How I Know You Lied about Reading a Book

 

lying-about-reading-min

Recently Alexadria posted about people who lie about having read particular books, and it got me thinking about all the times I’ve caught people lying about their reading habits. Mostly it’s been in academic circumstances (which at least makes sense to me, though obviously it’s unethical), but I’ve also encountered it in social circumstances and the blogging world.  This post, however, is not meant to be accusatory. (Honestly, I don’t really care what anyone has read or not read, as long as they’re not lying about doing the reading for the class I teach.)  The post is simply a list of things I’ve found to be tell-tale signs someone hasn’t actually read what they claimed.

1. The reader is hesitant or nervous.

Nervousness is, of course, a sign of lying in general.  However, I’ve encountered people who lie about their reading who really only decide to lie at the last minute.  They’re called upon in class to say something and are visibly agitated about whether they should confess their failure to do the work or just try to fake it.  Or, they’re in a social situation, and they have a split second to decide whether lying about having read a book will make others perceive them as more intellectual or likable.

2. The reader is vague.

Hilariously, this is sign of lying that you can notice whether or not you have even read the book in question yourself. In high school, I watched a kid give a ten minute presentation on War and Peace. Afterwards (we were decently friends, so this wasn’t offensive), I walked up to him and said, “You didn’t read the book, did you?” He was shocked I could tell.  The problem? In ten minutes, he didn’t say anything about the book that wasn’t so superficial I didn’t know it myself or couldn’t have found the information from skimming Wikipedia article–and I had never read the book either.  A second case: In college I gave a presentation on the assigned reading for the week: Ivanhoe.  I could tell not a single other student had read it (it was assigned over spring break) because the class spent 20 minutes asking me historical questions about the Middle Ages, and no one asked a single thing about the actual text. People who have read books will naturally mention details and specifics.  People who haven’t stick to generalities.

3. The reader gets things wrong.

Every once in a while, someone decides to really go down with their lie.  They don’t stick to generalities and Sparknotes comments on the book in question; they decide to attempt to hold an actual conversation.  Unfortunately, if they’re speaking to someone who, in fact, has read the book, it’s only a matter of time before they trip up and say something about the book that is blatantly untrue.  (I have particularly fond memories of someone trying very, very badly to summarize A Tale of Two Cities to me in high school.)

4. The reader doesn’t have much to say.

Someone who claims to have read a book in a verbal conversation but doesn’t want to discuss it may be lying–or they may just not want to talk about the book at the moment. In written situations, however, brevity can be telling.  If someone is claiming to read particularly voraciously (say, publishing a book review a day), but their reviews are only three sentences long, it’s possible they’re aggregating other reviews for “their” opinion and haven’t read all the books themselves.  The same applies for written assignments about school reading.  If a student doesn’t write much on a discussion forum or other short assignment, it’s often because they didn’t read the book and so have nothing to say.

Have you ever lied about reading a book?  Were you caught? Or have you found someone else lying about reading a book?

Briana

32 thoughts on “How I Know You Lied about Reading a Book

  1. luvtoread says:

    Great post!! I don’t understand why people lie about reading certain books. It makes zero sense.
    Ever since I started book blogging, what I find funny (interesting) is how many people will write a positive review of a popular book without saying anything other than “it was the best!” or “I loved the characters” and I always wonder if they really read & liked the book, or are they just saying that because it is popular… It’s interesting.
    And I can say that for me, personally, sometimes I may be vague about a book because I simply can’t remember it! But I most certainly did read the book, I just don’t necessarily remember all (or any if it’s been awhile) of the details. Blogging has helped me retain details of books that I’ve read, so this is mainly for books that I’ve read before I started blogging a year ago.
    Interesting post!!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think it’s generally for cultural status or, of course, for a class. It seems pretty standard for people to lie about having read certain books because they believe they will be judged for being that one person who hasn’t yet read Hamlet or the latest YA or whatever book it is that the group they want acceptance in has agreed is the book that all intelligent, cultured, up-to-date individuals will have read.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      Oh, agreed! I’ve read plenty of books I don’t remember much about at all! I think there’s also the possibility of some vagueness because people don’t want to spoil anything about a book. In those cases, however, people tend to be really upfront: “Yeah, I read it, but it was eight years ago, so it’s not really fresh in my mind.” I don’t see people make those kind of statements when they’re lying because I think a lot of the time the point of the lie is to look educated about the book, as if you’re familiar enough with it to be able to discuss it because “Oh, of course I know all about [insert impressive classic text]!”

