Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Reading and Pretending to Read the Classics

This Christian Science Monitor article reassured me that I was not the only one out there who is afraid to lie about having read any particular book. I've seen so many articles lately about which books are most likely to be claimed as read by people who never bothered to crack the covers (Ulysses generally tops the list) that I was starting to think I was the abnormal one, not them. Personally, I wouldn't dare lie to anyone about having read some book because, with my luck, I would choose the one person in the room who particularly loved it and wanted to get into a detailed discussion. I have enough trouble remembering the details about the ones I do read that I don't think I could fake a discussion about one I haven't even held in my hands.

That's why I can't even imagine having this kind of nerve:
I had a friend who joined a London book club. He found the day of reckoning – when the members were to sit in a circle and discuss the latest book's merits – always arrived much sooner than he expected. His wife, also a member, would actually read the book. All he would do was rush through the blurb on the flap at the last minute. What flabbergasted his diligent spouse was that he would then expound the virtues and failings of the book with such authority that he always got away with it.

If you aren't a true bookworm, self-confidence is everything.
I wonder, too, how many of us experienced the kind of "university reading burnout" described here, as a result of which we, at least for a time, lost our ability to read for simple pleasure rather than for test scores and status among our peers.
Attending university put an end to this. Not that I stopped reading books from start to finish, but the reasons for doing so had altered. The pressure was on. Not only were we expected to read "The Mill on the Floss," "Middlemarch," and quite possibly "Adam Bede" in a week, but then we had to write a long essay about George Eliot's sense of tragedy (or some such thing), ready for the weekly tutorial. Agony! – particularly on summer days when all I wanted to do was float on the River Cam in a punt.

Then there was that other compulsion to read – the fact that fellow students all knew E.M. Forster or D.H. Lawrence backward, and if you didn't, you would seem next to useless socially.

Under such duress, the pure pleasure of reading largely went out the window.
As much as I love the classics, I couldn't force myself to read one for simple pleasure for several years after I left school. And it's only now that I've reread them for the right reasons that I truly appreciate all the ones I was forced to almost speed-read while at school.
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