The Federalist has a list of eleven books, which it calls ten, they say most people lie about reading. Here’s the list.
- Atlas Shrugged Never read, never plan on reading.
- On the Origin of Species I admit it: never read.
- Les Miserables Read, but as a youth, which means I skipped along.
- A Tale of Two Cities Read: thank you Sister Dorothy.
- 1984 Oh my yes.
- Democracy in America Only volume one, parts of two.
- The Wealth of Nations Read first 100 pages like everybody else; where all the quotes arise.
- Moby Dick Read: you should too.
- The Art of War Read.
- The Prince Read.
- Ulysses Nope, and only feel slightly guilty.
Those of you who read David Lodge’s academic trilogy (Changing Places, Small World, Nice Work) will recall his cocktail party “game” in which professors of literature admit to not reading this or that famous work. One character, after one too many sips of wine, says Hamlet (read it). This leads to his immediate and permanent downfall. But that was thirty, forty years ago. It may now be a mini boast not to have read it (you elitist, you sexist).
Anyway, it seems to me that the Federalist’s list is flawed. I can’t ever recall anybody asking or lying about Les Miserables. Maybe when the movie came out (I didn’t see)? I’m sure people lie about Moby Dick, but nowadays fewer people have to since it’s decreasingly assigned (a white whale, you racist). English majors lie about Ulysses, but nobody else. And I doubt many moderns have even heard of A Tale of Two Cities. Check me on this. Ask people you meet (particularly students) to name three novels by Charles Dickens and give them no hints.
Twenty-some years ago the most-lied about book was A Brief History of Time (read it), but only in the sense that it was named so by people happily admitting they haven’t read it. The Federalist links to a similar list on Huffington Post which includes The Satanic Verses, a book which I find people boast of having not read. Also Infinite Jest which my number one son loaned me and which I could read no more than five pages. Ugh.
Now that our culture is splintering, it’s not clear if there is a list to which all could agree. I certainly haven’t read any books because the author had this or that prescribed demographic characteristic, nor would I think of lying that I had. Indeed, my sentiments are the opposite. But members of university “English” departments would be tempted. Their lists change with the political season.
I’d say the Bible should make the list, only there’s a growing crowd proud of having eschewed it (so much for understanding their culture, but ideology is ideology). Mark Twain should be on the list; either Tom Sawyer (read) or Huckleberry Finn (read). How about F. Scott Fitzgerald? Hemingway? Steinbeck? Catcher in the Rye (didn’t read)?
Henry Adams would’ve made it fifty years ago. Now he’s an unknown. Gibbon? Boswell? Maybe it’s because it’s early, but I’m have a difficult time thinking of non-fiction works which are considered mandatory reading by the majority. People are running from history as fast as they can…and into the arms of Equality! Equality! Equality demands the non-existence of anything smacking of elitism and natural achievement. To paraphrase The One, “You didn’t read that.”
So is it even possible to create a list? Your suggestions?