illiterate people to be nice to each other, via the aural tradition. And while saying “you just gotta share shit because then everyone has like, all they need” you make up a story about people making one loaf of bread and a couple of sardines go around 100s of people and then people say “wow, that sounds great, maybe I should try this christianity sharing shit”

    I will now read War and Peace as I eat books and love a long one that I can read again and again.


    Ulysses is crap

  6. I only pretend to read books I’ve actually read.

  7. I can’t remember most of what I’ve read, but I’m pretty sure it’s less than half that list. Crime and Punishment was the only book I’ve been assigned to read that I just couldn’t finish.
    I admit to judging people by their bookshelves. Dan Brown or anything bright pink is a big turn-off.

  8. annemarie says:

    Linda Ronstadt is a total liar. I read Madame Bovary when I was a kid and even at that tender age I thought she was a shallow, snobby twit. Anna Karenina, on the other hand: yes, a much stronger character.

    I don’t lie about books I’ve read, but I sometimes lie about films that I’m supposed to have seen. Often, I only realize I’ve lied after the fact– it’s all the years I spent watching films stoned…the line between what I’ve seen and what I think I’ve seen and what I saw a bit of but then fell asleep and what i dreamt about but never actually saw gets terribly muddled. My memory of the books I’ve read is way sharper.

    I feel like I lie when I say that I’ve read Finnegan’s Wake, even though I have actually read it. Anybody who has tried reading that book will know what I mean.

    Ulysses is beautiful.

  9. Sister Wolf says:

    Dexter – I liked Brave New World, too. Sorry your teacher was a ****!

    WendyB – I’m impressed.

    Deni – I’d like to be someone who’s read Bleak House.

    Peter – You set a fine example, sir.

    Iheartfashion -I hear you. I once met a writer whose bookshelves were full of celebrity biographies! I was totally freaked out.

    Annemarie – My brother in law did a dissertation on Finnegan’s Wake. I always found that both hilarious and awe-inspiring. (ps. when I think of all the movies I saw on LSD, I am truly horrified!)

  10. I don’t recall having pretended to have read anything I hadn’t, but that I don’t recall it doesn’t mean I never did.

    I do indeed, however, plead guilty to the antecedent crime of admiring a number of books I haven’t ever read, which is perhaps the real point anyway.

  11. Ann says:

    I’d like to lie and say I didn’t read a book I actually read; does that count? I want to pretend I didn’t read Survivor by that awful Chuck Palahniuk.

  12. David Duff says:

    I lie about books constantly. Everytime the little ‘Memsahib’ spots a new one I tell her it was borrowed, on free offer or I found it on a train.

    Anyway, the only really interesting thing about other people’s books is how big are their ‘waiting-to-be-read’ piles? Bet mine’s bigger than yours, Dexter!

  13. Deni says:

    For those that want to share their favorite books with complete strangers (or those horrid books you’d like to burn but find book burning sacrilegious) :

  14. Sister Wolf says:

    Malcolm – You’re right, that is the point for some of us, but there is a poseur factor for others. I had a HUGE argument with my husband about which groups of people are ‘understood’ to have read certain books. He disagreed with the whole premise. I’m still hoping to find someone who will agree!

    Ann – Ugh, you poor thing. Take consolation in the fact that I’ve read “Woman Who Love Too Much.”

    David – I’ll bet mine is as big as yours AND Dexter’s.

    Deni – Yes, I love them. It’s such a great idea, but I’ve been too lazy to participate. Maybe this will rouse me to action. xo

  15. I can’t read fiction anymore. I have no patience.

    When they use a paragraph to describe the color of the sky or the weather I want to gut the author. GET ON WITH IT!

    So I just read “fact” based books – which of course are the biggest fiction of all.

  16. crocodilian says:

    I think I’ve only lied to teachers about having read certain books. Or, you know… on exams.

