An article in today’s Guardian takes on a recent poll that suggests most people lie about reading classic works of literature. The most often cited books that people fake having read are ‘War and Peace’, ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’, and The Bible.
This being the Guardian, it prompts the usual comments from readers impressing one another with the great books they have read. The Guardian tends be derided as the journal of record for liberal, middle-class snobs. It’s the paper of choice for Coronation Street’s resident left-winger, Ken Barlow. Former homeless person Becky Grainger once dismissed him with “Oh, go read your posh paper, Ken!”
This idea of listing the books one has or hasn’t read comes and goes. The BBC 100 Books meme is making the rounds on Facebook. I think, however, that there’s no shame in not having read something.
Of the three most lied about books, I’ve only ever read George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’ and that was in, well, 1984. I’ve not read the Bible, unless you count having passages read to you in church. And lately, I’ve been going to a Unitarian church, so there’s not much Bible-reading going on there.
The big gaps in my book lists tend to be 19th century novels. At best, I’ve skimmed through Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens. But coming from a contemporary era where economy of phrase is preferred, that sort of prose has always been difficult for me to get through.
I’m also a slow reader so that almost eliminates Tolstoy right off the bat or anything else that clocks in a 900+ pages. And the slowness of my reading is made worse by the simple fact that parenthood, at least in the first year, is leaving little time for personal reading. What would take me two weeks to read now takes two months, as is turning out to be the case with ‘Three Day Road’ by Joseph Boyden, the current book on my nightstand.
Still, I will try Dickens again and will probably appreciate him more next time. I’ll probably never read James Joyce. But I don’t think it’s bad when you reach a certain age to stick with the books that give you the most pleasure. You just don’t need to pretend you’ve read something that you haven’t.