Well Read? Better to Just, Well, Read

The othet day I was reading the paper and there was a list slotted among the articles. Compiled by a website it was a list of books that people lie about having read.

I can see why people lie about what they read, or at least I used to. When I was younger I would worry more about what others thought of me.

As I’ve gotten older it’s been less important to me. I’m not saying I’ve cast off insecurity and self consciousness entirely, but the anxiety of being seen as stupid or uncultured has diminished.

Take the list above, there was a time when I would have stated that I had read 9 of those. But now I’ll fess up. I’ve read 6. And parts of three.

I managed to slog through The Fellowship of the Ring, helped by my decision to skip all the songs, seriously Tolkien was not a great poet. But a few chapters into The Two Towers I decided life was too short and I’d just wait for the movie. I don’t see anything embarrassing about admitting that I find the man’s writing painfully long winded and dull. He saps the energy from action sequences and in a thousand words makes you care less about a character than some can do in a page. 

I was probably too young when I tried to read The Diary of Anne Frank and at some point I’ll have another go, and be kinder on the teenage narrator. 

I was a kid and I found the early stages self absorbed, but I think as someone who grow up to share my opinions online I can see why writing things down helped her (and not want to throw stones in my lovely glass house). And like I said, be more forgiving of a writer who wrote for herself in an immensely difficult time.

The final one I could claim to have read is George Orwell’s  1984. I’ve taken two tilts at it, but never got to the end. It’s undoubtedly clever, filled with great ideas and foresight. But for me it lacks heart, the characters don’t engender warmth and I grew bored. It was a story I cared little for taking place in an interesting and well crafted world, but you need a book to grip you. You need to care, and I didn’t. 

I’ve since become a fan of Orwell’s nonfiction writing but can’t bring myself to rally for a third assault on his most famous work.

Here’s the thing, nobody should feel like they have to lie about what they’ve read. Read what you like. 

I used to read those “100 books you MUST read” lists, and take pride in how many I scored. But I care less for them. 

Too many books I love don’t feature. Ed McBain, World War Z, Roald Dahl, A Song of Ice and Fire, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bernard Cornwell, Terry Pratchett- you don’t see them there.

And they always feature Charles bloody Dickens. Gods, has a writer ever been hyped so much. I struggled through Great Expectations as an A Level English Literature student, a slow torturous read lacking incident or excitement in every rambling, dreary page. It holds an unshakeable place on my list of least favourite books.

I’m convinced that Dickens makes these lists not because those asked genuinely love the books but because they feel they should. His books are regarded as classics, he’s a titan in English literary history, so one of his books at least must be there. And someone will write about them because they want to look cultured.

Balls to that.

You like the books you like. Don’t let some sneering snob make you feel bad because you prefer Dahl to Dickens, Sue Townsend to Tolkien, that you threw Moby Dick aside three chapters in for Bridget Jones. It’s better that you’re enjoying reading, and spending your hard earned on what you want not what you’re told you should be reading.

People complain that we read less, but then they slag off what they read. And why is “classic” status never questioned? 

Never let someone make you feel bad for not having read something. Ask them if they’ve read your favourite book, and tut if they say no. Or arrange a cultural exchange. You both might discover a new book you like.

Incidentally the one book I haven’t read on the list is Jane Eyre, which has filled space on my Kindle for quite some time. Must give it a go sometime.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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