I’m a well-read person. I am, I really am.
I hate looking stupid—don’t we all? How many of us consider ourselves well read, highly educated, thus “cultured,” but one tiny snub about the book in our hand (Gone Girl) leaves us feeling defensive? We know it shouldn’t matter, but it does, to us. There is real and serious pressure to be perceived as well-read, and we all know that being caught with anything resembling Fabio on the cover (here’s looking at you romance lovers) or anything that is glossy, frilly, and visually arresting (think delicious chick-lit cover design) will undermine our literary credibility.
Some of you may be saying, “Well, that has never happened to me. I’m usually ‘in the know.” Why, I have read a quarter of Crime and Punishment, was required to read Moby Dick in school and I actually enjoyed Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man in college.” In other words, you’re a cool cat and ready with an impressive cache of pithy literary phrases.
Well, I thought the same—until I was thwarted at a neighborhood block party. At the time, I was standing in a circle with three dads and a mom (an English professor—not fair) when one of the guys asked who had read The Seven Pillars. I’m standing there wrestling with my four year-old and if I were a cartoon, the speech bubble above my head would have read, WTF?
This was 2007 and I didn’t have a smart phone, so nodding politely and pretending to check my phone messages while really Googling the darn book was not an option. Today, you can bend down, pretend to tie your shoelaces while learning that this is just T.E. Lawrence’s autobiographical account of his experiences as a British soldier/Laurence of Arabia. You can just pop back up and into the conversation, save face and say something along the lines of, “Oh, yes, lovely book. I fancy anything set in 1194. Anything after the failure of the Third Crusade is totally ‘my thang.’” Now, in retrospect it’s easy to ask, why not speak the truth? Fess up and admit that you hadn’t even heard of the book? Well, it’s complicated.
Do not say you read it and understood it; you are lying to them and yourself.
But is it, really? That complicated? I like to think that I have matured and with said maturity, I am not only open to adding new books and even genres to my literary bucket list, but also not afraid to look someone in the eye and say, “No, never heard of that one, tell me about it?” or “No, never heard of that one and don’t care.”
Moral of the blog post: Be yourself, but know that you are human, too.
If one day you agree to read one classic book a month, go ahead. And if two books into it, you declare a moratorium on all classics and get back to YA dystopian novels, you can do that, too! Our obsession with the Classics has to do with a desire to understand history and culture in context, but sometimes people forget that contemporary books examine our own times more deeply. And there is nothing wrong with that. Book reading goals and preferences should be judgment free.