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reading Tounwind says:

    Great post! I completely agree I saw it more in the educational setting and I feel like the more spark note version came out. I feel if someone has read a book they are going to be passionate about it either in a positive or negative way and associate some feelings I feel that is always my telltale sign if someone has read the book.

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    • Krysta says:

      I think it depends on what you’re reading. I have read stuff for class that I literally have no opinion on. Hearing other people’s comments can help spark my interest in a text, but sometimes I just don’t feel I have anything valuable to say about it.

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    • Briana says:

      Right. It makes sense in education because at least there’s an obvious reason for lying about doing a reading: getting a better grade. Why do it in a social setting though? And I definitely think people have noticeably more concrete opinions if they’ve actually read the book.

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  3. Ali (@thebandarblog) says:

    I haven’t lied about it in social situations, but I am sure I did in high school (can’t remember specifically, but I remember not being much of a reader in early high school). I had a friend at that time who lied to me about reading Harry Potter (she exhibited everything you mentioned above), and I always wanted to just shake her and be like “I KNOW YOU’RE LYING.” But I never did and spared her the embarrassment. I never understood why someone would lie about something like that…

    Ali @ the bandar blog 

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    • Krysta says:

      I think lying about books often says more about society than it does about the individual. We judge people by what they do and do not read. If you tell someone you haven’t read Harry Potter, most likely you’re going endure an assault of comments to the effect of “What?! Do you live under a rock?” and “What’s wrong with you? It’s my favorite book series!” You gain cultural capital by saying you’ve read the books that the group you’re in values and you lose it by admitting you haven’t read these works. The unspoken implication is that you’re not cultured or educated if you aren’t up-to-date with this stuff. You’re not “in” the group.

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    • Briana says:

      I don’t think I’ve actually called anyone out either, except for that time with the presentation, because my friend just thought it was funny I noticed. He got a great grade, though! When I notice it in social situations, I kind of just roll my eyes and let them go with it. Apparently it’s important to them. :p

      Liked by 1 person

  4. saraletourneau says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever lied about reading a book… though I sometimes have trouble remembering book I’ve actually read. But when I was in school, I never skimped on my reading assignments, from Shakespeare to classic novels like The Scarlet Letter and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. And now as an adult, I don’t see the point in lying about a book I haven’t read. I just admit I haven’t read it yet, then put it on my TBR list. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I always feel I have to add a disclaimer when I talk about books: “Yes, I read it, but that was seven years ago.” Then the other person proceeds to go into a detailed analysis of the text and I, who don’t even remember the name of the protagonist, have no clue what they’re talking about. :/ But I guess the chance of talking to someone about a shared book is not something most people would pass up–it’s worth banking on the other person remembering something.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      There are some books I really can’t remember whether I’ve read or not, like Little House on the Prairie! I guess this is the problem of life before Goodreads. :p I don’t see the point in lying, but then, I read a lot of books, but I can’t read everything. If someone wants to be judgmental because I read 100 books last year but not Book x, that’s their issue!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jamie Wu says:

    Sometimes I’m so worried that I would get things wrong that I double and triple check what I write to make sure I got everything right and then something will just slip through. Having a bad memory paired with low effectiveness in catching mistakes sometime has me sometimes having a moment of “wait, did I just say that in my review? That totally didn’t happen at all!” I do this a lot in my academic writing too…

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    • Krysta says:

      Sometimes I can’t remember specific moments in the text, but I like that, at least with books, you do have that opportunity to flip back and reread that moment. Unless, of course, you can’t find that moment and you begin to question if it happened at all or if it’s all your mind. :S

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nandini Bharadwaj says:

    I haven’t lied about reading a book (yet :P), but sometimes some books on my Goodreads shelf are in the ‘read’ pile rather than ‘to-read’. I don’t know how that happened – perhaps I was a bit of a noob when I joined and put them in the wrong place. However, I tried sorting through it a while back and I think this is my honest best. I sometimes forget that I’ve read certain books though – I know I’ve read a lot as a child, borrowing from the school library, but I just can’t remember their titles.
    I don’t understand why lying about a reading a book is necessary for some people. I usually like to admit that I haven’t (a lot of classics are still on my TBR list, actually) and ask people for recommendations. It’s usually beneficial for both the other person and myself in that case.
    As you said, it’s obvious when people lie about reading a book. An avid reader can smell it from a mile away. I don’t generally enjoy tearing people down for it, but it’s shameful that we feel pressured enough to lie.

