Dear BookBar customers,
I have a confession. I’ve never read anything by Tana French. I had to look at the back of the book when I told you what Euphoria by Lily King was about, because I never read that either. I got halfway through House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski and put it down. All the Light We Cannot See? 100 pages. Louise Erdrich’s The Beet Queen? Nope. I told you I had read these books. You bought these books because I told you I had read them. While we’re being honest, I only read a quarter of House of Leaves.
It started in high school and got worse in college. An English major with a penchant for procrastination, I wrote countless papers about books that I never finished or, in some cases, never started. In my post-college years, I have attended book clubs, completed a six-week publishing certificate course, worked as a bookseller, and searched for jobs in publishing. This is just to say, I have lied about what I’ve read. A lot. [Dear potential future employers: I have never lied about reading your books.]
But here’s the thing:
Lying about books you’ve read is a practical tool to boost prestige and, in the case of book professionals, generate income. Need to sound smart at a party? Nod and smile when your new acquaintance starts jabbering about Between the World and Me. (As an aside, if you haven’t read this one, you really should. Not that I have.) Yet occasionally, mute agreeance doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to demonstrating your knowledge of an unread book. Don’t fret; you have options.
For books you plan to lie about ahead of time, do your research. If there’s a Wikipedia page, you’re lucky. This will tell you not only what the book is about, but also what you should think about what the book’s about. For classics—and The Hunger Games, apparently—consult SparkNotes. Study up enough to give a two to three sentence synopsis about the book.
In the event that you need to offer up an analysis of the book, practice close reading—a tool that, as it turns out, has a purpose beyond bolstering the word count of an undergrad paper on Ulysses. Turn to a passage midway to the book, latch onto one word, nuance of punctuation, or literary device, and run with it. Commit your half-baked thesis to memory and be sure to squint a whole bunch when you recite it later.
There will come a time, however, when you will blank. Then, and only then, should you bring out your pièce de résistance: “I don’t want to give it away,” followed up with some gushing about how the language is “devastatingly beautiful” and you “completely fell in love with the characters.”
At other times, an acquaintance may ask your thoughts on a book with no advance warning. In these cases, prevention is key. Read about books. Listen to podcasts about books. Follow bookish Instagrammers. Consume as much book-related media as humanly possible so that when someone says “I love Karl Ove Knausgaard,” you can say, without missing a beat, “Man, I just couldn’t get into My Struggle, but I loved Autumn and I can’t wait for Winter!”
Some part of me—the part that has endless time and no hobbies outside of sitting on the couch with a book and a cup of tea (or glass of wine, depending on the time of day)—feels terrible for lying to you. But as I reflect upon the books I’ve lied about, I realize it’s never the books I’m not interested in. With overflowing digital and physical TBR shelves, we all know there is never enough time. So while I can’t promise you that I’ll come clean, change my ways, and speak only the whole truth about what I have and have not read, I can do my best to lie only for the greater book good—to help the books that I wish I had time for find their readers.
Yours in lies,
This piece is written by the recently departed (from BookBar, not her mortal coil) Allie Levy, our former events coordinator. She decided it was time to move on to bigger and better things, but hasn’t forgotten her small-time pals here in Denver.