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?