    I am a new reader of yours and was brought here by your most hated books post – hating books is so much more rewarding than lying about them! I was thrilled to see that you had listed The Awakening, because I can think of few books I hate more. Did you know she also wrote a short story called Desiree’s Baby, in which – gasp – the mother/protagonist walks into the water at the end and drowns? Sound familiar?

    Other books that I have a particularly special place for in the hating part of my heart are Song of Solomon, The Grapes of Wrath, the already condemned Ulysses (imagine normal book hatred, multiplied by the number of pages), The Great Gatsby, anything by Hemmingway, and anything by anyone who likes Hemmingway.

    Also deserving of special mention is Flannery O’Connor, for “Good Country People”, in which a woman named Hulga has her wooden leg stolen by a salesmen who seduces her in the loft of her farmhouse. With that kind of plot, it should have been a thrill to read. It was not.

  17. Sister Wolf says:

    Dexter – Oh god, then stay far away from Moby Dick.

    crocodilian – Were we separated at birth?? Hemingway, ugh! Hate him! And I agree about anyone who likes Hemingway. Horrible. However, I love “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” even though it was deeply disturbing.

    What about people who like Faulkner? I usually hate them, too.

  18. ..last entry on this subject.. I know I’m getting tiresome.. as usual.. but if anyone likes “Southren writnin” you may enjoy this.. or find it cloying?

    I love it.

  19. OMGGMAB says:

    I’m all for dumping the classic “classics” list and replacing most of that swill with “modern” classics. Although I do still love Dickens and the Scarlet Letter.

    And don’t dis those who love mindless reading. Best thing after a long day is to enjoy People magazine because I don’t have to think about any of the dribble!

    Hemingway did leave a legacy of cool cats at his Key West home. That should buy him a little respect, unless of course, you hate cats!

  20. OMGGMAB says:

    Dexter, thanks for clearing up from where the phrase “baby daddy momma” originates. Welty spent more time coming up with those names than writing the story.

  21. WCGB says:

    ixnay on the oby-may ick-day

  22. yr bro in law did a dissertation on Finnegan’s Wake?! Amazing, what a brilliant masochist. i’ve pretty much lied about reading Ulysses, because I only read it because i took a whole class on it. and proust must be the most quoted and not read author of them all.

  23. Deni says:

    Books on the cheap/trade/

    How to Find Books on a Budget
    By Katie Arnold-Ratliff

    For cost-conscious readers who want to trade, borrow, or buy, these sites are the best things to come along since the public library.

    Book swap
    The Swap Meet
    Post books you’d like to exchange on, and whenever one of 100,000-plus “moochers” requests one, you’ll earn a point for mailing it. Redeem each point for any of the million-plus titles in the BookMooch inventory–all you pay for is the postage.

    Postage stamp
    The Postal Service
    Trade hardcovers and audiobooks as well as softcovers at, and get updates on newly available titles via their daily e-mail digest. Stroke of genius: the online postage program, which allows you to print the postage on a mailing label directly from your computer.

    Book in water
    The Deep End lets you organize a “pool” of titles you’d like to rent (just like a Netflix queue); for $20 to $40 per month, you’ll receive two or more at a time. Shipping is included in the subscription fee, and you can purchase any BookSwim rental at the click of a button.

    The Good Read
    With more than two million titles at bargain prices, donates a portion of revenues to literacy causes such as Books for Africa and Worldfund. Shipping is free within the U.S., and the site minimizes its carbon footprint through an offset program with

  24. Kayte says:

    I don’t get why anyone would feel obliged to say they read something they hadn’t. Maybe I just am too willing to admit my lack of literacy. The only book on that list I’ve read is 1984 and it was SO long ago that I don’t remember any of it in terms of details. I remember the concept and the emotions I had while reading it but thats about it.

    Honestly none of the other books are even on my “To Read” list right now. I DO have a Tolstoy book on my bookshelf but its Anna Karenina, not war and peace. And whether I ever read it or it just continues to collect dust… we’ll see in the next 5 years 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.