I stumbled across a great little article today about the Great British public’s propensity to lie about the books they’ve read. Apparently, someone has actually conducted a survey in an attempt to ascertain the most popular (or possibly unpopular) unread books that we claim to have finished. “War and Peace” is up there, perhaps unsurprisingly, as are “Oliver Twist” and “Little Women”. But what I find most bizarre is the fact that it’s so common to tell porkies about our reading habits, since I can’t remember having lied about a book in my life. What I tend to do instead, if asked about a classic I haven’t read, is to give an honest response but prefaced by “I’m ashamed to say”, just to make sure I’m seen to pass judgement on myself before my interrogator gets the chance! Have I ever lied about enjoying a book though? I must admit that’s a lot more likely. There are some books that are so universally adored that admit your dislike of them and people look at you as if you’ve just sprouted a second head; I’d give you the recurring example from my own experience but I fear it would lose me a lot of readers! In defence of lying though, I’ve always been of the mind-set that there are times when it’s best just to spare people’s feelings. Let’s face it, if someone’s given me something to read that’s close to their heart I’m simply too soft to launch into an assassination of their beloved book, no matter how much I loathed it. Far better to take a safe middle ground and fend off queries about whether I enjoyed it with a few neutral observations or vaguely positive comments – not too much enthusiasm of course or you’re in danger of finding yourself being lent everything else that author’s ever written. That all sounds rather two-faced, doesn’t it; but I have a very clear recollection of the time I lent a friend an astounding novel that had reduced me to tears with its richly emotional content, only for her to return it fairly dismissively a few weeks later saying she was never going to finish it. Well, to me that was about as insulting as you could get, what with my books being pretty much akin to my family and all, so I resolved there and then I would never cause another bookworm such grief!
So no, I’m not going to lie about never having read Ulysses – I’m not going to lie about ever wanting to read Ulysses come to that – but a small bookish white lie occasionally? I’m okay with that.