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Truth or Dare? Ann Donald's Take on Lies, Damned Lies and Bookish Fibbing

How to Talk About Books You Haven't ReaEnglebyTheftThe Bodies Left BehindLisey's Story

Ann DonaldTruths and half-truths, black fibs and white lies. Ann Donald of Kalk Bay Books took a look at what people read, what they lie about reading, and why people might bend the facts when it comes to talking about books with little or no literary merit.

They do? Indeed they do! Go figure:

In the interests of honesty, I admit that I came across this article while reading a blog — in my defence, it was book editor Tymon Smith’s blog. The Guardian reported that Ulysses and War and Peace were among the books people most lied about having read. But it was the four pages of comments the article attracted that most intrigued me. I won’t lie by claiming to have read every comment — I skipped the middle pages and, unlike reading a book, this didn’t make any difference. What surprised me was how rapidly people responded to the subject and how many of them had done so. Clearly, a nerve was struck as people felt a need to confess to having fibbed about Ulysses, or to assert they really had read War and Peace.

But the comment that got me thinking referred to people’s propensity to lie not about books they haven’t read, but about those they actually have — the ones without any intellectual kudos.

Now, I can read the good books along with the best of readers and have never lied about reading ones I haven’t (though I did write an exam on Ulysses based only on the lectures). But, as I testified up front, I’ve had occasion to remain silent about books on the other end of the spectrum, or to make excuses for my fallibility.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    March 31st, 2009 @19:40 #
     
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    Is there a clickable link to the entire article? and to Tymon's blog? Yes, I need guide-rails...

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    March 31st, 2009 @20:26 #
     
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    Good catch, Helen-Editor (wink). The link is added. This is Tymon's blog, meanwhile:

    http://blogs.thetimes.co.za/bookcase/

    You can doubtless find the story Ann's referring to there.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    April 1st, 2009 @10:54 #
     
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    Slightly related, the Guardian had a blog on their books page about books and dating: what book in your prospective, waiting date's hand would turn you off/on when you walk up the table?

    I'm leaving War and Peace for when I'm old and retired. I have read Ulysses, though. Voluntarily. Whenever I think about that book, I salivate over the thought of lamb's kidneys. Unlike Leopold, though, I soak the halved kidneys in a bit of water - just for a few minutes - to take out the most extreme tang of urea. Fried crisp in a bit of butter, with a nice chunk of fresh white bread, and some dark sweet coffee - it makes a good breakfast. Also good with a soft boiled egg.

    mmm, wonder whether the Spar has kidneys today...

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  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    April 1st, 2009 @11:24 #
     
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    I lied about reading the fifth Harry Potter. It was just so BIG.
    Biggest turn-off would be meeting a date who was clutching a book by Jeffrey Archer. Have never forgiven the slimey bugger (Archer that is) for blatantly nicking one of W Somerset Maugham's short stories.
    Ulysses made my head explode. Gaddis's JR was a walk in the park in comparison. Kidneys though. Yum. One of the main reasons I'm going to London this month is to gorge myself on jellied eels and other lovely cockney delights (kidneys included).

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    April 1st, 2009 @11:42 #
     
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    Rustum, you make even kidneys sounds delicious (and I loathe kidneys). You have a bright future ahead of you as a food and recipe journalist...

    I once lied about having read The Kite Runner. Yes, yes, I know ... I will read it, I promise. Just as soon as I'm feeling strong enough to deal with the whole bad-stuff-happening-to-innocent-children angle.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    April 1st, 2009 @19:18 #
     
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    I run screaming from people whose bookshelves contain: The Secret. The Da Vinci Code (or worse, the entire Dan Brown canon - which only qualifies to be called such because it should be fired from one, ideally in confetti form which might make it marginally more tolerable). Although that said, please refrain from judging me based on the copy of that dodgy dating guide The Rules on my bookshelf - it was research for the YDEsire art party where our motley crew made vagina-shaped cookies for icing and did a live demonstration on a certain accomplished former publisher (who was wearing a thong)

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 1st, 2009 @20:28 #
     
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    I got through about a quarter of Ulysses. Then reckoned that I had already read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the first 10 pages of Finnegan's Wake, and was so DONE with Joyce. Another great 20th century writer I dislike...I am such a pleb.

    Like Lauren says, you have to be careful about judging someone from ONE book, you never know why it's there. But a bookshelf filled with Danielle Steel, Dan Brown, The Secret et al would make me wilt. But the real danger lies in non-fiction titles. "Why Evolution is a Myth", "God Wants You To Be a Surrendered Wife", "Your Patriotic Duty to Own As Many Guns As Possible", "Hitler Was Simply Misunderstood", "Real Men Rise Up Against Bunnyhuggers" etc -- now that is when I would suddenly remember a pressing appointment, and run. Fast.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    April 1st, 2009 @20:49 #
     
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    LOL Lauren and Helen. I am afraid I judge people by their book covers too. Also not just the one Readers' digest condensed version or the pile of You magazines (market research?).

    I have to say though, that I sometimes read the book that is a bestseller because - market research? I read the Dav Vinci Code. I quickly gave it away to CAFDA, as though it may spread something to my shelves. Like a hacking cough. or something.

    I've never actually lied about having read a book, but sometimes espeically to the author, I have developed a way of not saying, that could imply that I have read the book.

    Are there vagina shaped cookies in The Rules, haven't ever heard of it. But have to say I wish that He's Just Not That Into You had been published when I was in my 20s - surely it would have helped me to quickly exit an unsuitable situation faster. I didn't get it. I would probably have turned my nose up at that book though, while I maundered through Simone de B's autobiographies while she hung with dear old Sartre while he 'screwed her' as it were by 's****g' other women left right and centre. She was my role model. Oh dear.

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