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Confessions of a literary fraud

November 22, 2009
Image used with kind permission, © 2009 Julia Anderson.

My day job involves a lot of clerical work. I have come to realise that there is a curious assumption made about people who work in clerical roles; that somehow, perhaps through psychic ability or secretive organisations, we all know each other. Therefore, when asked to do something that involves contacting other people outside our own organisations, we don’t need to be told who to contact, or how, or sometimes what organisation they work for. It is assumed we entered the role with that knowledge in place.

A similar assumption operates for writers. We all know each other, and we’ve read everything. In my experience, writers are generally well read. But there are only so many hours in the day. Nobody can read everything, let alone read everything and get on with their own writing.

So you read what you can, and you bluff the rest. And you hope nobody catches you out.

For your delight, edification, and my own embarrassment, here are my embarrassing literary secrets that would shake your faith in me as a writer.

  1. Despite my deep interest in dystopian societies, I only read 1984 this year, I have just started Brave New World and I have never read Lord of the Flies.
  2. I list The Three Musketeers as one of my favourite books, even though after six attempts, I’ve still only got half-way through it (the first half is really good…
  3. Similar to the above, I count myself as a “fan” of Dostoevsky, despite only reading one of his books (and I considered myself “a fan” before that…)
  4. I am vocally critical of authors and book series that I have never read.
  5. Thanks to a handful of quotations, pop culture knowledge and BBC adaptations, people assume I’ve read far more Dickens and Shakespeare than I actually have…
  6. I am extraordinarily ignorant of my own genres, having read little to any of it.
  7. I have never read Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia.

They say confession is good for soul. So join me, confess your literary secrets, subvert the expectations that people have of us as well-read and of exquisite taste.

Paul has spent a week proofreading, editing and formatting. He now hates all types of dashes, and if he never sees another em dash, it will be too soon…
  1. November 22, 2009 7:09 am

    I am a biology lecturer. Despite lecturing on evolution, natural selection and speciation, I have never read Origin Of Species. My students are appalled.

  2. November 22, 2009 7:34 pm

    This is a funny post because I was thinking of this recently. Although I have an MA in philosophy I really hate reading philosophy. Though I called myself a Kant scholar, I only made it a portion of the way through his various works. Even though I claimed to like Heidegger I’ve only read the preface of Being and Time.

    Ooh and I list Don Quixote as one of my favorite novels, but I’ve only read the first part.

    Ahhh that feels better 😉

  3. November 23, 2009 12:47 am

    Despite my love of the Victorian Era, the only “Victorian Literature” I’ve ever read was Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Henry James’ Turn of the Screw. Half of them… Everything I know about it, I got from books like Deanna Rayboun’s Silent in the Grave and the manga of Kaori Yuki.

  4. November 23, 2009 2:38 am

    I have read 1984, Brave New World and half of Brave New World Revisisted. Lord of the Flies sits on the shelf awaiting my literary attention. There is something evil delicious about dystopia. You might want to add The Handmaids Tale to your list of dystopic novels.

    My partner has read more literature now than I will probably ever do in my entire life – but I’m the one who calls myself a writer! I feel like a fifth grader against him.

    I haven’t read Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov or any of the other great masters.

    The only Shakespeare I have ever read was at high school and I have never read Dickens.

    I am fascinated by Sci-fi and Spec-fic but don’t read any.

    The Name of the Rose and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – which are favourite books of two of the most important men in my life – remain partly read. You think I could do a little better.

    If I were in a better frame of mine I could probably be far more self deprecating. Reminds me I need to start pulling some harder books of the shelf to read like I was doing at the start of the year. “The Confusion” by Neal Stephenson should take care of that for the rest of the year!

  5. November 27, 2009 4:18 pm

    I have never read Salinger or Hemingway (other than excerpts in writing classes) and yet I use them as examples of style when talking in my writing groups.

    I only recently read 1984 and I’ve never read Lord of the Flies either. I’ve only made it through the first 25 pages of Lord of the Rings (I tried 3 times and then gave up).

    I’ve only recently started realising that maybe I’m just not that literary and maybe it’s not that bad! Sure, I’m a writer but it doesn’t mean I have to be all that literary!

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