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have you read _____ book?

Have you ever pretended to read someone’s book–perhaps a friend, perhaps a signed copy–when you have not, either from lack of time or lack of interest?

13 thoughts on “have you read _____ book?

  1. Never. That would just be flagrantly rude and dishonest, dismissive of that writer’s work, but merely pretending to have read their work in order to ingratiate yourself with them.

    I have never done this nor thought about in great detail so that I could plan for every eventuality.

    No. *cough*

  2. No, but I have caught a few people doing it.

    Adam beat me to mentioning it, but Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read goes into some detail behind the motivations for this, and actually, ironically, encourages it. It’s an entertaining read.

      1. Okay, here’s one thing that happened: I was talking to a writer when another writer passes by, and first writer says to the writer passing by, “Hey blank I just read blank.” “Thanks,” says writer, continuing to pass by.” And then first writer turns to me and says, “I didn’t read blank’s book, and I don’t know why I said it.” My response was to talk about Bayard’s book.

        Second thing that happened: I’m at a table full of writers, and I mention a book to a writer. I ask if blank has read it and blank says, “Yes,” and then blank turns to blank’s partner, then turns to me and says, “No, I haven’t read it,” and laughs.

  3. though i haven’t pretended to read the work of a writer who is an acquaintance (or professor, or classmate, neighbor), i am guilty of struggling mightily with boredom while reading the books. i could easily rattle off several titles that i absolutely loathed but forced myself to read cover to cover. some sort of MUST FINISH WHAT I BEGIN masochism.

  4. John–how do we know you really read the Bayard book? Although, I imagine I am sympatico with his argument, just from skimming–not reading–the book review.

    What are the differences between actively reading and skimming–when forcing oneself to finish an unappetizing text. And, if one reads actively and one reads passively, or quickly/skimming, will the recall in 20 years time be any different?

    I imagine Bayard would agree–perhaps I’ll read around that title.

    This question was spurred by my realization that I have a friend’s book to read, and well, I just can’t get into it.

    In grad school, I would nod my head incessantly in class, which I learned later was a cue to some professors that I was affirming my knowledge of Heidegger or whatever.

    Since I am a good BS’er, I often ran with it–in the Bayard sense of having gleaned the cultural importance of the texts in question, and then…

    This puts it more eloquently, and with more humor:


    I’ll post it in the main blog.

    1. Hey Davis,

      It’s a good question. Recognizing that offering “proof” in this context, or any context really, can be faked in any number of ways (something that Bayard explores and even encourages–albeit ironically, I’d argue–in his book), there are several possible answers: The first answer is that trust is the “how” for knowing that I really read Bayard’s book. The second is you don’t. And the third is you doubt. But the only way to really ever know whether what another person has said is true is to know that person, and that “knowing” is always mediated by trust. However, you can also say that since it’s likely that we don’t even know ourselves, how then can we ever know that whatever we say and think about ourselves is true? And then you can also, like Pilate, say, “What is truth?” and then wash your hands.

      It’s easy to get mired in solipsistic sloppiness when talking about these things.

    2. That video is scary. I think they overused ‘fuck’ a little bit too much toward the end. Not being in academia for a while-is the figure of the thick-accented German intellectual that pervasive in American Universities?

  5. ha. greg–at my grad school, Suny Binghamton, the Comp Lit dept (I was english but took many comp lit courses, had its share of those types).

    Incidentally, you can put in any script into that program and have “actors” like those animals speak for you. I’m thinking of having one of them teach class for me next term–seriously.

    @John–Lady Macbeth taught me to never wash my hands.

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