Books I've Always Lied About Having Read: The March Challenge

on Monday, March 1, 2010
A pinch and a punch, it's the first of the month but more importantly I need a serious jolt to wake me from the literary coma that was February's book challenge. Now that it's over, I can admit that I had an ulterior motive for churning through the various Books I Swore I'd Never Read. Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my mind, I kind of hoped that I would enjoy a couple of them! I needed a way to justify reading these tomes that have captivated the masses to my lit-snobby self. I also needed to have an excuse at the ready whenever one of my bookish friends asked why on Earth I was reading, say, Twilight. So, for those who emailed me accusingly in the last twenty eight days, not only did I go in with an open mind, but one perhaps predisposed to enjoying all that twaddle. Alas, the best laid plans etc etc. I did learn a few things about the art (and I use that term ever so loosely) of making a best seller. Sure, it might sound like oversimplification, but all the books seemed to have co-opted populist religious doctrines, challenged them in a very superficial way, recast them through the prism of alternative or new age beliefs and then, ultimately, wrestled back and reaffirmed the original concepts as a 'take that!' to the nay-sayers. And that holds true whether we're talking about vampires, seagulls or annoying spoilt city slickers (not looking at anyone Elizabeth Gilbert). It also helps if it is written in a way that any high school drop out can imagine having written - the old fashioned principle of Why Didn't I Think of That? Ironically, the only book that I did enjoy last month was The Da Vinci Code, because it wore its religious motif very plainly on its shoulder. There was nothing duplicitous about it. And there's always a place for stories of rogue monks. Just ask Umberto Eco.

So where to from here? I got a lot of great feedback about the February challenge and wanted to come up with another concept that would have me debasing myself for your entertainment but perhaps not while suffering through a quagmire of crap. The answer came to me in a round about way, through my parents. Or, rather, through a very funny story about their courtship. Sometime in the late sixties, when mum and dad were in the early stages of dating, Mum mentioned that she had just read and loved Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Dad had not read it. Rather than getting himself a copy he soaked up all the bits and pieces - plot details, themes, the big moral questions - and managed to carry on quite an intelligent conversation about the book and how yes, he too loved it. Mum was suitably impressed by this well-read and cultured young man. It was a definite tick in the 'good future partner' column. Now I suspect there are some raised eyebrows out there. But let's face it, Dad was only doing something that we all do a heck of a lot more often that we'd care to admit. We lie about what we've read. I know I do, and I consider myself a pretty well-read person. I have carried on countless conversations with friends, colleagues and complete strangers about books I've never read. In many cases, enough details have seeped into the cultural ether such that we can all confidently bullshit about them and I, for one, have availed myself of any opportunity to do so. Hell, I've even blogged about a couple of books (in a round about way) that I've never so much as owned. God forbid I should be shown up for never having read a classic. Like Orwell's 1984. Oops, did I just let that slip?

My March challenge, therefore, is Book I've Always Lied About Having Read. I figure it is even more embarrassing than reading the ones I swore I never would, because at least going into February's challenge I could hold my head up high. No such luck this time. And so with apologies to anyone to whom I have given one of these as a present, those to whom I have so strongly yet blindly recommended them and to all my friends in the music community with whom I have discussed Motley Crue's The Dirt ("The greatest rock n' roll book ever.. yes, that scene was amazing... I can't believe they did that!), I give you my reading list for March:

The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger
1984 by George Orwell
Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamnda Ngozi Adichie
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Dirt by Motley Crue
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

In closing, I ought to mention in Dad's defence that he did read Crime and Punishment years later. And yes, he did enjoy it. JD Salinger, here I come!