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    • Krysta says:

      Admitting you haven’t read a book exposes you to judgment. If it’s a popular book “everyone” has read, you’re effectively telling people you live under a rock and don’t keep up with the times. If it’s a book for class, you’re admitting you didn’t fulfill your obligations for the course. If it’s a book in your academic field, you’re suggesting you don’t have the credentials to be in that field. If it’s a classic, you’re telling people you’re uneducated and uncultured. People who lie about what they’ve read are, in a way, saying more about societal expectations than they are saying about themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      Haha! I have no problem with honesty! I DNFed Pride and Prejudice, too, mainly because I tried to read it after watching the BBC miniseries two or three times in a row, so it was just too much of seeing the same plot and dialogue over again.

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  7. alilovesbooks says:

    I’ve never deliberately lied about having read a book I haven’t (I don’t see any gain in doing it) but I do sometimes forget which books I’ve read and which I haven’t. This has led to me on occasion claiming I’ve read a book, starting to discuss and then realising I haven’t or I’m thinking of a different book. Whether I come clean or not depends on who I’m talking to and how deep the conversation is going 🙂

    I do find it appalling though when people pinch bits here and there from other peoples reviews to write their own so that they can somehow become a top reviewer.

    Like

    • Briana says:

      There are a few books I can’t remember whether I’ve read either. I think it’s something about it being years ago and having reasonable knowledge of the book (either from pop culture or actually reading it), that it’s hard to tell. I honestly cannot remember whether I read Little House on the Prairie as a child or not! If I realized I wasn’t sure about something like that in passing conversation, as you said, I might not bother clarifying, depending on the circumstances. If some random stranger got the impression I read a book I’m not sure I read or not, it’s not really a big deal and will probably never come up again. But I would never deliberately lie or let someone I knew well keep thinking I read a book I haven’t!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. fallxnrobin says:

    Back when I took Literature in Secondary School, out of the three books we went through, I only finished one, bc it was the shortest one. But I didn’t lie bout not reading it tho, coz the teachers never asked. I guess teachers have learnt to expect that there’ll be at least one student who doesn’t do the work assigned to them (haha oops?). Putting school aside, I don’t understand why one would lie about having read a book when it’s simply for relaxation or entertainment. Is it to impress? To fit in? You haven’t read a classic? So what? It doesn’t make you less of a reader than anyone else.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think teachers know not everyone’s doing the work, but to some extend they figure it’s the student’s loss, either because they’ll get a lower grade later on an essay or test about the reading, or because they just personally gave up this educational opportunity.

      There can be a lot of judgment if you haven’t read a book a particular group believes all well-informed, educated individuals have read. But the reality is that there are just too many books being published now for everyone to have read all of them.

      Like

  9. TeacherofYA says:

    I won’t post reviews or discuss books I haven’t read. In class, if I missed the reading, I try to catch up through others…but I would never start a discussion or join one when I haven’t read the book. I also won’t write a paper without reading either. Sparknotes leaves A LOT out, and you won’t realize that unless you read. Sometimes I’ll read Sparknotes after reading a long passage if I want to refresh before a test; for example, I have a quiz on Blackboard today over Ajax and Philocetes…and I’m going to brush up on the material before taking it!
    Why lie when it puts you at a disadvantage? There’s a popular blogger that writes reviews that are so basic and short that I wonder if she read the book: “oh, I liked this character,” and “I was disappointed but ok with the ending.” Then she rates the book with a 6 out of 10, and that’s that. Maybe 60 words? Sigh.
    Good topic!

    Like

    • Briana says:

      There have only been a few times in class I forgot to read something/read the wrong thing/whatever, and I definitely didn’t try to enter the conversation pretending I had. I think the only reason someone would be compelled to do that was if they failed to do the reading a lot and were trying to look as if they were actually doing the classwork. No one’s going to notice or mind if you don’t really participate on just one day.

      Sparknotes is helpful, but there are times I find it unintentionally hilarious or just plain disagree with it, so I wouldn’t want to depend on it for all my literary views!

      I’ve run across one or two bloggers I’ve kind of side-eyed. It seems to be a bigger problem on Goodreads. But I definitely have questions if someone is claiming to read literally a book a day (like, 365 books a year, really?) and yet apparently has nothing to say about them. I read fairly quickly (though I know others read faster), but I wouldn’t read a book or more a day even if I could because there are other things I need to accomplish in life. But if I were going to fake it, I think I’d go all-out plagiarizing and get a decent-sized review out, not just three sentences.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TeacherofYA says:

        Yes, it drives my crazy! It’s not about volume! It’s about substance and quality.
        Why is it so important to appear to read a book a day when you gave nothing of substance to say about it?

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        • Briana says:

          Exactly. If you actually did read the book but you did so fairly quickly you can barely remember it and have nothing to say about it…it might be worth considering if reading more slowly would be more enjoyable or rewarding.

          Like

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